Rent-A-Row 2018: Picking, Crushing & Pressing
Pictured above, the winery, stuffed full of 80 red Rent-A-Row fermenters, with demijohn storage behind.
Growing & Growing
Our Rent-A-Row Experience started in 2011, with only a handful of Citizens learning how to make their own wine in the first few years. It then quickly grew to 17 groups in 2016, then after some great press in The Age, Weekly Times & Broadsheet, rocketed to 85 groups in 2017. With continued word of mouth and extensive social media marketing, 2018 saw us grow to an enormous 124 Citizen Winemakers in 2018, with many winemakers entering their 2nd and 3rd Rent-A-Row vintage.
Harvest began a full two weeks earlier than last year, with the first groups arriving on the last weekend in February. Compared to 2017, this years harvest was quick, although for some, it felt like forever (thanks to the constant long days work)! This years program ran for just 3 weekends, with over 40 batches of wine made each week. The season stretched out to a full five weeks including pressing, much shorter than the 6-7 weeks of winemaking in 2017, although we felt just as tired, if not more with the intense rush of vintage.
It’s all hands on deck at the crush pad during harvest!
Our Rent-A-Row winemakers all arrived early in the morning for their 9 or 11am start for picking. After a cuppa and introduction to The Shiraz Republic team, our citizens headed out to the vineyard with Brian or Spencer and new staff additions, Chloe & Martin who ran buckets. Brian directed everyone on the best way to cut off the bunches (keeping their fingers out of the way!) and talked everyone through the workings of our vineyard and the grape harvest. This included details about growing great Shiraz: micro-drip irrigation, vertical shoot positioning, why small berries are best and the effect of a hot, dry summer leading to a great quality crop in 2018. We maintain that great wine begins in the vineyard and in coming out picking in the vineyard, our citizens experience this first hand.
Everyone say grapes! The 9am picking crew finished for the morning and ready for the next stage.
After around 45 minutes of picking, our citizens made their way back from the vineyard to the cellar door for lunch. We had a local food truck, Tacoman, here for all our weekend picking days and everyone enjoyed their tacos & nachos. After bellies were full and wine and beer enjoyed, it was time to head to the crush pad for winemaking. Secretary of State Janet, with help from Chloe, Lara & Martin, took over to guide our winemakers through using a crusher-destemmer and turn their grapes into wine. The hand-powered machines quickly turned the freshly picked bunched of grapes into a mixture of juice and skins, must, leaving the stems (and leaves) aside.
Then began the traditional foot-stomping of grapes, providing a lot of Instagram-worthy photo opportunities and a lot of laughs. After many questions last year about what is added to the wines between the stomping and pressing, we included our winemakers in additing Potassium Metabisulphite (PMS) & Pectin Enzyme to their wines after crushing. The enzyme used assists in macerating the skins to extract colour and tannin (essential in the first few days on the skins, before the alcohol content increases) and the PMS kills of the wild yeast that lives naturally on the grape skins, allowing us to use a targeted yeast strain for the fermentation. President-Elect Spencer helped our winemakers through this process, explaining how the acidic nature of the must, along with the PMS, helps protect the wine from unwanted bacterial growth, including those added from the foot stomping.
Behind The Scenes
Once everyone goes home, Spencer and Janet, with help, got to work looking after our citizens wines. This included added inoculating yeast to the wines the day after crushing, hand-plunging the fermenting wines three-times daily (with help from Brian, Lara, Matt & Martin), testing the pH and balancing with tartaric acid as required and finally adding malobugs (malolactic bacteria) before pressing to kick-off the secondary fermentation.
A week or two after our citizens picked and crushed their grapes, they came back to press off using one of our basket presses. It is a very informative part of the process, with citizens getting to taste and compare their mostly fermented free run (which tastes sweet and acidic) to the first and final runs (pressings) coming off the basket press (which taste dry and highly tannic). After the process and tasting, they blend the pressings into their demijohn or barrel and the resulting wine cake removed from the press (see photo below).
It was pleasing that, compared to 2016 and 2017, so many more of our citizens participated in pressing this year. Of all the Rent-A-Row wines made in 2018, around 80% came back to press-off across the five weeks, at a total of 100 batches, compared to 60% for a total of 60 batches in 2017. The only downside of this was not having enough presses to get everyone through as scheduled, something that we will rectify with some more equipment in 2019.
Over the four weekends, we had several hundred citizens flood our cellar door and winery. We loved having the great community atmosphere to the winemaking, with many citizens returning from previous years and sharing their knowledge with eachother. We’re very much looking forward to having everyone back for the upcoming stages.
The next step will be held over June & early July with the racking of wines and pruning of grapevines. We’ll be taking our winemakers through racking (transferring) their wine into another demijohn/barrel, leaving behind the lees (dead yeast and sediment), before tasting the resulting wine, adding oak and topping up the Shiraz. Citizens will also have the opportunity to book in for a pruning workshop with Brian or Spencer during their visit, to learn how the vines are shaped for the next harvest.
This can be tied into a visit over the Queen’s Birthday long Weekend, June 9-11, where there will be a range of activities and events not only at our cellar door, but throughout the Heathcote Wine Region as part of Heathcote On Show. We’ll be putting on two days full of live music on Saturday & Sunday and running a burger bar all weekend, with American BBQ throughout the day and once that runs out, Smash Burgers into the evening. Full event info.
Finally, due to the craziness of the 2018 harvest – we are really short on photos of all the action of Rent-A-Row and at our cellar door. We’d love it if you can share yours with us via our usual channels below.