First Quarter Protégé Report – Wade Sander, 3rd year
For my third and final year of the CWG protégé programme, I decided to join the Swartland based winery ‘Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines’, which is headed up by the dynamic husband and wife team of Chris and Andrea Mullineux. The Swartland is a rather exciting area in which to work currently, it possess a large amount of mature, old vineyard sites which offer balance and character to the wines, in addition the Swartland boasts an impressive range of cultivars, which makes for intriguing blending options and gives the region a competiveness and versatility which others lack. There are numerous examples of quality wines coming out of this area many of which follow a non-interventionist style, something which I tend to identify with. Harvest 2015 has been both an interesting and informative one, filled with many first experiences within the wine making process.
Additionally I was intrigued by the cultivar focus namely Shiraz and Chenin Blanc. I have had the opportunity to work with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and have loved broadening my experience this year with the use of Carignan, Grenache Noir, Cinsaut, Tinta Barocca, Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blanc and Semillion Gris. I like the fact that Mullineux are terroir focused and work with specific vineyard sites, that is the granite and schist Shiraz and quartz Chenin.
The Mullineux’s and indeed the Swartland as a whole has built its reputation on moving towards natural wine production methods. Essentially this involves the use of natural yeasts, no addition of acid or fermentation nutrients, low Sulphur levels and the use of older oak so as not to impact the flavour profile of the wine. In doing so, one is able to produce honest wines which are more indicative of the area and reflect a certain terroir. More importantly, I noticed that this has an effect on the style of wine which is being produced, as factors such PH and acidity become more crucial often resulting in low alcohol wines.
This change in mind set can be seen throughout the vinification process, but ultimately starts in the vineyards. Many of the blocks this year were picked more according to taste than on analytical ripeness, much of the fruit was brought in between 20 – 22 balling which results in leaner wines. Climatically the Swartland is a hot area, picking this early helps retain acidity in the wines, however due to the heat the grapes are more physiologically ripe at this ripeness level than it would be in other regions.
In the cellar processing is relatively straight forward, all of the white wines are pressed using the whole bunch method. Instead of separating the free and press fractions the juice is constantly tasted out of the press pan, when it starts becoming bitter or astringent the remaining juice is discarded. This may result in lower yields but the quality is of a much higher standard. The juice is allowed one day settling after which it is racked dirty to old, neutral barrels for fermentation. The barrels are not touched until ferment has finished after which they are topped.
Red wine production was equally intriguing, a high percentage of whole bunch fermentation was practiced across the board. This involves throwing whole bunches, stems and all into the fermenters, at times foot stomping to lightly crush the grapes. This has two purposes, the whole bunch ferments retain a freshness in the wines which gives the perception of higher acids, but also gives the wines a liveliness and youth while it retains fruit on the nose of the wine. More importantly however the stems have distinct impact on the taste and tannin structure of the wines. We would then destem the remaining grapes on top of the whole bunch portion.
Due to the fact that no commercial yeasts are added fermentations can take 4 -5 days to start, during this time punch downs or pump overs, depending on the vessel, are implemented in order to keep the must healthy. Use of dry ice is employed to keep oxidation and VA to a minimum. After ferment extended maceration is practiced so that the tannin structure/profile may develop.
Thus far it has been a truly memorable harvest experience; I had the opportunity to work with international interns from around the world, and had the ability to share my experiences and country with them, whilst learning from them in turn. This is always valuable has it gives one a global perspective while allowing you to network and make meaningful business relationships.