Sticky Business

It's crazy how time flies. I've been in Australia for just over a month now, and now that harvest has picked up I'm settling into a real comfortable groove.

I'm reading this great book right now about Spain called "Spanish Recognitions." It feels so appropriate to read about travelling and discovering the world while on a trip like this, and author Mary Lee Settle (82 years young!) calls it just right: "when strangers become familiar you are at home anywhere." That line really captures my last few weeks.

Harvest has started to kick into high gear. There is an AM and PM shift at the winery (in a couple days we transition to the 24 hour schedule, goodbye sleep!), and the vintage staff bounces between the Marananga and Branson Two Hands facilities. I've been on the afternoon/night shift for the past week or so, generally arriving late in the day as the morning shift finishes crushing fruit. Two Hands has mostly been picking McLaren Vale shiraz thus far. Even though McLaren Vale is more coastal than Barossa, the night time temperatures are warmer than those in Barossa Valley, and this smaller diurnal range allows the grapes to ripen earlier. Barossa fruit is expected to start coming in any day now:

The Branson "Coach House" facility is the main production house for Two Hands.

Branson is home to the large receiving bin, a crusher/stemmer, the majority of open top fermenter tanks (about 8 ten ton tanks, and about a dozen 5 ton fermenters, housed in what the staff calls the "missile silo"), and stainless steel holding tanks ranging from 5,000 to 15,000 liters. Here's how it all goes down:

Fruit is picked at night to retain the cool nighttime temperatures and typically arrives in the early morning hours. We'll load no more than 10 tonnes at a time into the receiving bin, and it takes just over an hour to crush, process, and pump it through must lines into a fermenter.

I only have photos of white grapes going into the receiving bin, so let's just pretend these are red:

Grapes are lightly crushed and de-stemmed at a fairly moderate pace, but not too quick. Beneath the stemmer/crusher is a sump with a must pump fitted at the bottom. The sump isn't big at all, and it requires constant attention from both the pump operator and whoever is controlling the receiving bin auger in order to maintain a fixed and steady pump speed. The must gets pumped through the heat exchanger, which cools the must down (similar in concept to a pre-ferment "cold soak," allowing the fruit to get some extended skin contact before fermentation begins).

The Marananga facility processes less fruit than Branson, and much of the premium fruit is directed here as this site is better suited for small lots. There are ten 5 ton stainless steel open top fermenters, with a stemmer/crusher positioned on a track above the bins in order to crush/stem fruit directly into each tank. The must isn't pumped initially, and each fermenter has a glycol plate which is utilized when the temperatures get too high.

Meredith does a fine job raking grapes:

Two Hands inoculates their red must with isolated, cultured yeast strains in order to allow for specific and desired flavor/aromatic profiles.

Winemaker Matt Wenk inoculates McLaren Vale shiraz with Rhone 2226 yeast strain (a natural, isolated yeast strain from the Rhone valley in France).

Post inoculation we don't touch the fermenter for about 12 hours. We want happy, healthy, undisturbed yeast! Once the yeast culture builds up and the fermentation kicks off the joy of pump-overs begin. By sucking in juice through the bottom valve of the tank and "fire-hosing" the floating "cap" (made of skins) that forms on the top of the tank, several critical and important fermentation issues are addressed. Heat gets evenly distributed throughout the tank, the juice saturates the skins on the cap building tannin structure, increasing flavor extraction, and stabilizing color, trapped CO2 gas gets released, and oxygen gets introduced to the fermentation (which makes the yeast happy). Through my winemaking experience at Jaffurs Wine Cellars I've never had the pleasure of pumping over our ferments, and instead we accomplish the above criteria by strengthening my back through the glorious "punch down" process.

Pump-over city. At 20 minutes for each tank these take some time:

Up close on day 2. The ferment hasn't taken off yet:

24 hours later and the ferment is raging:

Two Hands takes temperature and sugar readings before and after each of the three daily pumpovers. Note the temps are in Celsius, and the sugars measured in Baume (1 baume=1.8 brix):

After 10-14 days the ferments are finished, the sugars transformed into alcohol and CO2, and the must gets pressed with a hydraulic basket press. The "free run" juice drains out of the tank with ease, and the skins must be shoveled out by hand into the basket press positioned below.

It's so good when it hits your lips:

The wine is pressed and then pumped into a tank to settle out off the lees, and then barreled down the next day.

The night time shifts have been awesome. We turn the tunes up and crank out what needs to get done. Two Hands hires a chef to come in and prepare dinner for the crew each night, and man does she cook a mean meal (complete with a main course on the BBQ, grilled veggies, snazzy salads, and fresh baked bread). This is a great opportunity to sit down with the gang each evening and talk about what's been going on at the winery and what's next on the agenda, but more importantly just a great way to kick back, relax, and shoot the breeze.

I didn't include any tasting notes in this posting, but I've had some amazing wine in the last few days! I'll get another posting up soon, focused on last week's wine nights. I also visited the "Massena" and "Rockford" wineries, which were among the best Barossa wines I've tasted so far. Can't wait to share my notes. I'm off to finish off this tasty 2004 Rockford Grenache/Shiraz/Mataro blend...damn good stuff!

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