January 2019: Off with a bang

Mid January came with a bang as harvest began and the cellar erupted like a busy bee-hive. Tractors chugging through the cellar, stacked crates of grapes, instructions shouted over the hum of the generator and thorough shaking of the de-stemmer, and the slow and steady descent of the basket press. Despite the productive chaos, the cellar functioned like a well-oiled machine under the fastidious supervision of our winemaker Lieze. Overall, with the suspense of the grape tonnage after the years of drought and the excitement of making new wine after the loss of most of our Nativo in the warehouse fire in 2018, the 2019 harvest and winemaking at The Hughes Family Wines got off to a good and fun start.

White berries slipping out of the press due to being unfermented and particularly sugary grapes
The Whites

The Whites offered the most entertainment at the beginning of the season, as we and our basket press fought nobly against the prison-break of the white berries. Slow and steady got us to 100 Bar, when the berry skins started to make their escape and, like very slippery ammunition, popped out of the gaps in the press and made a bee-line for the bystanders’ T-shirt…usually Lieze or our cellar-hand Samwel. Every so often, the innocent inspector of the juice would get a a berry-slap in the face, and the task of plugging the exits of escaping skins with fingers would prove useless but hilarious. Let’s just say there was a fair amount of duck-and-cover, and more than a fair amount of laughter.

Dry ice in the Chenin Blanc destemmed grapes

White winemaking, for those of you less familiar with winemaking, usually requires pressing the juice immediately and keeping it cool so that it can start to ferment slowly in a stainless-steel or plastic tank, plastic egg, or even a barrel. The main reason for this is that, traditionally, white wines don’t benefit from the flavours offered by skin-contact, and its important to settle the lees quickly to keep the flavours clean. Of course there is room to play around with these principles depending on how you want to make your wine, but for us it was very important to keep (specifically) the Viognier juice cold… easier said than done when you don’t have a refrigeration system. Dry-ice proved useful in cooling all white berries before pressing, but for cooling the juice we had to get creative and, moving on from last year’s “ice-bath” method, we decided to make use of the stainless-steel tank’s cooling-jacket, and to use gravity to our advantage. Water cooled with about 25kg of ice was pulled through the cooling-jacket from an elevated bin-liner using gravity… another of Billy’s innovative inventions in a principally no-power environment.

The Reds: calming the tannins

After many years of robust red wines with prominent tannins, a year or two ago we decided to start focusing on softening the tannins by using more whole-bunch fermentation and carbonic maceration. What this basically means throwing the whole bunches into a fermentation tank, sealing the vessel and saturating it with CO2, until fermentation starts inside the berries. This increased skin contact and reduced oxygen exposure are known to soften tannins. Acting as proof of concept is the recently bottled 2018 Grenache Noir that is the product of a single barrel of pure Grenache Noir held back from our classic blend. The gentle translucent pink-red colour of the wine reflects its flavour profile, with tannins as gentle at 1 year old as it should be at 3 or 4 years. While this is classic of Grenache, the soft tannins are also showing in the 2018 Red Blend,  but which needs a little more time in bottle before it can be enjoyed.

And most importantly on the Reds topic, our Red Blend 2017 is now labeled and ready for sale! While still a fresh youngster, the potential of this wine is marvelous!

Red 2017 now labeled and ready for sale.
Trying new things

In addition to the whole-bunch fermentation for reds, we are trying a little with the whites too! While very non-traditional, last year we left half of the white blend components on skins for a little longer than usual, creating what is often referred to as an “orange wine”. A popular natural wine fad, orange wines are not for everyone, but when they are for you they are innovative, complex and very tasty. While only 200 bottles were made, it is a hell-o-a-interesting wine, and we hope to introduce it to you the first chance we get! This year, we are keeping the left over skins from the pressed whites and fermenting them separately to create another similar wine. We’ll see what happens!

The year has undoubtedly gotten off to a good and very brisk start, and we are feeling creative and ready for the challenges that lie ahead. In the next few months we hope to experiment with the use of UV light for disinfecting, a  bit more orange wine, and most importantly more single cultivar vintages which we feel will start to add another dimension to our winemaking.