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Stephen Wallace
 
7 February 2019 | Stephen Wallace

My First Vintage

My First Vintage ~ Stephen Wallace at Upper Reach Winery

                         

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Hello and welcome to my way of giving you a glimpse into the vineyard and the wonderful process of winemaking.

I have worked for Laura & Derek at Upper Reach for just over a year now, and this is my first time getting hands-on with the grapes during a vintage. I'm so grateful that Laura & Derek are letting me have this experience.

I am truly passionate about wine, and the process of turning that cordial-like grape juice into wine fascinates me!

After vintage, I will be starting my WSET Level 3 course which focuses on oenology and viticulture. I'm hoping that doing this vintage will give me a significant head start. I've been half excited and half terrified about working in the vineyard, I didn't know if I would have enough stamina or be able to stand the heat of an Aussie summer. The main thing that had me quaking in my boots, were the snakes... I seriously hope that I don't have to write about an encounter... 

Now, the process for White Wine Making is as such.

1. Pick Grape Bunches - We pick by the bunch to avoid oxidation of the fruit

2. Chill Grapes - We have to chill the fruit from the hot outdoor temperatures to 4 Degrees. We do this to minimise the rate of oxidation and to preserve flavour.

3. De-Stem Bunches - Our clever machine separates the fruit from the stems depositing the stems into a tub.

4. Crush Bunches - The same machine lowers the separated fruit onto rollers which squish the fruit gently without breaking the pips.

5. Press Crushed Grapes - We pump the 'Must' (skins, pips & flesh of the grapes) to the press. This machine has a bag inside, which we inflate, to press the grapes against the sides of the wall to get more juice out.

6. Remove the 'Must' & Ferment Grape Juice - We pump all of the juice over to a steel tank, leaving behind the skins & pips of the grapes. We then have to test the acidity, sugar content & sulphur levels of the juice to judge how much yeast is needed to convert the sugar to alcohol.

 

The process for Red Wine Making is slightly different:

1. Pick Grape Bunches - We pick by the bunch to avoid oxidation of the fruit

2. Chill Grapes - We have to chill the fruit from the hot outdoor temperatures to 4 Degrees. We do this to minimise the rate of oxidation and to preserve flavour.

3. De-Stem Bunches - Our clever machine separates the fruit from the stems depositing the stems into a tub.

4. Crush Bunches - The same machine lowers the separated fruit onto rollers which squish the fruit gently without breaking the pips.

5. Plunging the 'Must'  - We pump all of the juice to an open fermentor. In this tank, we plunge the grape skins into the juice to maximise skin contact with the juice. The skin contact adds flavour, texture, tannin & colour. We will do this process every 3 hours of every day for the next three weeks. We then have to test the acidity, sugar content & sulphur levels of the juice to judge how much yeast is needed to convert the sugar to alcohol.

6. Ferment Grape Juice - During plunging, the fermentation process would have started. We pump all of the juice over to a steel tank, leaving behind the skins & pips of the grapes. We then have to test the acidity, sugar content & sulphur levels of the juice to judge how much yeast is needed to convert the sugar to alcohol.

7. Press Crushed Grapes - We pump the 'Must' (skins, pips & flesh of the grapes) to the press. This machine has a bag inside, which we inflate, to press the grapes against the sides of the wall to get more juice out.

8. Barrel Ageing - Now we have just the fermented juice with no skins, pips or other material, it can be aged in French Oak Barrels. We put our reds in oak barrels to soften the acidity & tannins. Oak also incorporates flavours such as vanilla, spice and will enhance the body of a wine. Wines are kept in oak for up to a year & a half. 

 

If you would like to find out more about how we make our wines, we have a fantastic hour-long Winery Tour where we follow the steps from Grape to Glass, tasting fermenting grape juice along the way.

Book Now

 

Day 1  |  Thursday 24th January 2019  |  Picking Up Verdelho

We were so lucky with the weather! Instead of it being a scorcher, it was a beautiful crisp morning with a little rain. An absolute blessing as Derek & James normally with work outside in 30-40 degree heat.

We had to go out and pick up the crates full of freshly picked grapes and stack them onto pallets. I would pick the crates up from beside the vines and pass them up to James who would be stacking. It really helped having Isobel, Laura & Derek's daughter driving the tractor. 

It made the day a lot more fun by cheekily throwing Verdelho grapes at Isobel... Plus, when you are picking crates up, you eat a couple of grapes here & there and end up eating your body weight in grapes hahaa!

After the trailer is loaded up, we use a forklift to lift the pallets off the trailer, they are weighed and cooled before the next day's crush. 

Day 2  |  Friday 25th January 2019  |  Crushing the Verdelho

I GOT TO PRESS THE BUTTON TO START THE 2019 VINTAGE!!! :D

Excitement over... this was HARD!

We lifted the crates of grapes up high to load them into the crusher/de-stemmer... this is an intense workout on your shoulders.

The crusher's job is basically to remove the grapes from the stems, those are put back as mulch into the vineyard. Whereas the precious, juice, flesh, skins, pulp & pips are pumped across to the press. The free run juice, literally runs out of the press, helped by gently rotating the wine press (it looks like a big horizontal drum with slits in, allowing the liquid to run out). The beautiful sweet juice tastes like passionfruit & lime. I think this will make a stunning wine! 

Once we had crushed the whole load, we got down to cleaning.... every single bloody crate...Three hundred and eighty-four yellow tubs...

Very achy arms... 

The final job was setting the crates out in the vineyard for Sunday's pick. I don't take any chances... I had the snake gaitors on..

Day 3  |  Sunday 27th January 2019  |  Picking Up The Rest Of The Verdelho

We started a little later than usual this morning, so we enjoyed a nice lie in :) Arrived at the vineyard at 9 am and my lord... It was SO HOT! 

We had to go out again and pick up the crates full of freshly picked grapes and stack them onto pallets. Same as the first pick we had Isobel driving the tractor, but were slowed down when we discovered the pickers had missed a row of grapes :(
This added an extra hour onto our day, but can't waste those grapes!

I reckon we could just about have started a meadery with the number of bees that were in the grapes. Scarily James is allergic, so I was super concerned and ready to run to the car to drive him to hospital. Turns out I was the ony oe concerned, he's worked over 10 vintages at Upper Reach and not yet been stung!

When moving the pallets into the cool room, I managed to squish my finger- that's my first vintage injury!

Day 4  |  Monday 28th January 2019  |  Final Verdelho Crush

An absolute scorcher! It reached 42 degrees today, I did feel very lucky not to be picking though- that's a seriously hot job!

We started the destemming and crushing process at 7.30 this morning, for some reason this time, the crusher ended up covered in ladybird! I performed my good dead for the year by saving every last one.

Karma wasn't working out so well for me, as while rinsing out the crates the grapes are picked into, I saw a HUGE Hunstman Spider underneath one of the crates!

Finished work with Burgers & Chips for all the crew!

 

Day 5  |  Tuesday 29th January 2019  |  Picking up Chardonnay

The pickers managed to finish super quickly this morning! Once again, we travelled through the rows collecting the crates of grape bunches. There were swarms of bees out today! I very nearly got stung.. Luckily the stinger got caught in my shirt... phew...Ashley was driving the tractor hell for leather today! We were chasing after him with the crates! James & I had a work out and a half! BRING ISOBEL BACK! The boys told me about the time they were going up the hill outside Riverbrook Restaurant, and a whole pallet of Shiraz fell off the back of the tractor hahaa!

Safe to say they were quite red-faced about it! 

Day 6  |  Wednesday 30th January 2019  |  Crushing the Chardonnay

Today we loaded 10 pallets of Chardonnay into the crusher! Chardonnay is a lot more labour intensive that the Verdelho.. They are less juicy and their stems collect and can jam the crusher. Luckily, we had a smooth run! 

We finally have a speaker! Who'd have known that everyone is a GaGa fan! After the crushes, more and more washing of crates. Great day! The weather forecasts 40 degrees tomorrow.. not looking forward to that..

 

Day 7  |  Thursday 31th January 2019  |  Picking up Semillon & Chardonnay

Our day started off nice and cool, but quickly heated up to the promised 40 degrees.. 

The Semillon grapes are much larger than the Verdelho & Chardonnay. Packed full of delicious juice!

After we had brought the load in, Derek showed me how they test for ripeness. They do an experiment that detects Baume. It is a measurement of sugar that will be converted into alcohol by yeast. So when the grapes have a Baume of 13.5, they will make a 13.5% alcohol wine by the end of fermentation. The Semillon looks like it will be delicious!

 Now time to spend the rest of the day in the Cellar Door :) No rest for the wicked..

Day 8  |  Friday 1st February 2019  |  Crushing the Semillon & Chardonnay

Semillon is so different when you crush it! So much juice and barely any skins to clog up the machine! When you taste them, they are so limey. 

The same fabulous process, load them in, let the machine de-stem the grapes, then drop them into the crusher, between two rollers.

But it wasn't that uneventful...

Whilst I was spraying the crates clean... I flip over one of them only to find a Redback Spider, two inches from my ha..... I hate this country sometimes... Wherever I go in this vineyard, I seem to be rather close to something dangerous hahaa! 

 

Day 9  |  Sunday 3rd February 2019  |  Picking Up More Chardonnay

Last night was our Twilight Concert with Nueva Salsa! It was such a fun evening, however.. made me quite rough for the vineyard... hahaa.. Luckily, it was a lovely cool morning, not a problem in sight, very very lucky for my poor head..

This block of Chardonnay was up towards the Cottage and the grapes were huge and really juicy! Cross fingers this means the crush will be nice and easy tomorrow.

Safe to say, my favourite room was the cool room today... 

Day 10  |  Monday 4th February 2019  |  Crushing More Chardonnay

We found a mutant grape! 

Nice & easy day today with only eight pallets of Chardy needing to be loading into the crusher.

The block that we picked from today had been Cane Pruned instead of keeping to the traditional Double Cordon style. This made a huge difference in the flavour and yield of the vines. Higher yield and much juicier.

Day 11  |  Tuesday 5th February 2019  |  Picking The Last of the Chardonnay

A perfect day for the last white pick! A nice 32-degree day and a cool breeze running through the vines today.

Before we started we had to prepare the French oak barrels. The way we test them, to see if they are secure & water-tight, is by pouring water onto the heads of the barrels.

Back in the vineyard, there were loads more bees than usual.. to James' dismay hahaa!

Ashley was driving again with James helping me pick up fruit. We loaded them on, weighed them and popped them in the cool room :D 

      

 

Day 12  |  Wednesday 6th February 2019  |  Final White Crush of Chardonnay

I GOT TO PRESS THE BUTTON! :D 

The final white crush of 2019 & I got to turn the machine on AND load in the last crate of grapes :P Exciting to me... but.. you're probably thinking.. gotta get a life buddy.. hehee

I've really enjoyed picking up & crushing the white varietals that Upper Reach has grown over the years :D 

The main differences between crushing White & Red is that: rather than Splitting the load into two manageable crush & washes.. we go through the entire load in one go as we don't have to press the reds at this point.

Apparently, the reds are a lot quicker to get through.. so cross fingers, it'll be as much fun as the whites!

Day 13  |  Thursday 7th February 2019  |  Picking up Shiraz & Grenache Delivery

The first day of Red Grape picking! We didn't think it would be this soon, but we tested the Baume of the Shiraz block in the corner of the vineyard and it was ready at 14.5! When we pick grapes down at the bottom of the vineyard, we have to be very careful driving the tractor... There are a lot of hills and bumps. If you go over one to quickly, the pallets of grapes could fall off (as mentioned above).

Today we also received a delivery of Grenache from one of Derek's good friend in the Valley. He owns a vineyard of Grenache which is 60 years old and we use it to make our Shiraz Grenache.

Day 14  |  Friday 8th February 2019  |  First Red Crush, the Shiraz Grenache

I was so excited for this as Derek & James had said it was a lot easier than the white wine crush... I thought they were wrong... this was the toughest morning yet! 

When we process reds, we only crush the grapes and pump them into open fermentors.. this means there is no limit to how much we can do it one continuous crush. We loaded in 488 crates of grapes... BACK BREAKING!

The first thing we did was load full bunches (including the stems) into the first fermentor. Derek has been experimenting with a reaction called Carbonic Maceration. It is where the yeast converts the juice inside the grapes into alcohol while still on the stems. It adds complexity and beautiful floral & herbaceous notes. We crush & pump both Grenache & Shiraz one after the other in a 70-30 ratio to co-ferment. 

The washing was daunting... Each of the 488 containers needed washing out... 

As I was going along... I had another encounter with a Red Back Spider...

 

The Days In-between  |  Pump-over

While the Shiraz Grenache is bubbling away in the Open Fermentors, we have to do a process called pump-over.

This is where we pump the juice from the bottom of the tank over the top of the tank. This action helps extract colour, flavour & tannin from the grape skins.

We have to do pump-over EVERY 3 HOURS, DAY & NIGHT

 

Day 15  |  Friday 14th February 2019  |  Picking up Shiraz

Happy Valentines Day Everyone!  Today we had a huge load to pick up.. a total of 13 pallets of Shiraz.

We started off at the block by the river. This was very challenging as it is quite uneven & there are a lot of inclines between the vines. We had to hold onto the crates as best we could to avoid sheepishly picking up the load from the floor.. hahaa! 

It was really hot down in that block.. we didn't realise how important having a nice cool breeze is...

Not looking forward to the washing tomorrow...

 

Day 16  |  Friday 15th February 2019  |  Crushing Shiraz

What a day! It was the biggest crush we have done so far. Loading thirteen pallets into the crusher was super tiring! 

Luckily it went very smoothly. We managed to load in eight of the pallets in under an hour. This fruit was delicious! The ripe grapes were like blueberries and the slightly shrivelled ones tasted like chocolate! :D

The cleaning took AGES! I did the maths and worked out that I managed to clean 1040 crates... This endeavour came with its fair share of creepy crawlies as well...Four Redbacks, Six Huntsmans and I lost count of the number of cockroaches...

At the end of the day, we all popped out for burgers! 

We're all looking forward to our Twilight Concert with Libby Hammer tomorrow :D

Hope you are enjoying the read so far! 

I will be updating this blog daily on everything we get up to in the vineyard.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to email us at info@upperreach.com.au

Time Posted: 07/02/2019 at 1:00 PM