It is often said that when it comes to winemaking that it is all about the terroir, the soil and climate for producing outstanding wines. But the work behind the scenes in the cellar also plays a vital role.
What is it really like to work in the wine industry? What is it like to get hands and feet dirty during harvest time? Is it all about delicious wine tastings, fancy lunches, and lush vineyard tours?
We recently got invited by Nativo Wines for a real, organic wine-cellar experience. We had the wonderful opportunity to experience what it is like spending a day in the cellar.
The Hughes Family is a family farm and is situated in Malmesbury. The intention was to make wine as natural as possible and to express the flavour of the land, native to the Swartland terroir.
Nativo is recognised by the minimalist label which features an embossed, subtly elliptical circle. This is not only the shape of the stain made by the base of a wine-glass, but also alludes to a sense of “coming full circle”, as in the case of the Hughes family and its wines, and the natural cycle of life.
Our day started with a walk in the vineyard with the first block being planted in 2000. We got some insight into their organic and biodynamic processes.
We headed to their underground, eco-conscious cellar where we met winemaker, Lieze Norval. Used shipping containers, natural stones and other material from the area was used to build this underground cellar. The idea is to create an environment for winemaking that is stable in temperature without using man made energy to do it.
We got the opportunity to be involved in the punch down process. The task at hand is to break down the grape solids that have formed a cap toward the top of the tank, because of the carbon dioxide gas that creates fermentation. The cap needs to be pushed down and broken up so that the colour, flavour and tannins can be extracted by the fermenting juice.
The most enjoyable part was getting stuck in a bit of barefoot grape stomping. The feeling of squashing little red grapes between your toes, is quite comforting. But what exactly is grape stomping you may ask? It’s part of a method of maceration used in traditional winemaking. Rather than using a wine press or any other method, grapes are crushed by foot to release their juices and begin the fermentation process.
Tasting wines from the barrels was definitely a highlight – a sneak peek into what’s to come. It’s the best way to understand the true personality of a wine. We got to taste Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, all 2019. For the reds we tasted Shiraz, Pinotage, Grenache, Mourvedre and Tempranillo (2018 and 2019). We also tasted a Shiraz with zero added Sulphur Dioxide.
Ever heard of orange wine? And no it is not a wine made with oranges. Orange wines are white wines that are left to macerate on their skins for longer than usual. This extended skin contact adds colour and texture, but it also creates a fuller-bodied taste and heavier tannins. It reveals a drying sensation in your mouth, which is often experienced while drinking red wines.
After a long day of work in the cellar, we ended the day off with a delicious lunch and some wine tasting in the tasting room.
Working in the cellar can be a life affirming experience (or should I say wine affirming!). There is nothing better than being a part of something amazing, knowing you played a part in making it.