Sublime Wine Tasting in Hout Bay Vineyards’ Subterranean Cellars

Hout Bay Vineyards

Since having “flown the coop” after a childhood spent growing up in Hout Bay, I have, amongst other accomplishments, evolved a devastating love of wine. And so, a return to the valley to explore Hout Bay Vineyards’ wines seemed like a bit of an aligning of the cosmos to me; a prophecy fulfilled. More than anything, I was fascinated to see how the valley’s terroir – the same soil I had under my fingernails as a child – expresses itself in wine. As it turns out, Hout Bay is the progenitor of some extraordinary things.

Its wine is pretty decent, too!

Hout Bay Vineyards

Hout Bay Vineyards: a family affair

In September 2003, Peter and Catherine Roeloffze embarked upon a bold adventure that is the Earthly ambition of all wine lovers. They planted vineyards on their property at the top of Grotto Way in Hout Bay. Not even the immense boulders strewn about their slopes or the accidental herbicide dousing and subsequent obliteration of their precious vineyards threw them off their intended course of one day being able to make their own wine. Working in alliance with nearby farms in Hout Bay and Constantia Nek, Peter and Cathy were able to source the grapes they needed to produce Méthode Cap Classique and Sauvignon Blanc while they waited for their replanted vines to flourish.

Hout Bay Vineyards was officially opened in December 2007 and, the following month, the estate’s first harvest of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes were juiced, fermented, and bottled. In 2011, after three years of bottle fermentation, Hout Bay Vineyards popped the cork on the estate’s maiden vintage of Méthode Cap Classique!

Hout Bay Vineyards

Today, the independently owned and family-run estate produces a handsome range of wines that includes (in addition to those previously mentioned) a blush wine (rosé made from the second pressing of MCC grapes), Merlot, Shiraz, and a Rhone-style blend. From the tragedy of having to rip up and replant their vineyards to establishing a respected Hout Bay winery that routinely sells out of its product, Peter and Cathy have created a legacy to be very, very proud of.

First impressions

The boutique family winery perches high atop the rocky, northwest-facing slopes of Bokkemanskloof. With its lofty altitude, apron of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier vineyards, embracing eucalyptus trees, and a nearby pond populated by numerous noisy ducks and geese, the Hout Bay Vineyards feels like an enchanted forest – like what one might discover on the other side of Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia.

Hout Bay Vineyards

First, however, we had to make our way up the driveway, which reared up towards the house at a frightful 45-degree angle. With the car protesting furiously and all clutch control out the window, we parked on a grassy verge and completed the short, calf-busting journey to the winery by foot. At the top, we were greeted by the lovely Catherine Roeloffze, the graceful yet down-to-Earth owner and winemaker of Hout Bay Vineyards.

A winery, not a gallery

The Hout Bay Vineyards is, first and foremost, a winery. Second to that, it is a family home. It is not an art gallery, fancy restaurant, ode to history, manicured garden, or any of the other things that so many Cape wine estates manage to be. There are no elaborate entranceways, sculptures by well-known South African artists, or clipped hedges to flatter your eyeballs as you walk in; only raw nature, stunning views, and delicious wines.

This is a boutique winery that produces an exceptional range of wines. As such, a visit here – which must be arranged beforehand by appointment with Cathy or her husband – offers a privileged peek under the petticoats of a working winery and cellar. We discovered this as we wound our way through a regiment of imposing fermentation vats and snaking pipes (and two very enthusiastic, waggy-bum family dogs) to the dimly lit interior of the wine tasting room.

Hout Bay Vineyards

The wine tasting room and cellar

Hout Bay Vineyards’ tasting room is a simple yet atmospheric affair: a single large table occupies its centre with benches for seating and a vaulted brick ceiling keeps conditions cool. Dusty collections of wine bottles occupy the corners and line the walls. A large window overlooks the basement/wine cellar, where thousands of bottles of wine lie in hibernation, and it was in this gorgeous and moody subterranean heaven that we explored Hout Bay Vineyards’ extensive wine range.

First up was the “Klasiek by Catherine,” a bone dry, zesty, and vibrant MCC with a lovely citrus and fresh brioche nose, made from grapes grown on the property. This was followed by a crisp, acidic Sauvignon Blanc with a grassy nose and fruity palate, made from two vineyard blocks – one located on the opposite side of the valley at about 150 meters altitude and the other higher up at 190 meters on Constantia Nek (still Hout Bay wine of origin area).

We then embarked upon the red wines, starting off with Hout Bay Vineyards Merlot 2016, a lovely pale ruby red wine with fruity cedar notes and a long, languid finish; the gorgeous 2016 Shiraz, an intense dark berry, fruit-forward wine with peppercorn spice and silky tannins; and finally, the 2014 Petrus, a Rhone-style blend of Shiraz, Grenache Noir, Mourvedré, Carignan, and Cinsault made by Cathy’s husband. The 50% Shiraz is sourced from their Constantia Nek farm, while the remaining grapes are bought in from Wellington.

Cathy hosted the tasting from beginning to end, lovingly presenting each wine to us and fielding our relentless questions. Every tasting was delivered from a bottle opened on the spot and at the end, we were welcomed to help ourselves to a glass of our favourite wine while we sat around happily chatting away.

Unable to choose, we purchased and went home with the entire wine range in the boot of our car.

Hout Bay Vineyards

Well worth a visit

People tend to visit Hout Bay for the harbour market, the fish and chips, the beach, and the spectacular views of Chapman’s Peak Drive. Well I say an even better reason to visit than all of the afore-mentioned is the Hout Bay Vineyards, a boutique winery, a family home, and a truly magical slice of heaven. It is also a place I would love to get accidentally locked in overnight, provided I’m left with a source of light and a bottle opener. The wines here are a loving expression of Hout Bay’s quality terroir and the passion that winemakers Cathy and Peter have for wine and for what they do.

Hout Bay Vineyards offers tasting by appointment only. Tastings cost R50 per person with a minimum charge of R300. For bookings and enquiries, please contact Cathy on +27 (0) 83 790 3303 or cathy@4mb.co.za

www.houtbayvineyards.co.za

1 High Meadow Estate, Grotto Road, Hout Bay

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Say Hello to a New Label and New Look for Kunjani Wines

Positioned near the top of a hill in the north-western reaches of the Stellenbosch wine route, the Kunjani winery leaps from the Shiraz vineyards like a jack-in-the-box. Alive with vibrant colour and exuberant energy, this winery completely sidesteps the typical Cape winelands set-up, where the only thing older than the history-steeped manor houses on the estates is the regal mountainscapes that embrace their vineyards.

The philosophy behind the Kunjani brand was and still is about celebrating the cross-pollination of cultures (Africa meets Europe). But 18 months after it opened its doors (November 2017), owners Paul Barth and Pia Watermeyer decided to change the aesthetics of the brand, which is what attracted literal bus-loads of media to the winery on an autumn-perfect Wednesday afternoon.

Kunjani-Wines Stellenbosch

The question was: does the rebranding honour the Kunjani ethos? Does it do Kunjani justice?

We’d find out!

A love story for the ages

Paul-Barth-Pia-Watermeyer
Pia Watermeyer and Paul Barth, the heart and brains behind Kunjani Wines

One cannot tell the story of Kunjani Wines without a swoon-worthy account of the cross-continental and cross-cultural love affair that began it all.

Paul Barth is a German entrepreneur who grew up in the Riesling vineyards of his father’s wine farm in the Rheingau region of Germany. Pia Watermeyer is a successful South African businesswoman and aspiring winemaker. The two met at a mutual friend’s wedding in 2011 and while Paul spoke next to no English and Pia not a word of German, a shared love for wine, dancing, and adventure paved the way for a great romance.

“We travelled Europe with a pocket English-German dictionary in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other,” said Pia to a starry-eyed audience during Kunjani’s brand relaunch.

What do you get when you combine sharp business acumen with a love for wine?

A wine farm, of course!

And so, in 2014, the two purchased a plot of land in Stellenbosch with established vineyards and what began as a serendipitous chance meeting evolved into all that is Kunjani Wines with the lovely and extraordinarily talented Carmen Stevens as winemaker.

The launch

Kunjani Wine Launch Stellenbosch
Listening to speeches at the new label launch (which one am I do you think?)

Over delicious, carefully paired canapés and tastings of Kunjani’s six wines (2018 Sauvignon Blanc, 2018 Chenin Blanc, 2018 “Stolen Chicken” rosé, 2017 Merlot, 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2015 Shiraz) the crowds appraised the new branding on the bottles and the winery itself. Kunjani’s interior is ultra-modern in design and an exuberant and bold work art – the collaborative effort of Pia and iconic interior decorator Haldane Martin – and its spellbinding views over bronze and crimson Shiraz vineyards satisfy that expectation for natural beauty we all feel when journeying into the Cape winelands.

Kunjani-Wines-Restaurant Stellenbosch
Kunjani’s rather spectacular interior

Having attended the launch of Kunjani in 2017 (and held on to a precious bottle of the 2014 Shiraz until only recently), I was quite familiar with the old branding, which depicted two hands of different colour and gender “fist bumping” with a large, bold font. It was simultaneously fun and powerful in its messaging. The new label, packaging, and branding, however, has come of age.

From youthful and fun, the Kunjani brand has been remarkably elevated. Now, it is suave and sophisticated, but not at the sacrifice of its ethos or personality. The charcoal black label with its unique glossy and matt textures (borrowed from the winery’s wall paper) still depicts the two hands and the motto “two cultures, one passion”. To sum it all up: where before the Kunjani bottle looked like an easy-drinking, approachable, and affordable, weekday wine it now looks like a quality wine worthy of saving for a special occasion – a wine to treat yourself or impress a date (or your father/mother-in-law) with.

Kunjani old wine label
The old wine label and branding

Kunjani-Merlot Stellenbosch wine
The new wine label and branding (and a snack of pork belly!)

Judging a wine bottle by its label

Few people like to admit that their purchasing decisions are informed or swayed by the appearance of a wine bottle but, in reality, to say otherwise is to be a touch dishonest. We all sweep our eyes over the wine store shelves, looking for something that pops – something artistic, beautiful, and perhaps a little edgy; something that intrigues and pleases the eye. It’s only from that point that we start reading the label.

There are many wine brands whose stodgy and rather boring labels totally belie the calibre of the liquid they contain. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that South African wine estates have only in very recent years begun to get creative with their labelling and branding, abandoning the decade/century-long tradition of their forefathers. But while my mother taught me to never judge a book by its cover, in the case of Kunjani, you are very welcome to judge a wine bottle by its label.

Stolen-Chicken-Rose-Kunjani

Visit Kunjani

Kunjani Wines has a full service, a la carte restaurant and is open Monday to Sunday, 09:00 to 17:00 and 11:00 to 17:00 for wine tastings.  They also have luxury, self-catering accommodation on the farm. For bookings and enquiries, please email info@kunjaniwines.co.za or call +27 (0) 87 630 0409

Farm 90/20 Blumberg Drive, Devonvale, Stellenbosch

www.kunjaniwines.co.za

This blog was originally written for Southern Vines Magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/06/say-hello-to-a-new-label-and-new-look-for-kunjani-wines/

Introducing “Wine of the Week” AKA Thirsty Thursday

South African Winelands

Who doesn’t get thirsty on Thursdays? You’ve managed to crawl through the majority of the work week, nailed the meetings you were dreading, and survived the voluminous injection of caffeine into your bloodstream. The weekend is so close you can practically smell your sleep-soaked pyjamas and boozy breath!  Surely we’ve earned ourselves a glass of wine (or three)?

In the immortal words of Barack Obama: YES WE CAN!

Look no further for recommendations! Every week, I showcase a wine I’m absolutely loving, which may come with a little history/science lesson on the cultivar (grape varietal) used to make it, depending on my mood. I will be posting these on my Facebook page, Wander Woman Thea and on my Instagram account (@wander_woman_thea) so go ahead and like or follow. Let’s be friends!

I’ll also chat a little about the nose (aromas) and flavour profile of the wines, which may sound enormously pretentious to those of you who are yet to discover the wonderful world of wine, but isn’t, I assure you.

I know, I know… The first time I heard someone describe a wine as smelling of “green peppers, grapefruit, and pencil shavings” I mirthfully snorted in their face. You’re joking, right?

“Apparently not,” said their withering stare.

Here’s the simple logic behind the nose of the wine and I’m using the example of green peppers here. The chemical that causes a green pepper to smell the way it does – a sort of savoury, herbaceous, and vegetal smell – is called methoxypyrazine. That very same chemical compound is found in wine, particularly in the cultivars originating from the Bordeaux region of France: Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and so on.

So while there is obviously no green pepper in your wine, you can detect this aroma because the wine contains methoxypyrazine. The same applies for a spectrum of other fruits, vegetables, substances, and inanimate objects. The chemicals or, in the case of fruits, sweet-smelling esters that give them their trademark smell are present in wine to varying degrees. This is what you’re smelling.

It takes time and repeated wine swilling, sniffing, and quaffing to begin to identify these aromas. With practice, your brain will tie up its hair, slap on a pair of reading glasses, and start cataloging these smells, building a useful library, which you can draw upon to sound really smart the next time you go wine tasting with friends.

With that brief lesson out of the way, I have but one final side note for you before I proceed to tell you about the absolutely lip-smacking, eye-closing, panty-dropping wine I’ve discovered.

Opinions are like a**holes

The selection I make each week is entirely my own and is most often based upon (1) my personal tastes, (2) the wine region I’m currently exploring, and (3) the wine I think is best suited to the season. With that said, I will do my best to present a fair variety of both red and white wines of various cultivars and blends.

You should also know that I live in South Africa so most of my recommendations will come from here. South Africa is one of the oldest “New World” winemaking regions in the world and a progenitor of wines that can and do compete with the most internationally recognised and acclaimed vintners out there. In other words, if you love wine, you’ve got to add South Africa, and particularly Cape Town, to your bucket list. The wine here is phenomenal.

Here are my weekly selections thus far:

Idiom Zinfandel (Primitivo) 2014

Wine of the Week 1

From the foothills of Sir Lowry’s Pass in the Helderberg valley comes a Zinfandel of such sexy, sultry delight, my relationship with it feels personal. This red wine bursts with ripe fruits and berries, is velvety in delivery, and has an incredible nose of fynbos and eucalyptus. Actually, this characteristic is present in most of Idiom’s wines and is a testament to the intimate relationship between the vines and a terroir dominated by fynbos and stands of Eucalyptus trees.

What I absolutely love about this Zinfandel is its exceptionally perfumed nose. If a sun-beaten bush of fynbos bonked a cherry tree and they made a baby, this is what that offspring hybrid fruit/flower would smell like. On the palate, these fynbossy, almost minty aromas unfurl into a beautiful, silky red wine that’s perfect on a cool spring evening and, in my opinion, with or without food.

Zinfandel is a moderate tannin, high acid red cultivar that’s mistakenly believed by many to originate from the United States. In fact, DNA fingerprinting has confirmed that Zinfandel is an ancient Croatian cultivar that is genetically identical to Primitivo, an Italian cultivar.

Excelsior Evanthuis Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Wine of the week

Named after a race horse reared on the estate, the Excelsior “Evanthuis” Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is a wine of exceptional weight and character. A deep inky red in colour, this wine, which hails from the Robertson Wine Valley (an approximate 2 hours’ drive from Cape Town) is big and seductive with syrupy black currants and violets on the nose, and dense fruit flavours supported by a strong tannic backbone. In other words, it’s bloody delicious and since we’re still waiting for the weather to get the memo that spring has arrived here in the Cape, it’s perfect to enjoy right now!

The cultivar itself requires little introduction. Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s most widely recognized red wine grape varieties. And if you thought that Napa Valley was the only region that did a good job of producing “big Cabs” think again. Our warm climate combined with the tender, loving maritime sea breezes that flow off of the Atlantic Ocean create red wines of enormous flavour, elegance, and structure.

La Bri Barrel Select Chardonnay 2016

I began my career as a professional wine drinker with a heavy preference for dry red wines. It was only with my first sip of an obnoxiously wooded Chardonnay (rich, buttery, caramel flavours) that my eyes were opened to the possibility that, hey, I could actually like this stuff! And so I began trying every wooded Chardonnay I could get my paws on. My initial obsession with heavily wooded white wines has calmed down and now I seem to have achieved equilibrium, which explains why La Bri’s Barrel Select Chardonnay 2016 makes my heart quiver.

Chardonnay from Franschhoek South Africa

This rich and rounded Chardonnay from Franschhoek (South Africa) has been crafted from grapes growing on La Bri Wine Estate’s oldest vines, which were planted in 1991, making them older than Justin Bieber. Genteel, gracious, and multi-award-winning, this fabulous Chardonnay boasts flavours of oatmeal and shortbread with a vivacious undercurrent of tangerine. It’s absolutely delicious and well-suited to any weather.

Say hello to the other side

Here in South Africa, one of the most popular white wines is Sauvignon Blanc, which, unfortunately, the public seems to enjoy extremely young. Mere months after the year’s harvest has been pressed, fermented, and bottled,  the young Sauvignon Blancs are whisked to market and sold for a trifling R30 to R80 ($2 to $5).

Marketers describe them as “zesty, fresh, tart”.

I describe them as pissy.

In fairness, not all young Sauvignon Blancs will turn your face inside out, but when you consider what a bit of age does to these wines, it’s a travesty to consume them so young. Why not wait for them to age a little? You know:  open their eyes, develop a bit of character, and sprout a pair of boobs?

The saturation of bottle store shelves and restaurant menus with young wines is precisely why I felt an aversion to white wines for so long. It was thanks to an accidental tasting of a super rich, opulent, and golden Chardonnay that I actually stopped to take stock of “the other side”. In that moment, I realised that, hey, not all white wine has to taste like your flat mate forgot to tell you that he’s been storing clean pee in the refrigerator in case of a surprise drug test at work. In fact, the world of white wine is enormously diverse and bursting with fruit, fabulous flavours, and a damn good time!

So, if you align yourself with any side of the red wine / white wine divide, I urge you to try a beautiful Chardonnay like La Bri’s Barrel Select 2016 and let it open your eyes to the other side [*insert Adele soundtrack here*]. For red wine lover’s, it’ll open your eyes to the world of white wine and for white wine lovers, it’ll open your eyes to wines that aren’t super fresh, young, and pissy.

Get with it!

Funny thirsty Thursday picture

Today’s Thursday, which means that I shall be publishing another “Wine of the  Week” post. If you haven’t already done so, get your butts on Facebook and give my page a like (Wander Woman Thea) or follow me on Instagram (@wander_woman_thea) to see what indulgent tipple this week brings. I’m all about sharing the love so drop me a message if you want me to follow you back, especially if you’re as passionate about food, travel, and wine as I am.

Let me know what wine you’re drinking today!

Ode to Wine – How Wine is Made

woman whit champagne wine glasses, lady celebration party

I used to think I knew a fair bit about wine. Lord knows I consume enough of the stuff to have a PhD in wine drinking, but unfortunately that’s not a real qualification and if it was, the job market would be so saturated I wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of employment.

I did serve time in an Italian restaurant while studying, so I learned about the different kinds of wine, the cultivars of grapes used to make wine and how to pair them up with food. I also built a wine rack with the help of my father, which now serves as a particularly ugly bookshelf. Around the same time, I bought myself a John Platter guide, which provides a comprehensive list of all the South African wineries along with a description and rating of their annual repertoires. A one star wine is good to poach your pears in, but a five-star wine is a sure-fire way to impress your date.

And so, you see, the wine rack (perpetually empty), the restaurant education, the dedication to wine drinking and the John Platter guide really imbued me with the sense of wine wisdom. That is, until I started reading up about wine making. You would never guess just how intricate the process involved is and the degree of fine chemistry that goes into making a good glass of vino. It’s all about balancing acids, exploiting the biology of fungus and harnessing the power of organic chemistry.

Naturally, I decided to write a blog about the magical science that brings us wine!

Why? Because, shut up! No one ever needed a reason to talk about wine.

How to Make Alcohol (You’re Welcome)

wine bottles stacked  with very limited depth of field

There are two extremely good reasons why prison guards are constantly busting inmates for bootlegging liquor. (1) After a day dodging molestation and staring at whitewashed brick walls, alcohol must seem like the elixir of the Gods, and (2) alcohol is ridiculously easy to make. It’s a simple one-liner chemistry equation that requires ingredients you could find in even the most basic of kitchens: Sugar, water and yeast.

Yeast is a tiny, tiny fungus that uses sugar, also known as glucose, to grow. It’s what we use to make breads rise and it’s what is needed to make alcohol. Mother nature is awesome. By throwing the right measure of yeast into a vat of sugar water, you provide this fungus with the ingredients it needs to survive. It eats the glucose, farts out carbon dioxide and produces alcohol as a by-product according the following chemical equation:

C6H12O–> 2 CO+ 2C2H5OH

In English:

Glucose –> Carbon Dioxide + Alcohol

French microbiologist and chemist Louis Pasteur was the one who discovered that adding yeast to sugar and water yielded alcohol and this lead to the conception of the field of fermentation, which actually has a name: zymology. The same man who brought us pasteurized milk also discovered that the acidity of a sugar solution could affect the speed with which the yeast metabolises sugar. This is an important concern of wine-makers because grapes naturally contain acid and if the solution thrown into the vats at the end of the day is too acidic or too alkaline, the yeast won’t ferment optimally. The result is that it can end up affecting the taste of the wine considerably.

It could mean the difference between pinot and piss.

What’s in a Grape?

woman beauty grapes

Grapes may seem small, oval and innocent, but they’re packed with all sorts of stuff that winemakers take a very great interest in. And rightly so, because even though a good wine may have a bouquet of (smell like) citrus, guava, green peppers, passion fruit, a crisp spring morning and the possibility of a good rodgering, there’s only one fruit that goes into it’s making and that’s grapes, which, as it turns out, contain more than just sugar and water:

  • Water
  • Sugar (glucose and fructose)
  • Two main acids: tartaric and malic acid
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin A
  • 20 Different amino acids
  • Potassium,
  • Esters (sweet-smelling hydrocarbons)

The exact time of year the grapes are harvested is extremely important, because the older they get, the sweeter they become, very much unlike your cantankerous grandfather. Grapes that are overripe contain a lot of sugar, which is why “late harvest” wines are sweet and taste like raisons. Grapes that aren’t ripe enough don’t contain enough sugar, which you will know if you’ve ever innocently plucked an unripe grape off the vine. They cause your face to implode.

Baby sour face

THEN of course there are the different kinds of grapes to consider. Sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, riesling, sémillon, gewürztraminer, chardonnay, moscato and pinot grigio are all cultivars (kinds) of grapes that are used to make white wines. syrah, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, merlot, malbec, barbera, pinot noir and sangiovese are all cultivars of grapes that are used to make red wines.

What determines the taste and colour characteristics of the kinds of wines produced from these cultivars is the size of the grape, the thickness of the skin and the flesh-to-skin ratio of the grape. The skin is the source of all the chemicals that make a wine heavy, full-bodied and dry, so the thicker the skin and the smaller the flesh-to-skin ratio of the grape, the more complex, more full-bodied and drier the wine will be, such as the cabernet wines. Large grapes with thin skins therefore yield wines that are fruitier and light to medium bodied, such as merlot.

Red bunch of grapes in the vineyard

SO how do these delectable varieties of grapes get from the vine and into your face after a really crap day in the office?

Wine in the Making

1-How wine is made 1

Grapes are plucked off their gnarled vines and delivered to the cellars where all the leaves, stems, rotten grapes and unlucky caterpillars are removed. It is here that the sorting procedures begin that will determine what kind of wine these valiant grapes are destined to become.

White wines are made from the grape juice alone, so these grapes will have their skins removed after crushing. Red wines are made from the juice AND the skin, so they get to keep their clothes on. The grapes are crushed and the resultant sludgy, lumpy grape goo is pumped into shallow fermentation vats. Here, in the case of red wine, this purple porridge is stirred up and constantly agitated to prevent bacteria from establishing a foothold on the floating grape skins like tiny little Rose DeWitt Bukaters on tiny little grape skin doors in the middle of a vast purple Atlantic Ocean.

RoseAndTheOversizedTitanicDoorCouldJackHaveFit-59915

Just saying… they COULD have made it work

Yeast can be added to aid the fermentation process, during which time the mixture will become increasingly alcoholic and less and less sweet as all that glucose is metabolised by the yeast. The mixture is also stirred up to encourage oxygenation of the mixture, since yeast needs oxygen to live.

By the way, never EVER search the word “yeast” in Google Images. Some things cannot be unseen.

Once fermentation is completed to the desired extent by the winemaker, in other words the right level of alcohol content, sweetness and balance of flavour has been achieved, the sludge will be run through a series of machines that will press out the skins and other flotsam and jetsam so that the remaining mixture is juicy juice. This is then transferred to either wood, usually oak, or steel barrels, depending on the precise taste characteristics the winemaker is trying to achieve.

Wooded or Unwooded?

How wine is made

Whoops! How did I get in that picture?

Wine that is matured in wooden barrels tends to have a – SURPRISE – woody flavour. It gives it an aged, earthy characteristic that is most pleasant in a headier chardonnay or shiraz. And, of course, the age of the wood itself can influence the outcome of the wine. Flavours can also be added to maturing wine by introducing planks of wood that have been toasted over a fire. This tends to result in the rich, coffee, chocolatey flavours that have become so immensely popular here in South Africa.

Throughout maturation, the winemaker will regularly sample the wine to ensure that it is on the right track to securing him a beautiful, expensive white or a quaffable supermarket red, or vice versa. Finally, after a maturation period of six months to three years, the wine will be carefully filtered, bottled, sent to market, purchased by people like me and poured down our gullets, ending the grand process in our brains where it is allowed to affect our judgements.

Class Dismissed: Your Take-Home Message

Winemaking may sound like one of those professions you’d be LUCKY to have, like professional surfing or being a judge on Masterchef, but there is a huge amount of pressure involved. It takes an intimate knowledge of organic chemistry and a fine palate to achieve wines that people (notably obnoxiously wealthy people) consider worthy of their Coq au vin or Bœuf bourguignon. What’s more, you only have one harvest every year to get it right, so unless you are a trust fund baby with unlimited cash at your disposal, you simply cannot afford to bugger around.

Think about this the next time you sip on a smooth merlot, an aged syrah or oaked chardonnay. And think about all the billions of fungi that had to die to deliver to you a succulent sauvignon blanc or a tenacious tempranillo. Appreciate the chemistry and toil that goes into the libation you so enjoy after a day of work, or a day of anything really. Now go forth and drink wine!

If it was good for Jesus, it’s good for you!

v2-pope-francis-wine

Image Source: The Independent “Vatican City drinks more wine per person than anywhere else in the world.”