But how does the most important time of year effect the rest of the winery? Today we take you behind the scenes in the winery and show you how no stone is left unturned when it comes to preparing for the perfect harvest season.
Preparation is key
In order for vintage season to be a success, the entire winery must work in complete synergy. For the staff working in our Great Southern and Margaret River estates, this means ensuring that everything is in order for the moment those grapes are picked from the vine and carted off to the next stage in the winemaking process.
When it comes to our winery equipment, exceptional cleaning and servicing is required to ensure that they are in perfect working order for when the fruit arrives. Machinery such as crushers and destemmers, presses, sorting tables, rotary fermenters, pumps and heating and cooling circuits are put to the ultimate test during vintage season, and any mechanical faults or breakdowns threaten to compromise the winemaking process in its infancy. To avoid this, our cellarhands work closely with electricians and technicians to check each piece of equipment until we are absolutely confident that it will perform to the highest standards possible.
Cleaning every inch of the winery is also an integral part of the process, as the importance of hygiene simply cannot be overstated when it comes to the production of high quality wine. Whilst our winery is regularly cleaned throughout the entire year, in the lead up to vintage our staff ensure that every item gets the once over. From large and small tanks to fermenters, all surface areas, seasonal equipment and our hundreds of grape picking bins, meticulous attention is paid to every item used in the winemaking process.
Making room for new creations
If you were to walk into our bottling hall in January, you would witness a hive of activity as our staff work to bottle finished wines in order to free up space in our tanks for the new season’s juice. As the vagaries of weather can drastically affect the ripening of different grape varieties, it is impossible to predict with certainty just how much volume of tank space will be required during vintage season. Because of this, every effort is made to accommodate for the variety of possible scenarios that might occur. In an ideal world, our winemakers would wish for the white varieties to ripen and be picked first before making way for the red varieties later in the season, with a week or two of ‘downtime’ in between. Of course, winemaking is characterised by its often unpredictable nature, and although it would be great if everything went to plan, our team of industry professionals are well-versed in making incredible wine even when Mother Nature decides to flip the script on us entirely.
Come vintage season, our barrel rooms are completely rejuvenated with the purchase and commission of brand new oak barrels. Our senior winemakers will carefully select a variety of French oak vessels of varying sizes, most of which are either 225 litre barriques or most recently, puncheons, which can be between 500-600 litres. Choosing a broad selection of barrels from different forests and coopers in France allows for flexibility when matching suitable barrels to particular grape varieties. The goal of this is to build structure, character and complexity in the maturing wines. Once chosen, these barrels are unloaded and unwrapped from their protective packaging before being swelled with a hot water soaking treatment that preps them for receiving wine for the very first time.
Welcoming the new crew
Finally, no vintage would be complete without the arrival of a new team of winemaking professionals – a local, national and international assemblage of winemakers and cellar hands to staff the winery as it transitions into a 24-hour operation during the height of vintage activity. Many of these skilled travelling winemakers enjoy the challenge of joining a winery for vintage, doing the long shifts and hard yards required and then using the funds saved to travel the world. In fact, many of them love it so much that they usually head to Europe or North America to join another vintage crew in August or September. This year our international contingent hails from the USA, France, England and Serbia. After some detailed induction and training to familiarise the new arrivals with our systems and equipment, there is always a nervous wait for the first real rush of fruit intake. What follows this is the division of labour into day and night shifts to keep everything humming along smoothly as the volume of grapes entering the winery increases from a trickle to a steady and constant stream.