Working the vintage – a really interesting experience

So what have I been doing the last week and a half at Forrest Wines? from Nikki Jacoby, Laithwaites Wine UK

It has certainly proved very different from RedHeads in the Barossa, mostly because RH was more manual, I could do less damage and could just get on with the physical slog.

At Forrest Wines, there are many pumps, around 30 tanks of various sizes, none that large, but certainly bigger than those at RedHeads. There's a brand new, fancy dancy monster of a harvester that tips the destalked grapes into the lorry, then the lorry trundles them to the winery, up to a receival bin into which the lorry slips the grapes and they get piped into one of two bag presses ... so none of this by-hand malarkey on that front.

There's the monster harvester carefully tipping grapes into the lorry

Scotty drives the truck and slips the grapes into the receival bin

So, having been here for 10 days, I feel I have learnt a bit; that I have very little practical knowledge, only theoretical and that's limited to a writer's perspective, but I understand the processes and there are a few things I can do on my own!! Hurrah – just because I'd rather be of assistance than a hindrance!

Lindsay has been my patient teacher for the majority of the time, and hasn't looked too exasperated at my occasional stupidity ... just the odd smile that needs no words! So, I've been breaking down the residue left after fermentation – you spray a lot of water at it, cleaning the tank as you do it, so it morphs from a green olive paté texture to one that's more of a leek-and-potato soup consistency. This enables you to pump it out. This is 'technically' described here as 'desnotting' – not a nice expression I know, but it's that colour and I've rather got used to now.

Here are the thick lees – dead yeasts after fermentation – in its rather lumpy state

Breaking down the solids with water – or desnotting!

When it's the right consistency, you need to pump it into a tank on a trailer and off you go with it on the back of the quad bike. I've got better at driving that, getting the right wide arc turning into the rows of vines. First time I did it on my own I tried to get going with the pipe from the tank still tied on, the trailer wasn't attached properly so dropped off and I hadn't put the end of the pipe over the drain! Three mistakes – but I haven't done them again!

Ooo – my first time driving a quad bike. Still you can't get very daring or speedy with a trailer full of gloop on the back!

It's been very interesting to accompany Dave K and Julia on the ferment rounds. Twice daily they measure the temperature and the brix of each vat, have a sniff and a taste if necessary. This and the bench tasting they do every three days or so is a real eye opener. How the 20 or so Sauvignon vats can taste so different – depending on vineyard, clone, yeast used in the fermentation, oaked or not. We went from stony, minerally to bright passionfruit. And it's similar on the ferment rounds – such a variation in taste. Not only Sauvignon, but that's the grape with the greatest number of parcels. The different vats become like a painter's pallete, to mix up the perfect blend of flavours with an ideal balance.

And today I was back to plunging. Here the vats are extremely deep – probably 5m tall, so you'd drown if you fell in there. So you dress up in a harness, climb a ladder and hook onto the zip wire. No flying or dancing up there – I wish. It was hard, hot work trying to break through an even thicker cap than we had in the Barossa. And this time I couldn't resort to jumping on it.

Picture on its way!

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