March – Agterosse kom ook in die kraal
With the roads running through the winelands now giving off the heady smell of fermenting grapes (courtesy of the droppings from the delivery trucks) harvest season in the Cape Winelands is drawing to a close. Depending on the climate for the year, the harvest can sometimes continue well into March but most of the work is usually done by now.
At the bigger cellars there is good humored bantering and discussions about the weather and the condition of this year’s harvest as everybody que to have their precious load weighed, rated and dropped into the crusher. The bees all swarm around the freshly crushed grapes, ready to get their share of the sweet juices that flow once the grapes are gently crushed to allow the free flow to escape. This is the first step on the road to converting grapes into wines.
Before the team on the farm can take a well-deserved break following the crazy hours and hard labour associated with harvesting, they have a few tasks left in the vineyard. This includes ensuring that any damage caused by the mechanical harvester (like broken vines, support structures and even fencing) are fixed and the vines are ready for their winter rest. The roads in between the vineyards have taken quite a beating from all the heavy traffic and have to be scraped and levelled. Irrigation needs to be checked for damage and adjusted for the berryless vines – we can cut back on irrigation now and start replenishing the dams. The fist pruning of the vines will follow soon.
The farm manager can now give some attention to the rest of the farming activities – fixing pumps, fixing cables and complaining about the bloody cow that has again escaped her camp to go and visit the bull.
In the cellar
The start of the wine making is in full swing – also known as fermentation. Fermentation goes something like this: Yeast is added to the must (freshly pressed juice). Yeasts are tiny little organisms that reproduce through cell division. Adding it to the must puts the yeast in its happy place, lots of sugars and nutrients to consume and multiply and enough oxygen to do it in. As they party on the sugars, they produce alcohol and, as with every party, the higher the alcohol the slower the reaction. At some point there is so much alcohol that the yeast starts dying off, dropping to the bottom. The lucky few left behind will convert the last of the sugars before they too finally quit.
This process is carefully monitored by the winemaker to ensure that fermentation is stopped at exactly the right moment to get the perfect balance between the alcohol and sugar. The higher the sugar content to start with the higher the alcohol can be allowed to develop but the yeast will typically sing their last swan song at about 15% alcohol.
Once fermentation has stopped the wines will be put in the barrels where they will rest for the time being.
Must: (from the Latin vinum mustum, “young wine”) is freshly pressed fruit juice (usually grape juice) that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit. The solid portion of the must is called pomace and typically makes up 7–23% of the total weight of the must. Making must is the first step in winemaking.
Fermentation: The process of fermentation in winemaking turns grape juice into an alcoholic beverage. During fermentation, yeasts transform sugars present in the juice into ethanol and carbon dioxide (as a by-product).