Liberty Wines Apprentice 2016
Wieninger, Vienna, Austria - 2017 vintage
"I have punched down Pinot, barrel fermented Chardonnay, picked a myriad of different grape varieties, pressed and pumped it all."
I really enjoyed the vintage at Wieninger, one of the largest producers in Austria, where I mainly shadowed Luis, the head winemaker. It was very physical work and reminiscent of my early days in the navy - lots of new equipment and lots of cleaning!
The winery is really interesting - the number of different grapes and vinification techniques they use, as well as the sheer quantity of grapes that come through the door, is quite amazing. It is more reminiscent of a modern professional kitchen than the underground dusty cellars of antiquity. Their approach is largely minimal intervention and extremely pragmatic. I punched down Pinot, barrel fermented Chardonnay, picked a myriad of different grape varieties, pressed and pumped it all! There were a couple of experimental things going on too, with a ‘no added sulphur’ Chardonnay and an egg fermented Traminer orange wine (which tasted amazing from the tank).
I did loads of grape picking as well. The beautiful hills surrounding Vienna are broken up into individual vineyards where the best sites have been identified and carefully planted. Fruit from these biodynamic vineyards is carefully harvested by hand. Communication with the experienced Romanian picking team was difficult to begin with, but once a few more apprentices arrived, and we rotated daily, it became easier. Added to that, Fritz Wieninger Sr joined us in the vineyard, imparting bags of vineyard management knowledge and eccentricities to the harvest!
Climate can be a real kicker in Austria. Summer 2017 was hot but breezy and produced very clean grapes but when rain was forecast, Fritz made the decision to harvest almost a month earlier than the rest of Vienna. It was a bit of a mad dash trying to get grapes in between the rain, but the result was incredible.
The days at the winery were extremely full on but rewarding. Stress levels often ran high, but everyone finished the day with a smile on their face!
Fairview, Paarl, South Africa - 2018 vintage
"I personally lifted the 600 20kg boxes to the top of the foudre (for the 20% whole bunch) or into the grape sorter - exhausting to say the least!"
On my first night there was a thunderstorm, providing a much needed 1ml of rainfall to the area, but after the dramatic start the weather has been calm with rarely a cloud in sight. In the winery, I have been punching down, pumping over, adding, subtracting, measuring, and titrating. Sunburned ears aside, no injuries have befallen me, with my fingers crossed for the rest of the harvest. Free time has been limited and I have been fairly tired in the evenings whilst readjusting to being on my feet most of the day. However, I did manage a walk up to the impressive Taal monument with stunning views over the valley to the Simonsberg and Groot Drakenstein (Simon's Mountain and Great Dragonstone).
It looks like this is going to be a tough harvest for South Africa. In some vineyards, yields are down by as much as 50% due to the third consecutive year of drought stress on the vines, which have minute berries of mostly skin and pips. Nevertheless, the fruit arriving at the winery is of great quality with fantastically ripe tannins. Some of the varieties seem to be really flourishing in this heat - the Petit Sirah/Durif coming in is gorgeous and it seems to be a great Merlot vintage. There was a brief respite from the winery work in the form of the Stellenbosch wine fair on the Saturday, although taking part in various drinking challenges made the Sunday morning 7am punch downs particularly challenging.
I have been quite literally up to my chest in grapes for the past week. It has been an incredibly busy few days as the red wine harvest really kicked off. There are only a few vineyards left to take in, mainly Cabernets from the Stellenbosch area. In between the routine of pump overs and punch downs, winemaker Anthony de Jager took me to the Peg Leg and Jakkalsfontein vineyards, which are beautifully situated overlooking Babylon's Peak and the strange terrain of the Swartland. Mercifully, I didn't need to pick the bush vines in the heat myself, but it was great to test the hand-harvested grapes before they came in, then do the fermentation all the way through. One of the downsides of handpicked grapes is that they have to be manually put into the foudres, which meant I personally lifted the 600 20kg boxes from the bottom of a ladder up to the top of the foudre (for the 20% whole bunch) or into the grape sorter - exhausting to say the least!