My Blog name of OOGY WAWA speaks of the expression used by the Zulu people for the English equivalent of Cheers!

This is my first blog. It is intended to introduce my experience of making a barrel of Pinot Noir wine from the 2012 grape harvest in the Waipara Valley, North Canterbury. It was with the support and encouragement of Mat Donaldson, Lynnette Hudson, and the team at Pegasus Bay winery, that I was able to undertake this personal project.

I kept a diary during the process. It is essentially from this source material that I have written and published a small book under the title of ‘The Making of a Barrel of Wine ‘. Over the coming weeks I propose to release selected excerpts which hopefully will provide interest and enlightenment for the reader.

barryLet me introduce myself.                                           

I was born in Wellington, New Zealand, and attended Wellington College. I graduated from the University of Canterbury with a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1971 and practiced as a lawyer in Christchurch until 2001, except for 2 years when I was a Resident Magistrate in Samoa. I have been involved in the wine industry for the past 20 years. I am currently the General Manager of Glasnevin Wine Estates Ltd, a business which I set up with our eldest son Ben in 2005. I live in Christchurch with my wife Jennie.

First Excerpt from “The Making of a Barrel of Wine”

My story has its genesis in a chance conversation with winemaker Mat Donaldson of Pegasus Bay winery in April of 2011. This was at the end of the harvest of our pinot noir grapes for that season. I mentioned to Mat that I would like to make a small batch of pinot noir some time, as a personal challenge and to gain a better understanding of the whole process. His jaunty response was, “I’ll help you to do that, no problems; making red wine is really easy.” There the matter rested until early in April of 2012, when I reminded Mat of his generous offer the previous year. He was quick to affirm that he would be happy to work with me to produce my own small batch of hand-crafted pinot noir.

I had, with my wife, Jennie, and our eldest son, Ben, in 1994 undertaken the initial establishment of our own vineyard on the south bank of the Waipara River in the Waipara Valley, North Canterbury. In the intervening years we have worked with Mat Donaldson and the Pegasus Bay winery team from time to time, particularly in seasons where we have had fruit to sell or trade. They have also made wine for us on a few occasions. We have always had our wines made by contracted winemakers since our first vintage in 1997.

My time had arrived. I proceeded to identify the fruit I would pick by row numbers and the preferred clones. I chose the Dijon or “Bernard” clones 113, 115 and 777 in equal proportions. The vines I was working with had been planted in 1998 on grafted rootstocks and had performed particularly well from year to year – Wine Show results included gold medals and even a trophy. In the weeks leading up to harvest, extra work was done by way of bunch thinning on individual vines, where required, identifying the best vines where the ripeness of the bunches was most consistent and keeping an eagle eye out for signs of botrytis on the bunches. With the blessing of a wonderful “Indian summer” spell of weather over the month of April, the fruit achieved full physiological ripeness, developed great colour and flavours and was a joy to pick. A month of benign, clear days and cool nights drew out the ripening time, which aided greatly in holding aromas, flavours and acidity in the fruit. We were able to pick the fruit at a time of our choosing, without any of the adverse weather or disease pressures that can occur in some seasons.

Having taken berry and bunch samples for analysis   to determine brix levels, total acid (T/A) and pH readings in the weeks leading up to harvest, the decision was taken, in consultation with Mat, to set   2 May as the picking date. A picking gang comprising  myself, Jennie and our harvest assistant, Marconi, presented with our snips and plastic picking bins ready to harvest up to 500kg of fruit. This occupied some 3 hours as we carefully selected only the very best bunches, looking for even ripeness and consistent bunch weight. We picked enough fruit to yield 10 bins of each of the 3 clones earlier selected. Each bin averaged a net 15kg to give a total volume of 450kg. The fruit picked comprised smallish bunches made up of small berries, but with lovely concentrated flavours and ripeness. The picking conditions were ideal – it was a cool day with a light southerly breeze and a clear sky.

Mat had loaned us an old French oak puncheon (capacity 500L), which was delivered in time for the harvest. It was secured on the back of a trailer and parked up alongside our main building, ready to receive the fruit as picked. A start was made late in the afternoon to hand de-stem the bunches. First, 3 bins of fruit (approx 45kg) were put straight into the puncheon as whole bunches, including stems. A further 7 bins were hand de-stemmed and the whole berries loaded into the puncheon before we called it quits for the day. A cover sheet was fitted over the puncheon, and the remaining bins of fruit were also covered against the weather.

Following a cold night, once the sun was up next morning we enjoyed a lovely autumn day with a clear blue sky, no wind and a temperature of 16oC. Jennie and I worked our way through the remaining 20 bins of fruit. Jennie foot-stomped 10 bins, and after the stems had been removed the crushed fruit was loaded directly into the puncheon. A further 10 bins were hand de-stemmed and the whole berries loaded into the puncheon, to complete the process. As we loaded the de-stemmed bunches into the puncheon a mixture of 1.5g/L of tartaric acid and 50ppm of sulphur dioxide (pre-mixed with juice from the fruit) was added proportionately to keep the fruit stable. The predominance of whole berries and skins was intended to give added colour and flavour, and the 10% of whole bunches including stems to give greater aromatics and complexity. Hand de- stemming is hard and time-consuming work – it’s all about the love of and passion for the process.

At the end of the day, I transported the puncheon to Pegasus Bay winery, a distance of some 5km from our vineyard, where it was put in cold storage overnight. Then followed 6 days of cold soak, which involved daily kneading (maceration) using a plunger, which I did myself. It is necessary to clean the plunger before each use by dunking it in liquid caustic soda, hosing it off with fresh water and then dipping it in a citrus solution to neutralise any yeast that may have been left on it after use elsewhere in the winery. The maceration of juice and skins is necessary to extract fresh primary fruit flavours and vibrant colour.

After 6 days of maceration, the puncheon, now with the initials “B J” scrawled in chalk on one side for identification purposes, was moved to the warm  room at the winery to kick-start the fermentation process Then followed 15 days of recording the daily temperature of the cap, brix and juice levels, as well as hand-plunging morning and afternoon to maintain a layer of juice over the cap to prevent drying out of the skins. These plunging sessions, in which I used the same plunger as used during the earlier maceration period, lasted about 5 minutes each. The warm room had to be ventilated when plunging was taking place, because of the high levels of CO2. The puncheon was covered with a plastic sheet, with a stretchy band to hold the cover in place. Near the end of the fermentation it was gassed with CO2 daily – by staff at the winery – to provide a protective layer to the fermenting fruit (must) and to prevent oxidation occurring.

Early on, Lynnette Hudson, in a mentoring role, was involved in taking daily samples from the puncheon for analysis, to check the colour and general development of the fermenting juice and for tasting sessions with me. The initial analysis resulted in the addition of 0.5g of tartaric acid to bring the acid level up to around 7.0 T/A. This level of added acid was based on an estimated final litrage at 75% extraction rate. It was explained to me that the acid level would naturally reduce due to the malolactic fermentation and cold stabilisation occurring over winter in the barrel.

After 5 days, the fermentation process reached a peak temperature of 31oC, and was progressively reduced thereafter to a target level of 1 – 2 brix, at which time the temperature of the juice had dropped to 22oC. In my daily tastings with Lynnette, it was apparent that the wine was developing nicely – the colour was excellent and the flavours attractive and poised. There were no harsh tannins apparent at any stage of the process.

In my next excerpt I will cover primary fermentation, pressing to barrel, malolactic fermentation and other aspects of the process.

Barry Johns

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