“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” – Galileo Galilei, 1564-1642
This morning I had the fortunate opportunity to chat with Matthew Pellew, Senior Red Winemaker of Grant Burge Wines in Tanunda. I rolled up just after 11:00AM and even before I walked into the sales room, I detected a warm smell of currants, chocolate and berries in the air, a fragrance synonymous with the red wines I heavily favour. Then again some may argue that this is the fragrance of the Barossa Valley.
As I walked around the Grant Burge at Illaparra, I could not help but see the striking similarities between the industrial set up of the winemaking facilities and some minesites I have worked at. There was just something about the large tanks and hoses with the occasional forklift motoring away in a shed. Only instead of metal ore extracted, wine was being created.
The sheer amount of chemistry that needs to be considered in the creation of wine is astounding and it is difficult to tell from where it begins. It is also incredibly complex.
When it comes to yeast, in red wines about 5 different strains of yeast are used. In white wines there up to 12 different strains of yeast used. And sometimes there is the need to add different strains of yeast at different times in the fermentation stage to bring out the full flavours of the wine.
A winemaker not only needs to be familiar with vineyards and grape species but also with the wood that the barrels are made from. Although a barrel may be watertight, the wine penetrates 2-3mm into the wood of the barrel it sits in to age. This is where it comes in contact with the air that has travelled through the pores of the wood and oxidises. The wine is monitored and tasted at crucial stages. Too much oxidation and the wine could turn into vinegar which doesn’t make for good drinking.
Conversely there can be a reason to add oxygen to wine. Micro-oxygenation was developed by Patrick Ducournau and Thierry Lemaire of the French company Oenodev. It has come after much work and research into the role of oxygen in the many microbiological and biochemical reactions that take place during the life of a wine. Some of these can be beneficial to the winemaking process as well as define the characteristic of the finished product.
Micro-oxygenations is a controlled process of introducing very small measured amounts in a controlled manner to the wine manipulating the ageing process for a number of reasons including the stabilisation colour and intensity and improving the taste.
This was just some of the things that Matthew Pellew spoke to me about. It was fascinating but what really came through today as well as the scientist was the artist within him. There are some things that he trusts his instinct and 20 years of experience to when blending wine.
“It’s what I know. Winemaking is a balance between the chemistry and just knowing that things come together.”