Pick me!

Casting our minds back to this early post, we now all know how Rob decides it’s time to pick his grapes. But how are they physically picked?

The romantics amongst us probably imagine they’re all lovingly picked by hand… gently placed into baskets and carried to the winery by dedicated but carefree workers basking in the glow of the late summer sun. No? Just me?

Well, traditionally grapes have always been picked by hand (I may have taken a little creative licence with the carefree basking). These days though, we also rely pretty heavily on machinery.

But it all depends a bit on the variety and style of wine.

Let’s take a closer look at each method and find out exactly what Rob does with his grapes…

Picking by hand

Hand-picking is obviously the gentlest way to handle grapes at harvest time. It allows the removal of whole bunches – leaving the berries attached to the stalks.

Mechanical harvesting

Mechanical harvesters work by moving along the row and shaking the vines. This movement causes the berries to fall off their stalks.

There are several benefits to using machine over hand-picking. Firstly, and most obviously, it allows grapes to be picked at a fraction of the cost and time. This can be really important when the grapes have reached their desired ripeness and need to be removed quickly. Secondly, these machines can pick through the night when temperatures are cooler. As we know, oxidation can occur at higher temperatures, so picking at night is often a better option if daytime temperatures are high. Ideally, grapes should be picked at an ambient temperature of between 8 and 16 degrees Celcius.


So why pick by hand at all?

There are a few situations for which mechanical harvesters cannot be used…

Some vineyards are simply inaccessible to heavy equipment. Steep slopes can make mechanical harvesting impossible.

In other cases, the winemaking technique dictates the use of whole bunches. For example:

  • in the production of premium sparkling wine where whole bunch pressing is used to extract the juice
  • When red wines are made using carbonic maceration
  • Where there is a need to select only certain bunches or parts of bunches due to the presence of disease.

Carbonic maceration is a winemaking technique in which whole grapes are fermented in a carbon dioxide rich environment prior to crushing. The result are wines that are fruity in aroma and flavours, sometimes with a distinct banana aroma. They lack tannins, and deep color. Carbonic Maceration is most commonly practiced in Beaujolais with the Gamay grape, which has thin skins and produces lots of fruity aromas and flavours.

So which method does Rob use?

Rob always hand picks his Pinot Noir for Sparkling and Rose along with his Sauvignon Blanc.

The main principle is to finish up with fine, delicate, low colour juice. The tannins also need to be low. Since colour, tannins and compounds leading to a bigger bodied juice/wine are in the skins, it makes sense to keep berries/skins intact until the bunches get to the press. Machine harvesting always causes rupture of skins and release of juice, no matter how well it’s done.

For red wines and bigger bodied whites such as Chardonnay, this extra extraction is not a problem, so all the varieties for dry red (Shiraz, Tempranillo and Pinot) are machine harvested. It’s also beneficial for Chardonnay to be machine picked as it helps to give bigger body, and the slight extra tannin is easily absorbed with the barrel ageing.

Looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not come to Somerled for a welcome glass of red (or two) near the courtyard fire pit, before rolling up your sleeves with us for a fabulous, instructional and semi-hands-on sausage making day. That’s right… join us and the Gepetto’s boys who will teach you how to make cured Italian sausage!
Great fun for under 18s too.

Saturday 21 July 2018 at 11:30am

Tickets via https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=397757

ADULTS: $150pp all-inclusive!
UNDER 18’s: $80pp

Your Sparkling questions answered

While Rob waits patiently for our Pinot Noir to ripen just enough to pick for our Sparkling, let’s take a closer look at some of your questions about one of our most popular and “Trophy-winning” (have I mentioned that before?!) wines.

What’s all the kerfuffle about using the word “Champagne”?

Although sparkling wines are produced around the world, legally the word Champagne is reserved exclusively for sparkling wines from the Champagne region in France and made in accordance with regulations governed by the Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne (CIVC) and protected under a treaty (so, I guess they’re pretty serious about it!).

For champagne to be champagne, the grapes need to be sourced from specific parcels in the Champagne appellation (which is short for a long fancy French term which means “protected designation of origin”) using specific vineyard practices, pressed using regimes unique to the region and made using secondary fermentation of the wine in bottle to create the bubbles (read on for more information on how this is done).

What is involved in making Sparkling using the traditional method?

The traditional method of making Sparkling wine involves a number of steps…

  1. The grapes are pressed and go through a primary fermentation like any other table wine. It is then bottled.
  2. A second fermentation is induced by adding more yeast and sugar (usually in the form of grape juice). A crown seal (like a beer bottle) is added to the bottle and the fermentation occurs in the bottles, which creates the bubbles.
  3. The wine is then left to sit on yeast lees. In Champagne, the minimum amount of time specified by the appellation is 1.5 years. This is also the minimum amount for Rob, but he usually leaves it to mature for much longer than this.
  4. After aging, a process called remuage (or “riddling” in English) is performed either manually or mechanically, to gradually invert the bottle and settle the lees into the neck.
  5. The neck of the bottle is frozen, whereupon the lees freeze to a sold block, and the crown seal is removed. The pressure in the bottle forces the frozen lees out of the bottle. The wine is then topped up with additional wine (le dosage) and quickly corked (or another crown seal added) to maintain the bubbles. The dosage is not only designed to replace the volume lost during the disgorging process, but gives the winemaker a change to adjust the sweetness of the wine. For Rob, the dosage he uses is much drier that most.

Is there any other way to make Sparkling wine?

A large proportion of Australian Sparkling wine is not made using this time consuming and expensive method. There are others ways to make Sparkling wine, including adding a gas under pressure to the wine to add the bubbles… just like how your soda stream works at home. But we don’t recommend using your soda stream to add bubbles to your wine!


Why does Rob use a crown seal instead of a cork?

Well, firstly, he’s terrified someone will take an eye our with a cork! Secondly, with a crown seal there is very little chance that any gas can escape the bottle, meaning you can hang onto a bottle of Somerled Sparkling for years and it will be just as bubbly as it is today. Given the porous nature of cork, it is inevitable that some of those bubbles will disappear over time.

How do you make a Sparkling white wine out of a red grape variety?

If you bite into a red grape, what colour is the flesh usually? Most red grapes have white flesh. In fact, there are very few varieties of red grapes in the world which have red flesh (Alicante is one of them). Actually, the only thing the contributes to the colour of a red wine is its skin.

So, if you press the grapes ever so carefully and remove immediately separate the juice form the skins then you can make a white wine!

Traditionally, Sparkling wine is made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.


Do you have any other Sparkling related questions for us? We’d love to see your questions and thoughts in the comments section below.


How about this weather??

At least the rain is good for the garden… but what about the grapes?

To be perfectly honest, it’s not ideal. Refer back to last week’s post for our discussion on powdery mildew (did I jinx it?!). And tune in next week to find out what exactly what effect this weather will have. In the meantime, send good thoughts to the wine Gods!

And so it begins…

Vintage 2018 that is! Even though a few wineries in the region have seen the first fruit picked and into the press this week, we still have at least a couple of weeks to wait. Rob sources the grapes for his wines (except the Shiraz) from some of the highest vineyards in the Hills… it’s for this reason that it takes a little longer for vintage to be well and truly underway for Somerled.

Early veraison in pinot noir grapes at Paul Henschke's vineyardThat said, there is still plenty happening…

At Paul Henschke’s vineyard in Summertown, where Rob will get the Pinot Noir for our Sparkling and Rosé, we’re only just seeing the first signs of veraison in some of the younger vines (see photo). At this stage it won’t be picked until the second week of March.

Things are a little more advanced in Charleston at Kim Anderson’s vineyard. Veraison is close to 100% in the Sauvignon Blanc (this will be used for the Fumé as well), the Chardonnay is at around 50% and Pinot Noir (for our dry red) is somewhere between the two… in short, lots and lots of fully coloured berries, but low in sugar and high in acid. Still a little way to go, although Kim will do the sugar level test on samples of the fruit on Monday next week.

For a recap on what veraison is, visit our post here.

Even though we’ve had some hideously hot weather of late, the nights have been nice and cool (down to 5 degrees some nights!)… this is a bonus for grape flavour and wine quality as it minimises the overall stress on the vine.

Another positive for this vineyard is that it’s looking really healthy. How do we know? Well, there are a couple of telltale sign of a healthy vineyard…

Pest free – There is no sign of Light Brown Apple Moth or scale insects

Insect pests are luckily quite uncommon in Australian vineyards but the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM) caterpillar, a native, can feed on the young berries, leaving scars for bunch rot fungi to enter the fruit.

Scale insects are sap suckers which also produce a honey dew which is the favourite food of sooty moulds, damaging the fruit.

Beneficial insects – There are really high populations of beneficial insects such as the Trichogramma wasps, lacewings, ladybirds etc.

Beneficial insects are the species which prey on the pest species eg LBAM and scale, keeping the pest numbers below the damaging levels.

Disease free – The vineyard is free from powdery mildew.

Grapevine powdery mildew, caused by the fungus Erysiphe necator, is a common fungal disease which can render the vine leaves dysfunctional. It slows photosynthesis and it reduces yield and quality of grapes and the resulting wines.

The canes and leaves of the vine (collectively termed the ‘canopy’) also give us an indication of overall health. Ideally the shoots have stopped elongating by this stage. However the youngest leaves must remain green and active so that the energy is directed towards moving sugars and all the lovely flavour precursor compounds towards the fruit which form the basis for what we’ll be tasting in the finished product. The older leaves have done their work by now and it’s ok to see a few of these yellow; after all they did emerge back in September!

We need your help!

We are very close to launching a new initiative for our friends who don’t live in Adelaide or who are unable to visit us at the Cellar Bar when we run special events.

How would you like to be involved in tastings run by Rob and special guests from the comfort of your own home, surrounded by your friends and family (or on your own if you ‘re like me and don’t like sharing!) and some delicious wines?

Sounds too good to be true right? Wrong!

Our first “Virtual tasting” will be available to you very soon, but in the meantime, we’d like you to have a think about what topics you’d like to see pop up throughout the year. Would you like to see a comparative look at Shiraz across different regions? What about a vertical Chardonnay tasting?

We’d love to hear your suggestions… so please leave us a comment below.

And for any suggestion which becomes a tasting, we’ll dedicate it to you! That’s right… It will be forever known as the “John Smith Somerled Shiraz vs Penfolds Grange comparative tasting”! PS. This particular tasting may cost you a little extra…

Our Sparkling is the best!

Rob accepts the trophy for Best Sparkling in Show 2017 for Somerled Sparkling Pinot Noir
Rob accepts the trophy for Best Sparkling in Show 2017

…but, don’t just take our word for it – our customers think so… oh, and the judging committee of the Adelaide Hills Wine show agree as well! They awarded our 2014 Méthode Traditionelle Pinot Noir the trophy for the best Sparkling in Show of 2017.

We’re currently pouring our way through the very last batch of 2014 at the cellar bar, but don’t panic… Rob is working on more as we speak! It’s the first fruit of vintage to come off the vine and head into the winery, but there are also other vintages in the pipeline. Let’s have a look at where they’re all at. First though, let’s get a few definitions out of the way…

Méthode Traditionelle: one of the ways to produce sparkling which creates the bubbles in the wine through a secondary fermentation in the bottle. Before it becomes Sparkling, the wine is filtered into the bottle… the same bottle that is presented for sale. A second round of yeast is added, along with sugar to start the second fermentation. The bottle is then crown sealed to trap the carbon dioxide (ie. your bubbles) produced. This is the process used for the production of Champagne.

Lees: deposits of dead or residual yeasts from the secondary fermentation

Disgorge: Removing the sediment after secondary fermentation

2015: This vintage is sitting on yeast lees, with the first batch to be disgorged very soon. This is the next batch heading for your glass once the 2014 has sold out, which will only be a few months away – it is being consumed enthusiastically since the win!

2016:  Also on lees, developing those lovely flavours we all love in Rob’s sparkling. It will stay this way until we’ve sold out of the 2015 vintage which is at least another 12 months away. It’s also important to note that Rob disgorges in batches (depends  on volume, but between 2-4 batches). This means that some of the bottles from each vintage will spend longer on lees than others, allowing more time to develop those flavours.

2017: This one has only recently been bottled and is currently going through secondary fermentation in the bottle to create those tiny delicate bubbles we all love so much. Each individual bottle has quite a lot of yeast in it and the fermentation process creates over 5 bars of pressure (that’s a lot!). It will stay this way for a least a couple of years. The next time you enjoy a glass of our Sparkling, make sure you appreciate those bubbles… it’s taken a lot of work to get them there!

2018: Rob visited the vineyard yesterday and has the following to report…

Vines looking good even after the heat of the past week. They look fresh and the leaves are glossy. The nighttime temperatures have been really low since the two or three very hot days over the weekend, which helps. The vines on the block we pick the grapes for the sparkling are “dry grown” and get no irrigation at all (unless they absolutely need it – the grower has a bore).

“Dry grown” grapes are usually smaller, denser and more flavoursome. The practice requires rootstock that will seek the moisture deep in the soil (not just on the surface). Vines must be spaced sufficiently to get all the moisture they can (to decrease competition for water). And the correct soil mix is crucial to prevent moisture from escaping. Grapevines are pretty hardy, but this method requires a lot of intense hands-on work.

Berries are modest in size and are still hard as nails. Almost no sign of veraison (other than what is pictured here), so it looks like it will be another week or so away. The grapes won’t be ripe enough to pick for Sparkling until around 3 weeks after that, so in early March (a little later than average) we will be plucking this bunch from the vine! Literally… the grapes for our Sparkling are hand picked, which means Rob can be fussy about exactly what goes into the press. There is no sign of disease but he has noticed some shrivelled berries (perhaps just physical damage) which can be avoided during the hand-picking process.

Want more?

We have so many more fascinating things to tell you about Sparkling. Keep tuning in for the answers to these questions and many more…

  • What’s all the kerfuffle about using the word Champagne?
  • What is involved in making Sparkling using the traditional method and what other methods can be used?
  • How do you make a Sparkling white wine out of a red grape variety?

What would you like to know? Post your questions below and we’ll answer them in future posts.

Missed last weeks post on what else is happening in the winery? Catch up here.