When is it best to pick the grapes?
The grapes should be picked when they are physiologically ripe. Once the grapes are harvested, the physical and chemical components of the grape which will influence the wine’s quality are essentially set so determining the optimal moment of ripeness may be considered the most crucial decision in winemaking.
There are several factors that contribute to the ripeness of the grape. As the grapes go through veraison, sugars in the grapes will continue to rise as acid levels fall. The balance between sugar (as well as the potential alcohol level) and acids is considered one of the most critical aspects of producing quality wine so both the must weight and “total acidity”, as well as the pH of the grapes, are evaluated to determine ripeness.
Modern winemakers and viticulturists focus on achieving “physiological” ripeness in the grapes. This refers to a more complete ripeness of tannins and other phenolic compounds in the grapes that contribute to the color, flavor and aroma of wine.
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How will I know when they are ripe?
Each week, after veraison, I test the grapes to determine their ripeness. Picking will start once the grapes reach 13 Baume. This should translate into wine with a little more than 13% alcohol.Each week from late January I publish a table which shows the progressive ripening of the different blocks and clones, the expected yield and likely picking date. Picking usually starts in March, sometimes early sometimes later, but once I start testing you can see the emerging pattern and start to organise your equipment and helpers.
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When does harvest start?
Picking usually starts in March, sometimes early sometimes later. As the season progresses I publish on the website the expected picking dates for each block of fruit.
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How long does harvest last?
Harvest usually runs over 3 or 4 weekends. It depends greatly on the weather. A sustained spell of hot weather can ripen the fruit very quickly and it’s a scramble to get it picked. Rain and cool weather can slow the process down.
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Who goes first? Do the big orders get filled first?
When an order is placed, I record it in a database along with the date it was placed. Priority is given to the order of placement. It doesn’t matter if you want your grapes later than someone else, provided it can be done without ruining the grapes, once ordered, your grapes are reserved for you.
Big orders, such as they are, are treated in the same way your are. I ask what Baume’ you want, when do you want them, and we do our very best to work to that. It is not unusual to have people in the vineyard picking their own grapes while in another part of the vineyard a crew is picking orders for delivery.
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Are my grapes different to those that go to wineries or big customers?
In a word, “No!” The Shiraz Republic is a democracy of wine. As noted above, your grapes will be picked when you (and they) are ready. We genuinely believe that premium grapes make premium wine. Your grapes are not left-overs, they are not “seconds”, they are not surplus to our requirements.
Amateur winemakers are part of our core business.
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How fresh are my grapes?
Our grapes don’t lay around waiting for a buyer. You won’t find grapes laying around waiting to be sold. We pick your order – to order. A key ingredient in making good wine is fresh grapes. We pick them because we are going to deliver them, as soon as possible.
At the Shiraz Republic we know that’s not how the rest of the world operates. You may have bought grapes from the back of a truck or from a market. They have been picked sometime before, trucked down to Melbourne on spec, and will sit there until they are sold. See also our comments about Social Etiquette in the Shiraz Republic.
Friday nights deliveries are picked Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.
Saturdays deliveries are picked Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.
Orders for collection are usually picked the same day (unless it is too big to be picked by the time you want to collect it.)
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How will I be notified about delivery?
If you are having your grapes home delivered, we will contact you in the week before planned delivery. Preferably by email.
Delivery dates are worked out based on a combination of your preferred Baume’ (some people want higher alcohol levels, some want lower) and creating a workable delivery run. We usually try to do an Eastern Suburbs, Western Suburbs, Southern Suburbs, Northern Suburbs run jsut for efficient logistics purposes. Also, it can get quite late towards the end of a long delivery run.
Friday night deliveries usually run from 5.30pm through till they are done. Be warned, sometimes this can be 11.00pm (or later if we are delayed). We will let you know a approximate time and confirm it about an hour before hand.
Saturday’s deliveries usually start a little earlier, basically as soon as we can get our orders picked!
You can negotiate. There is room for give and take. Sometimes this may mean you meeting the truck enroute. This can speed things up for everybody.
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Can I get a discount for a large order?
We charge you the same as we charge everyone. Our largest orders are about 3 tonnes. They pay the same prices as our smallest order (17kg). If I am going to give a discount to anyone, it should be to the winery who for the last five years has bought 2 to 3 tonnes a year. How do I look them in the face of I start giving discounts to others.
So, in a word, I guess the answer is “No”, but you can reduce your costs by picking your own, supplying your own bulk bins and collecting from the vineyard. See price options on the orders page.
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Can I supply my own boxes?
Heathcote is a phylloxera free zone. In order to maintain our disease free status anything coming into the region has to be either new or have been heat sterilised (and have a certificate from the Department of Primary Industry).
Our boxes are made from waxed cardboard. They are new. They can be folded flat for disposal. In some municipalities they can be recycled. They make great fire starters!
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What days are deliveries made?
Most amateur winemakers want their grapes on Friday nights and Saturdays, so we will try to arrange for wineries to have theirs picked mid-week, but it all depends on you. Obviously it is not economic to make a special run to Melbourne mid-week with a single small order, but if you want to collect them (and/or pick them) mid-week there is not problem with that.
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What about interstate deliveries?
We have successfully sent grapes to NSW and Queensland. Interstate deliveries are a little more difficult to arrange and we will work with you and transport companies to get them as close to you as possible. The cheapest way is to get them on an overnight semi-trailer. But semi-trailers have difficulty negotiating suburban streets, so usually you will need to pick your grapes up from a depot or some other agreed location that works for you and the transport driver.
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I want to pick my own. How long will it take and what equipment will I need?
Hand picking can be hard work or it can be fun. If you are running against the clock or are under-volunteered it can be hard. If you bring a few friends and family it is a great way to be involved in the winemaking process from beginning to end. One person can usually pick about 400 kg per day. As an amateur count on about 50kg per hour/person. If you are traveling up and back in the day and want to process the grapes that day, try to press-gang enough volunteers so that you can pick your grapes in 2 – 3 hours. Then have a picnic lunch at the vineyard, before heading home for the crush.
You will need:
- a van or trailer
- broad brimmed hat and sunscreen
- closed shoes; no thongs or open-toed shoes please
- drinking water
- you can bring your own cutters, but they will need to be sterilised with some metholated spirits before entering the vineyard. (We can supply some cutters, but let us know before hand)
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How many kilograms are in a box?
Our boxes hold about 17 -19 kg. This is a little more that the traditional polystyrene boxes which usually hold 15 kg, Don’t worry, we weigh all orders and will always give you a little more than a little less. We want you to succeed.
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What are the dimensions of your boxes?
Our boxes are 570mm long x 375 wide x 185 high. These dimensions mean they stack neatly in a 6 x 4 trailer and the reduced height reduces the weight of grapes pressing down on each other and therefore reduces the splitting of berries.
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How will the boxes fit in my trailer?
The boxes have been designed to stack neatly into a 6 x 4 trailer (1800mm x 1200mm)
The boxes should stack nine to a layer.
This is approximately 153 kg per layer.
The boxes interlock and will easily stack four layers high.
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I’m new to winemaking. Where can I get help?
There are a number of sources of information and assistance including winemaking supply stores, amateur winemaking associations, short courses in winemaking and we are happy to share our knowledge for what it is worth. We also encourage fellow Republicans to share their knowledge with others.
Winemaking Supply Stores:
Winemaking supply stores are a good source of information and products. Many offer testing and assessment services for amateur winemakers.
- Australian Winemakers, North Melbourne
- Brewers Den, Boronia
- Costante Imports, Preston
- Grain and Grape, Yarraville
- Greensborough Home Brewing, Greensborourgh
- Home Make it, Clayton and Reservoir
- Winemaking Supplies and Services, Hallam
- Winequip, Reservoir
Associations are a great way of sharing knowledge, equipment and tasting wine.
- Eltham and District Winemakers Guild
- Franskston Amateur Winemaking Guild
- Mountain Districts Amateur Winemaker’s Group email John Shortridge
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How many kg will fit in my fermenter?
You will only want to fill your fermenter about 80% full as during the fermentation process the carbon dioxide given off will cause the cap of skins to rise up.
The grape cluster consists of stem (8% w/w), skin (6-10% w/w), pulp, grape-stones (2-15% w/w) and liquid or must. The stems are removed as part of the crushing of the grapes so you should end up with 60-80 liters of must from 100 kg of grapes. You can generally count on getting about 66% of your grapes (kg) into wine (ltrs).