Slate floors must have been a popular at one time, they are certainly an environmentally friendly solution. Ours (Black slate) has been a pain ever since we bought the house. The polyurethane coating had worn off leaving a matt black finish which shed minute quantities if black powder. We tried repainting once but the stench of drying polyurethane put us off and it only lasted a short time with dogs claws. We put up with it for almost 20 years and then one day recently we found a ceramic tile which we really liked. Having bought the tiles and booked the tiler the next step was jack hammering the slate off the concrete slab.
The important step in this is spraying water over the surface to be removed as a consequence there is very little dust. It’s a slow hard work requiring three passes. The first pass with a 40mm bit to remove the bulk of the slate. Clean away the mess and then slowly and steadily with a 75mm bit level the surface by removing the cement bonding, first in one direction then at right angles. Finally running a straight edge over the surface and marking any high spots, then chiselling those out. 47 square metres takes about 47 hours.
It will all be worth it.
Lots of rain during the season, mild weather over December means a late vintage and then bang a few days or 35+ degrees Celsius and everything comes in a rush. Received a call from the vineyard manager of the winery where we buy our grapes. “Come tomorrow the Verdelho and Traminer are ready and the machines will be here the day after. Dropped everything including jack hammering.
Up at 4.30 am. Chores out of the way first then turn on the 3 upright freezers and the air conditioner in the Cave to keep it all cool and improve the performance of the old discarded freezers. They may be inefficient power wise but for the few weeks every year where they are used to chill the must and control fermentation they are perfect and free. Although we will only need two freezers we use the third as a backup in case there is a change of plan and another variety is available.
We are at the vineyard by 7 am after an hours drive. There is some delay before we finally start picking. Only 50 kg of each variety and as it happens the Semillon is perfect for picking which we do leaving the Chardonnay for a special trip in a few days. The grapes are in good shape requiring very little triage work at the picking stage. The Traminer is the most tedious to pick as the stem of the bunch is hard up against the wood making it difficult to find. With two of us going it only takes 2 ½ hours. The sky is overcast and pleasant picking weather. We are really fortunate to have access to such quality fruit. The wine makes itself with no interference.
Back home the 100 litre plastic drums go straight into the freezer to begin cooling while the crusher de-stemmer is setup and we take time to have a bite to eat. Crushing and de-stemming is a straight forward process and the berries are put back into the freezer until the morning. Overnight soaking will add just a little more depth to the wine. The freezers are turned off once the must reaches 5 degrees Celsius which requires staggering out of bed every two hours or so.
5.30am and the basket press is setup. The skins received between 14 and 16 hours contact. Semillon first then Verdelho and Traminer. The cake is not emptied between pressings to save time hence putting the Traminer last as it has the most distinctive flavour.
The whole process takes about 4 hours. The slowest part is adjusting the yeast to the cool temperature at which the must will be fermented. Ideally 12-15 degrees Celsius. We use timers to cut the power in and out to each freezer. By trial and error the temperature can be held reasonably constant. There is some fluctuation but not enough to affect the end result. The must is in 50 litre containers under airlock. Once two thirds of the sugar is consumed it goes into glass demijohns and temperature is no longer controlled. Medium toast French Oak chips will be added at this point to the Verdelho and Semillon.
A couple of weeks later we get the word to pick the reds. There have been 10 days of searing heat over 35 degrees Celsius which have affected the vines despite constant watering. Sugar levels are not all that high, pH is about right but there is heavy rain expected. The usual step is to pick at least some at lower sugar levels as insurance and take a gamble that there will be some to pick later that are ripe and unaffected by the rain (or the rain doesn’t come).
We rise at 3 am and are at the vineyard before 6. It is a very busy place. The picking machine has been at it since 1 am and as we arrive the hand pickers start turning up. They will clean the box ends where the machine can’t reach.
Suddenly the vineyard manager rushed out of the winery jumps in his vehicle and with spinning rear wheels heads up the vineyard to the picking machine. He returns shortly afterwards. The drama is explained. Some rocks have mixed with the grapes and damaged the rollers on the de-stemmer. The source of the rocks? They are used as markers on top of the end strainers to mark which rows have been sprayed. Some of the vineyard workers have forgotten to take them off after they finish an area. The vibration of the picking machine dropped them onto the conveyer and they went straight into the bin.
The manager takes us to the Merlot. Although it has been picked two short rows remain untouched for us. With those rows and the odd bunch left behind by the picking machine we make up our 50 KG. It is slow going as there is some bird damage. Prior experience deems it necessary to pick off any damaged fruit at the picking stage otherwise it leads to the formation of off odours mainly vinegar.
An hour and a bit later we move to the Shiraz. Huge bunches easily reached. In another hour we have 100KG. Finally the Malbec. Smaller bunches and a little more difficult to pick but another hour and we are all done. An hours drive home and then the work begins.
Everything goes into already chilled freezers then a batch at a time is weighed, crushed and de-stemmed. The sugar level is measured as is the pH. Some adjustment is needed in both. The must is chilled overnight and the next day yeast is re-hydrated and then slowly cooled to within 5-7 degrees of the 15 degrees to which the must has been allowed to rise. Fermentation is kept as close to 15 degrees as possible and when two thirds of the sugar is used up the batch is pressed, oak chips added and stored in glass under airlock while the fermentation finishes. This year no stems were added to the initial fermentation. In past years about 10% have been put into the must. Because of the long cool fermentation time I’m interested in finding out how different the outcome will be. Gradually over the next few days the fermentation slows and the demijohns are topped up to minimise the air space.
We keep three yeasts suitable for reds on hand. This year we selected the CAB90 strain for all batches. Why? A little fuzzy logic really. After reading the detail on each yeast it seemed clear that given the season, the fruit etc CAB90 was most suitable. Last year we used all three yeasts matching them with different red varieties.
We still have a few (very few) bottles of the 2007 shiraz, merlot and malbec. Wow, how it has changed. The aging process has altered it completely. It tasted great when it was young but now it is drier on the palate that youthful sweetness has gone and it is still a lovely wine. A very pleasing result to have a non preservative wine still developing and tasting good after 4 years.