Rob’s half century

After 50 years of winemaking Rob thinks he’s finally starting to “get the hang of it”. Those who know and love his wines know he well and truly got the hang of it a long time ago.

It may or may not be Rob’s birthday coming up next week, so what better time to honour this great wine-maker with a post dedicated to his 50 years.

Join me as I ask him all the important questions…

How many times have you fallen in a fermenter?

Just once. And it wasn’t as traumatic as it sounds!

It was at Penfold’s in Nuriootpa, when I learnt the lesson that a plank across an open fermenter should always be attached at both ends. It was a red fermentation which had only just started so the must was quite dense, meaning I didn’t sink any further than my waist. Fortunately, we lived across the road then, so I could pop home and get changed. Unfortunately, though, I ruined a beautiful pair of handmade (by my Auntie Madge) woollen socks!

OK… so, maybe that wasn’t one of the important questions!

But this is…

How has the style of wine changed over your 50 years – what was popular in the market when you first started?

Fortified wines were strong – we almost had to fight the fortified wines makers to get access to fruit. Table wine was only just starting to become really fashionable.

Rieslings changed from wines which spent a lot of time in the winery (in barrel) to something a lot fresher – it was almost a race to see who could get them into bottle the quickest. They became a dominant force in the 70s.

Sparkling wines were mediocre at best. We had very little access to Pinot and Chardonnay back in those days. It just wasn’t grown here. Just in Coonawarra. For that reason, they were usually made from a neutral variety like semillon. Riesling was also used. They weren’t made in the full traditional method – while they were bottle fermented, they were then transferred into pressure tank and filtered back into bottle.

Sparkling red wines were probably better than whites back then. Seppelts Great Western and Minchinbury were the two big producers in the early 70s. They were probably doing 50% red and 50% white. Although with the advent of Cold Duck (what a terrible name!) which was a sweet sparkling red produced by Kaiser Stuhl in the Barossa it became undignified to drink sparkling red.

Which was your toughest vintage and why?

Definitely 2011. An area like McLaren Vale was not quite as badly affected, but badly enough that we didn’t produce a 2011 Shiraz.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with what happened in 2011 – it absolutely bucketed down in January and February. In some areas the amount of pre-vintage rain was around 10 times the average. This created ideal conditions for disease, rendering a lot of South Eastern Australian fruit useless.

We did, however, produce a 2011 Sparkling. It was the first time we took fruit from Paul Henschke – I remember walking through the vineyard and seeing not even one mouldy bunch. No one really knew what they did differently, but whatever they did it worked! My preference to pick nice and early also helped.

I also managed to secure a small amount of Chardy, but every second bunch needed to be dropped on the ground due to disease. Picking was a long and expensive process, so we took what we could get that year.

I was able to make a Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s an early variety so I was able to get to it before the damage was done.

Most vineyards that year were a complete write-off.

Do you have a favourite grape variety?

No… that’s like asking a chef if he has a favourite food! (or if you have a favourite daughter hey Rob?!)

All of the really good varieties have so much to offer, I can’t single one out as being super-duper.

If I had to narrow it down to a top three they would be:

Shiraz – not only because it’s a good variety in Australia and so available. It seems to be less dependent on having a perfect microclimate.

Cabernet – but finding high-quality fruit is difficult. Coonawarra does it more consistently. They have super cabernets year after year.

Chardonnay is a variety that has got so many facets to it. It’s always fun fiddling around with a variety like that.

Is there a variety that you would like to work with that you haven’t so far?

Nebbiolo – one of the best wines I have ever come across was an Italian Nebbiolo.

If you couldn’t drink a Somerled wine what would be your next choice?

If I could afford it… Penfolds! Penfolds and Wynns would pretty much satisfy all of my wine drinking requirements. (Biased much Rob?!)

Given your long career, what would be your one best piece of advice for other winemakers?

I wouldn’t have said this five years ago but basically to build on what has been done before. There have been so many great people who are skilled and dedicated and with all of the advances we’ve made over so many generations, it seems ridiculous not to build on that and make it more consistent – both in winemaking and in the vineyard.

Also… don’t be different just to be different.

What’s the most memorable wine you’ve ever tasted and why?

’55 Grange – it got so many trophies and gold medals you can’t fit them on the label.

When I was first at Magill one of the jobs I would do often was to go down to the tunnel to get a couple of ’55s. I would use a 2 L glass beaker as a decanter and I remember the whole lab was filled with the aroma of this fabulous wine. Even though, back then it was only 14 years old.

The Nebbiolo from Italy was way up there as well. It was a 10-year-old Marcarini that I came across in a restaurant in Alba in 1999. It was much lighter than Grange but so incredibly complex and delicate.

While we’re on the topic, how long should you keep wine for?

Any red worth its salt will go 10 years and should be at a stage by then as being about as good as it gets – it should have a lovely balance between the primary fruit flavours and the secondary flavours. That’s not to say that the wine won’t still be lovely 5 or 10 years on, but the risks will be greater. Absolutely store it for longer but more for academic purposes rather than thinking it will get better.

How has winemaking changed?

The biggest single thing is the availability of sophisticated technology – the prevalence of stainless steel tanks, high-quality filters and presses, etc. Back in the day, we used wax-lined concrete tanks. They were underground which is good for temperature stability but variable in quality. Wine would find it’s way behind the wax and interact with the cement render and would go off. Thousands of gallons of wines would be discarded.

Attention to detail in the vineyards seems much higher too. We now have access to targeted product for pest and disease control. The Australian Wine Research Institute has conducted practical and relevant research work, designed to help. They also have the ability to get the message through to the industry.

Also, there has been such an improvement in the overall consistency of wines. The market has grown and there is now more competition. Per capita consumption started at around 8 (litres per person) then within 20 years, it was around 20 litres. According to Wine Australia, it was 29.6 litres per person in 2016.

Do you find winemaking hard work?


I’m sure for people who have a small operation who do such a lot of the physical work themselves it would be hard to keep going under the mental and physical pressure of it all. Using a contract facility, I no longer have to do the heavy physical work. I’m happy to hand over the physical job, but working out how to the get the best out of the fruit is something which occupies the mind quite a bit.

Do you think that it’s a good thing that young people are taking wine so seriously, or are they even taking it too seriously?

I think it’s fantastic that they do – as time goes by that absolute passion will tend to ease back a bit and will become a basis for enjoying wine forever. It’s very infectious. It’s hard not to get excited when young people wax lyrical about Somerled wines in particular. It gives me hope for the future of the industry.

However, it is always good to have a degree of scepticism – instead of accepting everything that is said to them, it is always good to question things. Especially when it comes to low-intervention wines.

Also, I find that young people tend to put 10 different descriptors against a wine, but that’s not necessary. They are better tasters than I am if they can find all of that in a wine!

What wine do you open most often when the family’s around?

Generally Shiraz – I’ve got a fair store of wines up to 20 years old that I can pull out. It’s a consistently rewarding wine.

What will you be opening on your birthday?

A 2004 Kangaroo Island Cabernet and perhaps a 2001 Somerled Shiraz if there is one left.

(Rob and Heather will be holidaying in the Flinders Ranges for Rob’s birthday and Heather tells me that she’ll be making her Mum (Barbara)’s Beef Olives to accompany these special wines on the day. And it just so happens that this will be your next Jockey Club pack recipe! If it’s good enough for Rob…)

A complex task for a simple organism

… and no! I am NOT talking about Rob!

It’s time for the yeast to do some of the hard work. While we’re all busy satisfying our sweet tooth over this Easter long weekend, the yeast cells are doing the same!

The role of yeast in fermentation…

Primary fermentation is the conversion of the sugar in the grape juice to alcohol and carbon dioxide by specifically selected yeast. The strain of yeast selected by the winemaker based on both on its ability to conduct the fermentation efficiently and also on the sensory features they add to the wine. For example, some yeasts produce compounds which add to the fruity and estery characters of the wine, while others are more neutral, allowing greater expression of varietal characters.

At the peak of fermentation there will be around 100 million yeast cells in one ml of the fermenting liquid!

(Source: Australian Wine – from the vine to the glass, P. Iland & P. Gago)

Temperature is also an important aspect of the fermentation process. The optimum temperature depends on wine variety, style, speed of fermentation, type of yeast, etc. etc. Let’s look at this in more detail in a future blog post.

The strain Rob chooses is nice and clean, reliably ferments all the sugar and almost always creates those attractive estery aromas.

Sauvignon and Fumé Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc fermentOur Sauvignon Blanc is about 70% through fermentation and is fabulously aromatic.

The Fumé Blanc portion has been split off with some nice “fluffy” (a technical term!)  lees and put to barrel. The lees addition will set it apart from the other Sauvignon Blanc by giving it extra weight and body.

How does Rob know that a fermentation is “70% of the way through”?

You may remember when we talked about Baumé in this post, I mentioned there were two applications for this measurement. Given that Baumé is the measure of the amount of sugar in the juice, then we can use it here to determine how much of that sugar still remains. The idea is that when fermentation in “complete” then there is 0 sugar (or close to) left in the resulting liquid (or wine).


Chardonnay fermentIt is still very early days for the Chardonnay. You may remember that the Chardonnay started out cloudy like this – and yet last week if appeared crystal clear and golden! The grape solids had settled to the bottom, rendering it lovely and bright. Now it’s cloudy again – not because of grape solids this time, but because it is now chock full of yeast cells.

Fermentation has been progressing slowly, but it has lovely clean full aromas.

Rob is very happy with it so far (as is Heather!).

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir Rosé is about halfway through fermentation and is ticking along nicely. The colour is lovely and pale (just the way Rob likes it). Although at this early stage, the aromas are quite subdued, they will start to lift closer to the end of fermentation.

Pinot Noir fermentPinot Noir fermentPinot Noir for our dry red was “pressed” on Monday and the free-run wine and pressings have been blended together. It was then transferred into barrel where the last bit of sugar is now fermenting away quietly. Rob thinks it looks terrific!

Free-run is the liquid part of the ferment. The remaining skins and berries are then pressed to release any additional juice. Sometimes these two components are kept separate (depending on the type of wine you’re aiming to produce) as the pressing liquid has more tannin and astringency.

Rob always puts the pressings back with the free run, as he likes the weight and “mouthfeel” it provides and the tannins help protect the wine’s colour. Sometimes winemakers keep the free run and the pressings separate, especially if they’re trying to make a simple wine that’s going to be released for early consumption.

Want to see it in real life?

Purchase tickets now to our April event: 

Meet Somerled’s Newest Wines: Rob Moody and the entertaining Hugh Armstrong pair up again, bringing you so much knowledge and behind the scenes secrets when it comes to winemaking. They’ll pour these in-process Somerled wines to hold up against our current vintages and – as always – will pour a special wine for you at the end with commentary from Rob! All presented with a sumptuous platter luncheon including Manchego, terrine, pate, crusty French loaves, locally churned butter and all manner of sides. $65pp includes luncheon, book here.

April 8, 11:30-1pm, seated event.

It’s All So Quiet …

Everybody’s been holding onto the edge of their seats all vintage.

Everybody that is, besides Rob! It’s his 50th vintage – nothing to see here!

2am starts, 2am finishes, midnight call-outs, checking Baumes around the clock, no sparkling, extra-stunning rose, sauvignon blanc in, chardonnay in, pinot noir in, destemming, crushing, pressing and now …

Shh ..!  A week of quiet.

What have our ‘wines’ (juices) been up to in their tanks?

Well, you may remember that this was what our sauvignon blanc looked like one week ago:

And this is what it looks like now!

Whoah how did that happen?

Why, it did it all by itself!

We chilled the sauvignon blanc juice right down (you can see how cold it is in the photograph) to ensure that it doesn’t start fermenting on its own and mess up the balance of flavours. Since then, gravity has allowed the solid material to sink to the bottom of the tank which is fantastic.

Solids in the juice give to the wine a coarseness and bitterness that needless to say Rob does not want, so for delicate wines like the sauvignon blanc, it’s critical to get them out of the way as soon as possible. We can then easily rack the wine (carefully pump it off the solids and into the fermenter). Next we warm up the clear juice ready to add the yeast for primary fermentation.

Indeed we’re adding the yeast to this clean, clear juice right now! In 10-12 days it will be our new, fresh, Somerled 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, complete with the beautiful aromas and green tints that Rob saw the very minute the fruit was pressed!

Want to see it in real life?

Purchase tickets now to our April event: 

Meet Somerled’s Newest Wines: Rob Moody and the entertaining Hugh Armstrong pair up again, bringing you so much knowledge and behind the scenes secrets when it comes to winemaking. They’ll pour these in-process Somerled wines to hold up against our current vintages and – as always – will pour a special wine for you at the end with commentary from Rob! All presented with a sumptuous platter luncheon including Manchego, terrine, pate, crusty French loaves, locally churned butter and all manner of sides. $65pp includes luncheon, book here.

April 8, 11:30-1pm, seated event.

What are our other newbies up to?

Chardonnay 2018 is on its way! Our chardonnays always differ so much in colour from the sauvignon blancs. Take a look! This shot was taken by Rob (holding the glass) a matter of hours ago. Instead of bright green tints, we have mellow golden hues. You can also see how the solids have sunk to the bottom in the chardonnay as well – great work, chardonnay juice!

As soon as Rob started describing its “lovely rich, buttery juice” he had everyone ready to pour a glass then and there! Why wait for it to become wine? (In related news, Heather has reported that she is thus far satisfied with Rob’s work on her favourite variety).

If you were to taste this juice right now, it’d be quite a bit sweeter than the sauvignon blanc because the chardonnay is picked at a higher sugar level (Baume) to create a slightly richer wine. Yeast is being added to this clean juice as we speak and it should come in around 12.7% alc/vol – as opposed to around 11.5% for the sauvignon blanc.

Pinot Heaven

And how about this pinot noir – do you recognise it? And the masterful hand that’s filling the glass? This is Rob just last night, after lifting the cap on the pinot noir 2018 fermenter. Here is what a 3-day old pinot noir looks like:

It’s not exactly comparable in texture to our fermenting white wines is it? A tad ‘chunkier’ perhaps?

We start fermenting the reds on their skins so that the juice can extract the required colour, flavour and tannin from them. The carbon dioxide produced by the fermentation has lifted the skins to the surface – it’s maybe 150mm thick. The juice underneath will probably be removed Monday, as we’ll have extracted all the colour and flavour we want, and it will have had its fill of nice tannin by then. It is at this stage that many may keep the juice with the skins longer, but we prefer to keep our pinot noir distinctly delicate.

We’re all pretty smug about the wines this vintage (what is it about pride coming before a fall? Should we settle down?).

But we always get excited about creating a whole new family of wines each year for you to eventually place on your dinner table, share with those closest to you (only those who deserve Somerled) and to warm your soul.

Thanks for being nice to me while Maree’s away … cheers for now! Lucy

What a week!

Rob has been a VERY busy boy this week with Vintage 2018 AND bottling of a number of our wines starting all at the same time. Let’s just say, he has definitely earned a glass (or two) or something this week!

Let’s start with what has been happening on the bottling line…

Last week we transferred 2015 Shiraz, 2017 Pinot Noir (dry red), 2017 Fume Blanc and 2017 Chardonnay to Boutique Bottlers in Stockwell in the Barossa.  Boutique Bottlers is a great, small (as the name suggests) bottling operation run by Kym Burgemeister and his family.  We use them because they do everything really well and given that bottling is about the last point at which something can go dreadfully wrong with a wine, it’s reassuring to know that Kym and the team are looking after it all.

However, that doesn’t mean that Rob puts his feet up and lets them take care of the bottling process. Nothing could be further from the truth! His day started at 8am yesterday when he went to check that the wine arrived safely and to ensure that there hasn’t been a mix up with any of the wines. He also checks that the carbon dioxide and dissolved oxygen levels are within specification. Despite all the care and attention, it’s a rather nerve-wracking time for Rob… it’s for this reason that he always leaves the wine for a week or two before tasting it after bottling.  And there’s no doubt that the wine does change due to all the handling prior to and during bottling… but then it settles down and usually looks better after a while than it did before it was bottled.

Have a look at this little video of our Fume Blanc on the bottling line…

Fume Blanc Bottling Line Video

Oxygen can have a significant impact on wine style. Low oxygen levels typically lead to wines displaying elevated fresh fruit attributes, an absence of developed characters, and a tendency to form undesirable reduced characters. On the other hand, too much oxygen can lead to subdued fresh fruit characters, the development of stewed and cooked fruit along with other developed attributes, the absence of reduced characters and the early onset of undesirable oxidised attributes.

Oxygen’s impact is so dramatic that the same wine exposed to slightly different oxygen levels at and after bottling can result in completely distinct wines.

Controlling oxygen levels at bottling is also important because oxygen can cause the onset of wine faults and also determines wine shelf life.

(Australian Wine Research Institute, AWRI)

So, all of the wines were bottled yesterday except for the Shiraz. Why? Because we were sent the wrong bottles! See why it’s important for Rob to triple check everything? The correct bottles should be arriving tomorrow, so the Shiraz will go “down the line” (a bit of technical talk for you there, you may borrow it if you wish!) then.  But, there is a silver lining to every cloud…  as Rob didn’t need to stay on to oversee the bottling of the Shiraz, this gave him just enough time to zip home to Hahndorf to get ready to join his lovely wife, Heather at the one and only Adelaide Festival show they had booked for this year (of course it HAD to coincide with the busiest week in the winery!). Phew!

“Awwww”… I hear you all say, “what a lovely end to a hectic day”. Well, as it turns out, it wasn’t the end of the day for Rob. After the show, he got a call from the winery to let him know that the pinot noir for Sparkling had been pressed. So, off to the winery, he goes…

The beginning of vintage 2018…

If you’ve tried Rob’s wines, then you don’t need me to tell you that he’s pretty picky about the styles of wine he makes. This means that he needs to be very picky about the fruit he uses. While Rob has great relationships with growers of all the fruits which goes into the productions of Somerled wines, he has never locked himself into any contracts with these growers. And our first story of vintage 2018 is a perfect example of why he doesn’t.

By the time the pinot was picked and pressed, the Baumé (take a look at last week’s post for a review of what this is and why it’s important) was slightly higher than Rob would like it to be. These things happen. So, instead of compromising and producing a style of Sparkling wine that just isn’t Somerled, Rob has agreed to take only half of the 4 tonnes of fruit that was picked and to use this instead, for our Rosé. And what a beautiful Rosé it’s going to be!

Disappointingly, we’re going to miss out on a 2018 vintage of the sparkling, BUT, never fear… we have healthy stocks of other vintages which will see us through.

It’s now 2am and Rob can finally put, what we hope will be the busiest day of vintage 2018, behind him. But, in this unpredictable business, who knows? You’ll just have to keep reading to find out…!

From the winery: barrel update

This week we head into the winery to Robin Moody, Somerled wine maker in the barrel hallhave a look at what’s happening behind the scenes with some of Rob’s creations which he is lovingly nurturing…

  • 2017 Fumé and Chardonnay:  These wines are both looking sensational and will be heading to the bottling line very soon. And a point of interest for the Chardy die-hards among us… a couple of the barrels are already particularly caramelly… yum!
  • 2017 Pinot Noir: Still in barrel and is elegant, with a beautiful structure. It looks light, but the flavours are delicious! It is due for a rack & return and will also be bottled before vintage begins.

Rack and Return is a term which describes the process of pumping the wine out of barrel and then returning it once the barrels have been cleaned and any remaining yeast lees (dead or residual yeast cells) have been removed. This helps to get some air into the wine, keeping it nice and fresh. It also helps to soften the tannins and allows blending of the different barrels for consistency in the bottle.

  • 2015 Shiraz: This particular vintage has now been in barrel for well over two and a half years. It was recently transferred to tank and is now ready for bottling. It looks lovely – beautiful typically Somerled chocolately flavours! It will then spend between one and two years in bottle where it should develop those estery Penfolds-esque characters. Rob likes to move away from his Shiraz being a simple fruit & oak wine to it having much more complexity and interest, which include these interesting aromas. This is also one of the reasons he leaves it barrel for so long, so it has developed some of these already.

So what does “estery” mean exactly? It’s a difficult term to describe and even Rob struggles to define it. Basically it is a compound called ethyl acetate which is produced from a reaction between ethanol and acetic acid. Wines with too much acetic acid are described as having Volatile Acidity (or VA) which, at high levels, is a fault in the wine. However, Penfolds are known for having a small amount of VA in their reds and for Rob this characteristic is very desirable AT LOW LEVELS… just enough so it combines with the other characters of the wine to sort of lift it and add complexity.

So, I guess you could liken it to walking a tight rope… Rob has the skill and finesse to tread this fine line, to ensure the delicate balance is maintained.

  • 2016 Shiraz: Was recently racked and returned but kept in two separate batches due to some slight differences in flavours. If they remain significantly different, and one stands out from the other, this will inform Rob’s decision to blend further down the track. Or not!
  • 2017 Shiraz: Even at this very early stage, the 2017 vintage is looking great with nice intense fruit flavours. This one looks to be yet another fantastic vintage out of McLaren Vale. Watch this space!

Is your favourite Somerled wine Rob’s deliciously rich and smooth Shiraz? Which is your favourite vintage? Let us know in the comments below.


And don’t forget to tune in next week, when we’ll have a chat about our “Trophy-winning” Sparkling Pinot Noir!

Missed last week’s post? Catch up here.