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Bottling - all hands on deck

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Bottling - all hands on deck

Next to harvest, the event which calls for all hands on deck here is bottling. A mobile bottling plant (a well-fitted semi-trailer) rolls up, and we gather a crew to scramble around outside it, doing all the jobs the plant leaves to humans: putting bottles on to the bottle washer apparatus, then taking the bottles -- which have been filled with wine, screw-capped (or corked) and labelled -- off the line, packing them into cartons, and carefully placing them on pallets.

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Of course, bigger companies have a bottling plant which does every bit of that and more. Our cartons arrive flat-folded, so someone has to unfold them and make sure they’re facing right-way up when handed to the carton-packer. Big companies don’t need to bother with that.

Getting the young ones in the family to work on the bottling line is a great opportunity to bring home the message of the importance of a uni education. It may also explain why so few family wineries have solid succession plans.

But the real challenge of bottling is not getting the empty bottle from one side of the plant to where it can rest, filled and fitted out, on a pallet ready for shipment. The challenge is getting all the bits and pieces  bottles of different shape or hue, corks or caps, capsules (covering the corks/caps), labels, and cartons (all ordered from different companies)  delivered here on site, in the right quantity and quality, in time for the big day. That’s a logistical exercise requiring military precision.

Bottles are being delivered Monday at 11am. Bottling commences 8am Tuesday. Our watches are synchronised; we’re ready to go!

Budburst Vintage 2017

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Budburst Vintage 2017

First buds to burst this year? No surprise -- they're on the nebbiolo vines. They get the jump on the sauvigon blanc every year. Seems they like a head start, having such a long growing season. The nebbiolo grapes ripen at a leisurely pace they're first out and last in.

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Usually our sauv blanc vines are next to bud, but this year the shiraz vines in the paddock we planted in 2004 look to be a match for them.

So, another season begins. These grapes will go into our 22nd vintage. (We had a couple crops before, but 1995 marked the first vintage under the Sandhurst Ridge label.) They say it takes ten years to know what your vines can do, and that seems about right. We've been through frosts, droughts, and a couple of drenchings, but we've come through on top. And it's still an adventure.

Every September, as we watch the buds open and see the neat rows of bare, brown vines take on the soft green of spring, we experience expectation, anxiety, and hope. A lot can go wrong between now and harvest but, equally, it could be just the start of a ripper season. Bring it on!

Barrel Tastings - the wine thief.

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Barrel Tastings - the wine thief.

This past weekend Paul raised the roller door on our barrel hall, invited visitors in, and dipped a valenche (a.k.a. “wine thief”) into a few wine barrels. The purpose being well, people are curious about why wines spends so much time in oak. Aren’t oak barrels just another anachronism (like corks!)?

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We don’t think so. All of our wine spends some time in oak barrels. Yes, even our sauv blanc, be it only for a week or so. (That’s a story for another time.)

But the reds. Oh, the reds. They love their oak. If you tasted, say, our shiraz after it’s been through its initial fermentation in our open vats and then passed through our basket press, you’d find some bright fruit flavours and, by the bit of shrink-your-gums feel, you’d detect a fair bit of tannin. But, give the shiraz several months in an oak barrique and taste again. A softness has developed. The oak is doing its job.

A few more months and something else is going on. The wine is taking on a new complexity. Here’s where the winemaker needs to do his job. Has the right oak been chosen? New barrels or old? Fine-grained or wide-grained oak? Light, medium, or heavy toasting? Is it time to rack the wine -- move it to a different barrel?

These are all decisions that play a role in helping ensure what John Monteath, another winemaker in our region, calls “barrel alchemy”  that magical transformation of a (shall we say) primitive wine to a soft, rounded wine with marvelous depth and complexity.

But back to that “wine thief'. Over some months, the quantity of wine in a barrel decreases. Winemakers say that the main thief is transpiration through the pores in the oak. But I’d say there’s a reason why that handy pipette that a winemaker uses to draw samples up from the barrel has earned that nickname.

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Dr Karen Sorensen

Karen