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!
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 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.
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.