May 12, 2016

Heathcote On-Show at The Shiraz Republic


Winemaking, Pruning, Tasting & Craft Beer

Over the Queen’s Birthday weekend, the 11th, 12th & 13th of June, we’ll be helping our 2016 batch of Rent-A-Row Winemakers to rack off their wine to a fresh demijohn, removing sediment built up from pressing. (Those that can’t attend can schedule an alternate weekend, or organise for us to do this for you).

In addition to racking, we will be hosting a hands-on pruning demonstration in our vineyard and running a blind tasting of citizen wines (amateur wines made from our grapes) next to commercial Shiraz wines.

As always, we will be offering vertical tastings of our own Shiraz wines and all going well, this weekend will be a ‘soft launch’ of our nanobrewery, Cornella Real, with craft beer tastings and a pool competition running on the Sunday night.

We hope to see some of our citizens over the weekend – friends & family are of course welcome! It’s truly a great weekend to be around Heathcote with so much going on for Heathcote On Show.

On Facebook? Join our Brewery Launch event here!

Posted in: Events
May 25, 2016

Going Solar


After some delay, deliberation and details, on Monday, we completed the installation of some solar panels on top of our winery. This has been in the works for some time, but more pressing now as we look to expand our shed use and will be increasing our power usage once we have our new brewery. It was also a good chance for me to have a go flying The President’s drone, so I took a few snaps.

While we were looking to go bigger, the maximum and what we settled on was a 5KW system – which once all twenty panels were installed looks big enough. Each panel is tilted to maximise sun exposure and come with individual optimisers so that the system keeps running, even if some panels are shaded. Now we just need some work from the power company so we can collect tariffs and from our electrician so that our entire property benefits from the sun, not just the winery.



Posted in: Growing Notes
April 13, 2016

Rent-A-Row 2016

RAR Insta Group Shot

Rent-a-Row Sundays

Sundays during harvest were an absolute blast thanks to the 2016 batch of Rent-A-Row winemakers. After small beginnings back in 2013, we stepped it up in 2016 to have hosted 17 winemakers plus friends and families during harvest. They made demijohns, double demijohns and a barrel. With some exceptions, the winemaking was all done in a big group over the weekend and where possible, winemakers were involved from start to finish.


Everyone started from the start, arriving around morning tea time our Rent-A-Row winemakers went on a short tractor ride out into the vineyard to pick their own grapes with their family and friends. Under the guidance of President Brian they were taken through the whys and wherefores of grape growing: low yield, micro-drip irrigation, vertical shoot positioning, the wonders of small berries and “rattly” bunches. Good wine truly does begin in the vineyard!

The Crush

After lunch with a glass or two of Shiraz, President-Elect Spencer took over. Each winemaker collected their grapes and set about crushing them into wine. The first stage was to use a hand-cranked crusher-destemmer to strip the berries from the bunches and then finishing of the crush in the age-old traditional way, with hands and feet. Most people had seen pictures of this, but hadn’t expected that they would actually be doing it. While some were a little reluctant at first, others couldn’t wait. Spencer explained that the acidic nature of the must (“must” is the term for the crushed grapes) makes a hostile environment for bacteria and that the grape stomp was good for both the wine and their feet. This was an occasion for everyone to pull out their cameras and get some pics for Facebook.

The atmosphere was excellent, with much fun and laughter and all groups picking together, crushing together and helping each other out with each stage. We had couples. We had families. We had locals. We had a couple from Qatar. We had babies. We even had a bride and groom. It is a real joy to be involved in a gift that brings people together to have fun and creates wonderful memories (and wine).

The pressing

The following week, winemakers came back to taste their partially fermented wine and transfer it to their demijohns by pressing off using one of the Republic’s small basket presses. This follow up day worked a treat – and even though we only used the one press, everyone helped with each other’s press, shared and compared their Shiraz before moving on with their day. For those who couldn’t make it we pressed the wine off for them.

Last week, now that the dust has settled – Spencer conducted a once over of all the demijohns, adding tartaric acid as required and some malolactic bacteria to get them all started on their secondary/malolactic fermentation. This process will go on for the next month or so, at which point additions of oak (for tannin, structure and flavour) and sulphur (for protection) will take place.

RAR Demijohns-Spen


For all the Rent-A-Row winemakers out there next key date for visiting the Republic will be the Queen’s Birthday Weekend, which is also the Heathcote On-Show weekend. The Shiraz Republic will be hosting tastings of Citizen wines and will have a pop-up bar and pool competition in our wine shed on Saturday night. Rent-A-Row winemakers can come up to taste their wine, rack (transfer) it to another demijohn to remove the lees (sediment) and learn and participate in pruning the grape vines.

More photos!

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April 11, 2016

Winemaking 2016

SR Insta Press

A few weeks on from calling a wrap on picking, we’ve now called a wrap on the wine making too. Last Saturday we hosted a thank you BBQ / party for all our workers to mark the end of harvest. It was an opportunity to taste our recently bottled 2015 Shiraz, which is pretty damn good now and will be great in a few years. Release date to come.

This year, we made more wine than we have since 2010, making two separate batches totalling 6500 L and with only myself, the President-Elect in charge (The President disputes this). One batch, which is sitting at around 15.5% abv will be named after our 1964 Bedford Truck  (to be called Bed’s Red, or some variant) as it carries a punch. In the other vat, is the 2016 Republic Shiraz – a blend of grapes picked throughout the harvest (from under-ripe to over-ripe) sitting more mildly at 14% abv. That’s the plan for now anyway, they tend to change as the wine matures.

SR Pressing 2

Working in smaller batches (3-4 half-tonne bins at a time) made winemaking more manageable, but a lot more constant – so we are relieved to be finished. Pressing was possible with just our two working presses, however it still required several mornings work between myself, Brian & Alan. And then there was the stress of only having partially filled tanks for a couple of weeks while the last vats finished fermenting.

We arrived at the finish line with a good (adjusted) pH, but a less than ideal TA. This seemed to be the story of Shiraz for 2016 and was often feedback we had from lots of customers. Improving the acidity during harvest is something to research and work on next year, but is a product of the heat – a rapid and short harvest.

SR Titration
Our wines are about two weeks into their Malo Ferment and as we are always working on getting better, we are developing ourselves a lab in our winery for me to use some of my Chemistry skills. So far this has just meant more accurate pH and running some Total Acidity titrations – but this will soon be including Thin-Layered Chromatography (to test MLF) as well as SO2 and Alcohol determinations. Once established, we will be able offer testing to those that want to visit with their wine samples. Watch this space.

American Gothic

| President || President-Elect | The difference between a succession plan and a coup is the timing


Posted in: Growing Notes, Wine
April 7, 2016

Grape Harvest 2016


What a grape harvest.
The earliest.
The quickest.
The hottest.
The biggest!

An early start to the grape harvest

It had been a hot dry summer. Just a couple of days over 40 degrees. Mostly it was mid to high 30s. Ideal ripening weather. Several warm nights also accelerated the ripening. We started with what we thought would be a trial pick on the 14th February, before starting in earnest on Thursday 18th February . We knew the crop was ripening nicely but thought it was just below the Baume’ we were waiting for. While I had been testing a random sample of berries each week since veraison, it’s not until you pick and crush all of the bunches on a number of vines that you are confident that you have an accurate Baume reading. We also wanted to get a better idea of how many grapes we had, so by picking 18 vines in various patches across the vineyard we thought we would also be able to predict to with some accuracy the likely total yield. To our surprise and consternation the sample pick was all in the range of 13.3-13.5 Be. Surprise, because it was ready to go. Consternation because we had booked our casual workforce for Thursday 18th February and were unable to get them any earlier.

Lessons Learnt:

  • Do our trial pick even earlier
  • Identify early recipients
  • Hope that our new 5 acre planting running east-west will ripen slower
  • Research ways to extend the season out a week or two

Pickers – Casual Labour

Access to pickers was to prove a sticking point throughout the season. Of course it wasn’t just us who were having an early season, other vineyards were in the same boat, but so were tomato growers, peach and apricot growers and the factories that processed the peaches etc. We have a very loyal core of local workers, but we need to supplement them with staff from contractors. Some days I’d ask for 10 pickers and get 5. Some days I’d ask for 16 and get 10. Contractors were trying to look after their customers by giving everyone some workers, but it made it hard to plan. But at other times they were trying to look after their workers and one day when other vineyards had finished their picking we asked for 16 workers and got 24. All workers got some work, but at times we didn’t have enough picking buckets, tractors or trailers.

Tuohey's Picking

Lessons Learnt

  • Invest in more picking trailers
  • Enhance relationships with picking contractors and work to have priority for picking staff

Grape Harvest

Quantity Delivered by ZoneThe fruit was very even, small berries, small bunches and no disease, mildew or mould and a yield of about 2.5 tonnes/acre. The dry summer meant that we had only sprayed with Sulphur once, just before flowering in November. This was low intervention fruit at its best. We were delighted to add Peter and Claire Tuohey’s vineyard to the Republic. It’s a bit like Tasmania, a little island of great fruit a little further up along the Colbinabbin Range. Great red soils, 20 year old vines and produced some wonderful fruit.

All fruit was hand picked, mostly into our custom made waxed cardboard boxes. These are continuing to work extremely well. There were a couple of requests from citizens wanting to use their own bulk containers. This remains a very difficult exercise due to the restrictions regarding disease control (Phyloxera) and the difficulty in getting the bins delivered prior to picking. We made one attempt at transferring picked grapes from our bins to another bin. It was time-consuming, messy and wasteful (we ended up with a 150 kg that got wasted).
The early fruit was near on perfect with Baumes’ of 13.5 – 13.8 and pH 3.5. There were a few problems with earwigs in some of the fruit from one block, but it seemed to have no effect on the wine. The hot weather was relentless and the fruit ripened much quicker than we would have liked. The season lasted barely three weeks, but by the end Baumes’ had gone out to 15+ and the acid had dropped off to around pH 4. Not an ideal ending, so we will have some big wines in 2016.

About 30% of the grapes are collected from the vineyard, including 10% which are self picked. Apart from a small quantity that goes interstate the rest of the deliveries are spread pretty evenly around Melbourne. There is a growing interest in citizens making their wine onsite. This seems to be driven by a number of factors including disruptions at home (eg. renovations or moving house), a trend to apartment living and smaller blocks, and an interest in making wine commercially.

Lessons Learnt

  • identify citizens who are able to receive fruit mid-week (eg. retired, self-employed, work from home)
  • establish more meeting points for Northern, Western, Southern and Eastern Suburbs
  • investigate “hub and spoke” delivery options.
  • encourage those who can to pick their own and/or collect directly from the vineyard

The Heat

The heat during the harvest and lead up to harvest was relentless. The season just kept setting records for above average temperatures and low rainfall. It is hard to convey the toll on workers of day after day in the direct sun picking. A big thank you to those who were there from beginning to end and all those who contributed to the task of trying to get the vintage picked and packed. We filled 152 separate orders in 18 days of the harvest.

In Review

We are always into continuous improvement. Our aim is to be deliver the best grapes to our citizen winemakers. With more people wanting lower Baumes’ and with the seasons getting earlier this create extra challenges in terms of our ability to pick and deliver, but also to get the attention of our citizens to be ready.

Dream Factory

  • investigate having some spare bulk bins available for people who want bulk delivery (Establish costings)
  • investigate building a new shed to accommodate on-site making and storage (Establish costings)

Overall it has been a very good season.
Sorry to all those who missed out. We were still getting requests for order three weeks after we had finished. Maybe next year.
Thanks to all who have made it enjoyable. We look forward to swapping a bottle.
We’d love to see you at the vineyard, our cellar door is open 7 days a week.