Here at Oakvale Wines we are consistently experimenting with the art of making wine. Even though there is much chemistry and research on the subject, we have discovered that sometimes you just have to rely on instinct and innovation.
Our newest experiment this vintage has been with whole cluster fermentation and carbonic maceration. Before you stop reading because I got all technical, just bare with me a minute and let me explain. Simply put, it is customary these days to de-stem and crush the grapes before fermentation. We have fermented some small batches up to 100% whole cluster for our Hunter Valley Shiraz. This means we did not crush the berries and left them on the stems throughout the fermentation process. Each berry acts as its own fermentation vessel, which undergoes an enzymatic fermentation. The results are really exciting!
There is much technical debate over what this will actually do for the end product, but we are hoping to see the beautiful, bright fruit characters that are usually produced with carbonic maceration. This, combined with the hints of dried spice aromas which fermenting on ripe stems can give to the juice, will lead to an elegant, lifted, complex wine.
(Whole cluster before fermentation)
While this process is new to Oakvale, it is far from new in the wine industry. In fact, it was common practice in Burgundy for hundreds of years before it fell out of favour in the 1980s and 1990s. Only recently have we seen an increase in the number of wineries experimenting with some percentage of whole-cluster. It is most commonly used with Pinot Noir grapes but can be utilized with any varietal, often to tone down extracted characteristics and add another layer to the wine.
Hundreds of years ago the motivation for using the whole-cluster method may have had a little to do with the convenience of tossing the entire bunches into the fermenting vessel. However, that is certainly no longer the reason to experiment with this technique. James had the opportunity to work with whole cluster Pinot Noir in California and could not wait to get back and use what he had learned.
We can’t wait to see how this Shiraz is looking later this year. Stay tuned…
Oakvale “Drink Different”
(Whole cluster after fermentation)