On the ground in Marlborough: The winery (part 1 of 2)

Co-winemaker Craig Murphy (Murph) is Ant Moore‘s right hand man in the winery. In these two posts, the second to follow next week, Murph invites us to better understand the winemaking process in their production of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. There’s some technical ‘wine-speak’ used here, but I think most of us will be able to follow easily enough. If you do have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll get one of the lads to answer for you!

It’s the beginning of April, the days are still hot, but the nights are starting to cool down, exactly what we want to ripen Sauvignon Blanc. The vineyards have stopped growing and the vines are starting to shut down. All the vine’s energy is now concentrating on ripening fruit.

The fruit is looking clean and very nice. Strong ripe berries with green golden colours. Each berry full of juice and flavours, two winemakers walking through the vineyard tasting and talking about what flavours we can taste. The refracto has been dusted off and we are testing for sugars. 22.5 brix, almost perfect. The weather is looking clear and the fruit is in great condition.

“Let’s do it” the decision is made. I make a call to the harvester and the winery and the fruit is booked in. Forty minutes later the harvester rolls in and starts to set up. We follow along to make sure the machine is picking well and taking all the fruit. The machine rolls over each row, shaking and beating the fruit onto the conveyors and into the holding bins on the harvester. The harvester runs up and back down the next row and has to empty straight to the truck. An hour or so later, 10 tonne heading down to the winery.

We are in the car again and moving to the Pinot Noir vineyard. The block has been looking really good. We had been in there two days earlier but thought it needed a little more time. Each vine perfectly manicured by the vineyard guys. Each cane of each vine producing two beautiful black bunches of fruit. Small black berries and strong skins. We taste for tannins and they are tasting ripe, the colour stains our fingers. Yes, time to go. The hand picking gang pulls up and they start to toss out the picking bins. Ten gang members to a row. Best way to do this so only the cleanest fruit comes in. Eight hard working hours later and the truck is loaded and the fruit pulls into the winery.

The winery is about 10 mins drive from the main Sauvignon Blanc vineyards. It pulls in and then backs up to the ramp. Paper-work is handed over and the load is dumped into the receival bin. 10.24 tonnes. The destemmer is switched on, must pump is primed and the press has been cleaned. Ready to go. 20 mins later the fruit is in the press and we are closing it up and setting the program. Now we wait for 3 hours. The press works away making its puffing noises as the air pressure is released and then it rolls and starts to blow up again to press out more juice. The first juice flows fast; it smells clean and full of tropical fruits, cut grass and tastes fantastic, sweet, cool and bursting with flavour. This is going to be an outstanding tank. All the buzz of the winery, staff running everywhere and in every direction, another truck rolls in with the next load and another press starts up.

The hand picked Pinot Noir is unloaded and weighed. Then through the destemmer and the must chiller and the whole lot, skins, pips and juice are left to soak, each open top tank holds 6 tonne of crushed fruit, and its black and a mass of skins. The cellar hands climb to the top of each tank and start to hand plunge the fruit back into the juice. We need to extract the colour and the flavour. I roll up my sleeves and plunge my arm in. Pull it out again and my skin has changed colour to bright purple. Looks great. I wash my hands but the colour does not come off.

Yes, you know the vintage is here when your hands are purple.

There’s a lot more goes into making good wine than you might think! Next week, in part 2, Murph talks open fermenters, oak barrels and the bottling cycle. Get up to 25% off all Ant Moore wines until the end of April.

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