Viticulture Week 8 – Back to business

In Course notes by Classtoglass

A rather gentle ease back to business this week after the break. However, though I only had to make one trip to campus, I was flat out studying. Most of our final lectures are now online and we are fast approaching assignment and exam season. Reeling from our lovely weekend in the King Valley, I have never been so determined to get into this industry.

Top three things I’ve learnt this week:

1. Hydroponics are amazing!

If until now, like me, you associate hydroponics with the cultivation of naughty plants in someone’s loft, you may also be surprised to learn that some of your food was produced like that too.

Hydroponic farming is a form of protected cropping used to cultivate crops that need specific conditions to thrive. Unlike the other methods of protective cropping (that utilise glasshouses and plastic tunnels to regulate the environment), hydroponic environments are fully controlled by the farmer.

Plants grow in alternative growth media, there is no soil! Instead the nutrients that they need are delivered directly to their roots. Some plants simply sit in gullies as nutrients are circulated around their root systems. As they grow they are automatically moved around the glasshouse. Fish are even added to the gullies sometimes as part of the artificial ecosystem and other factors like light and temperature are controlled.

Plants grown under these conditions include those from the tropics (eggplant etc.), strawberries, tomatoes and salad leaves. However, the intense degree of control and technology is expensive so as yet their share of the market is still quite small.

2. Slave to the label?

Marketing this week focused on search engines and wine labelling. It seems, and I can kind of empathise, that buying wine can be fairly stressful for many. Even if you know a fair amount about wine, the choice can be somewhat daunting. For me, choosing wine for a dinner party invitation is hardest, especially if I do not know what is cooking or my hosts’ tastes.  So what do you go for and how do you choose? Often it comes down to the label.

These days there is so much choice. Do you go for traditional labels focusing on the producer, region and varietal or bright, arty or fun ones? It seems that this is very much dependent on the consumer segments that you fit into. For example, statistically men often choose traditional labels, whilst women are often more attracted to brightly coloured labels. Label choice often depends on your confidence in buying wine for the occasion. Are you buying to impress? If so, your choice may reflect the personality of your companions.

It is yet another marketing minefield to navigate, but an important one if you want your wine to stand out. Pictures and information included are important too. Apparently animals are less popular than vineyard scenes!

So the pressure is on to design the label for our first vintage. Best start soon as our Class to Glass Teachers’ Pet Shiraz 2017 is maturing nicely.

3. Wine is alive

The last juices to be processed for vintage 2017

Wine chemistry this week focused on methods for fine tuning wine once it has fermented, ready for bottling.

So you think you are safe, having successfully fermented all of your sugar without turning your juice into vinegar and having racked it into its storage vessel? Think again! Even once the microorganisms involved are racked or filtered away, wine is a complex and evolving solution. It is never too late to go wrong, so it seems. I guess that is the difference between great wines that will cellar for decades and those that will not?

One important consideration is the oxygen concentration of the wine. Too high and your wine may taste oxidised or ‘cooked’ like sherry, two low and it may lead to reductive reactions inside your vessel. Reductive reactions in wine often lead to the production of sulphur compounds which have a range of very unpleasant aromas. Managing oxygen content is another important stage when bottling wine. No one wants to be greeted with a waft of rotten eggs or cabbage when they open a bottle of their favourite tipple. Yuck!

The rest:

Wines at all stages of production

On return from our Easter jaunt my school rosé was fully fermented and is now in the fridge (all shelves removed) amongst piles of food trying to stabilise. Next week I will run a series of tests on it to get an idea of how long this little brew will last. I am also aiming to finish the theory and start my assignments. On Friday we will be continuing to assess all of the wines currently being made in the winery and setting up trials to try and improve them. There are certainly worse jobs to have! Until next week…

Thank you for reading.