Manic though it has been, this week I was more motivated than ever. As well as working really hard on lots of big literature reviews due next month, we were out in the vineyard for our first pruning 101 with Sharon Hebbard from Total Viticulture Solutions. There is more… Tuesday night Phil took me for a delicious wine dinner at Epoca, Carlton, showcasing the latest releases from Mount Pleasant wines. This event combined with a wee bit of tasting in the Yarra Valley (well its rude not to when you are up there) and my wine evaluation course, meant that I got to taste some excellent wines.
Top 3 things I have learnt this week:
1. Buttery wine
Have you ever tasted a wine that reminded you a bit of butter? This would have probably occurred with a Chardonnay or other full bodied white variety. If not, then your homework dear reader, is to look out for a kind of buttery sensation next time you are drinking white wine. (Though you are unlikely to find it in the super aromatic fruity varieties like Riesling).
Buttery sensations or flavours in your wine are most often caused by two substances. The first, lactic acid, is produced by a type of bacteria. The bacteria, perform a secondary fermentation on the wine, turning the sharper (green apple) malic acid into (creamy) lactic acid. In some wines this process happens completely naturally, but in others it is encouraged to reduce acidity and add complexity. Diacetyl, is the second substance that can inject a some butter into your chardy, and this too is a by product of lactic acid bacteria.
Not all lactic acid bacteria are created equal though – some can be nasty and spoil your wine completely with acetic acid (vinegar). Even some of these buttery flavours can become faults if the concentration is too high. Diacetly can taste rancid, for example. Though it is easier to detect in white wine, this secondary fermentation occurs often in reds too.
2. Pruning 101
Without doubt, the highlight of my studies this week was our morning at Helen’s Hill vineyard in the Yarra Valley. Whilst there is a plethora of information and advice on how to prune vines out there, there is no substitute for having go. Our pruning 101 gave us just the opportunity we needed… and boy! It is not as easy as it looks!
Vines have to be drastically pruned every winter to ensure that they continue to produce an abundance of quality fruit each year. If not, the vine would devote most of its energy to getting bigger and increasing the foliage. It is also used to rework vines that are getting old or have been damaged. There are two main techniques: spur pruning and cane pruning, though as we discovered this week they are not mutually exclusive on one vine. Look out for these techniques next time you pass a vineyard:
Have you seen vines that have a central trunk leading two thick branches, wrapped along a trellis in opposite directions, and with little spurs sticking out? They are likely to be spur pruned. The horizontal branches or cordons, maybe 2 to many years old. The new growth each year comes from the little buds or nodes on the spurs.
Cane pruned vines also have a central trunk but they do not have thick cordons reaching out on either side. Instead, two of the best shoots or canes from the previous season are selected and wrapped down onto the trellis. The new growth comes from buds along the 1 year old cane. This technique can be used to increase yield and for re-working vines.
Fresh from learning the theory of these techniques, we were ready and raring to go with our snips in hand. However, when faced with these growing organisms the task became a little more challenging. The young Chardonnay vines were were working on were recently grafted and they were in need of some re-working to ensure even growth and a good yield. Often, spur pruning would be appropriate for one half, but cane on the other. I had no idea we would be having the opportunity to practice everything at once.
Decisions need to be made at every vine and at first the task can feel daunting. I loved it. The morning mists cleared to blue skies and I could just imagine putting my headphones in and spending the day working the rows. Such a relaxing task. (Though I’m sure that your hands may not agree after a few 100!)
3. What lies beneath?
I have already casually mentioned grafting in this note, but for many countries around the world grafting has been the saviour of the wine industry. Ever since the pest phylloxera, for which there is still no cure, decimated the worlds vines int he 1800s grafting has been used to convey longevity to vines. You have probably seen the no entry signs in vineyards, warning of the spread of disease? Well, this is the worst of them and during the summer months it can be transmitted, between vineyards, on clothes and shoes very easily .
Phylloxera is a sap-sucking insect that feeds on the roots and leaves of vines. Once infected, the vineyard faces decimation withing the decade. Unfortunately it mainly effects Vitis vinifera, our wonderful wine vines, but fortunately it doesn’t effect other Vitis species quite so readily. This is where grafting comes in…
Most of the worlds wine grapes are now grown on grafted vines, including those in Burgundy in France. These hybrid vines have ‘American’ roots (rootstocks) from other Vitis varieties, grafted onto Vitis Vinifera stalks and canopy. The roots convey resistance to the pest. So next time you are in a vineyard and see the signs, spare a thought for what might lie beneath the soil.
Our wine tasting adventure continues as we begin to think about acidity in wines. Vineyard management focuses on the soil and in Vine Phys were are getting very anatomical. Wine chemistry explores these secondary fermentations some more and I continue my quest to find articles for my literature reviews.
In my real adult life, Phil and I are to attend a barrel tasting of the wines made at Noisy Ritual this vintage and I may have to open another delicious wine to review – oh dear!
Thank you for reading, see you next week.