New innovations in winemaking
Fri, 18 March 2016
The term ‘skunkworks’ originated with a research and development project inside American aircraft manufacturer, Lockheed in Burbank California during World War II. The noted innovation scholar, Everett M Rogers defined skunkworks as “…an especially enriched environment that is intended to help a small group of individuals design a new idea by escaping routine organizational procedures…”
Actually, whilst the Lockheed project produced a renowned innovation in a new jet fighter, it was so named due to the foul smells that originated from the closed off area where the R&D was being carried out! Whilst we sometimes refer to the many R&D trials carried out at Taylors winery every year as ‘skunkworks’, the smells that are produced are far more attractive and enjoyable to experience.
During vintage each year, our winemaking team will carry out any number of different trials in the name of research and development. From enhanced grape processing techniques, different size and shape fermentation vessels (who could forget last year’s stainless steel egg), to experimenting with varying yeasts and enzymes for fermentation and flavour improvement – these trials are many, varied and constant – all for the sake of continuous quality improvements.
One of the biggest areas of research and arguably the most expensive, centres on oak. And it is in this area that our team have been particularly intrepid and bold. With their knowledge and understanding of the role oak tannins play in crafting premium red wines, the winemakers have sought ways to integrate the oak component into the wines as early on in the process as possible.
Fermenting inside the barrel was the obvious choice, however there were challenges associated with this idea. Not the least being how to get the fruit into the barrel! Removing one of the barrel heads was the solution and in 2006 the first headless barrel fermentation trials were carried out. The resulting wine, the St. Andrews Shiraz 2006, was the recipient of many awards including a trophy and four gold medals!
The next challenge the winemakers faced was how to extend the time of grape skin contact after fermentation was completed. This extended skin contact enhanced the level of colour and tannin extraction, and produced richer, denser, more flavoursome, complex and textural wines.
The problem with this was that the headless barrel allowed too much oxygen contact and the winemakers were always balancing a fine line between allowing time for skin contact and dealing with volatile acidity issues.
Of course these industrious individuals did not let this issue dissuade them from their vision and came up with an ingenious solution: a food-grade silicone cover that would be tightly ratcheted to the top of the barrel, creating an (almost perfect) seal.
As they have a want to do however, they continued to search for better ways to achieve their goal and for the 2015 vintage secured an impressive oak vessel known as the ‘Oak Experience’. This large oak vat was crafted from fine French oak and had its own ‘header board’ to submerge the cap and keep the skins in constant contact with the must. It also had a giant stainless steel lid which allowed the wine to be completely sealed off from the outside air.
This year, as part of the continuing R&D associated with barrel fermentation, the team have taken possession of four interesting barrels called ‘Perle de Quintessence’. These barrels are quite beautiful and are shaped like a pearl drop earing (maybe that’s where the name comes from), but they have a flat bottom so that they sit nicely on the ground.
Crafted by the World Cooperage company based in France, these barrels have only been available for the first time in Australia this year. It comes as no surprise that our winemakers were some of the first to jump in and trial this new oak technology.
The World Cooperage company describes the barrels as ‘…our exquisite teardrop pearl; a truncated oval-shaped barrel designed for wine fermentation. Its unique shape and specifications were carefully designed and crafted in creative collaboration with a Grand Cru Classé in St Emilion. Now unveiled to the world, it offers an elegant touch well suited to premium wine programs.’ They go on to describe the advantages of the barrel as ‘(having)…an easily removable lid with a hermatic seal [that] eliminates the need for any alterations to the barrel…the barrel’s shape ensures the pomace is located at the most conical and narrow section of the barrel. During pump-over, the fermenting must passes through a larger volume of pomace, thereby promoting pomace/juice exchanges.’ (Author’s note: technically the ‘pomace’ is what is produced after pressing – which happens after fermentation, we in Australia call this mixture of skins, seeds, etc the ‘cap’ but who are we to argue with the French!).
As with all trials carried out at the winery, we will watch with interest and look forward to trying the results. Who knows, the wine may end up as one of our very special TWP releases, exclusively available through cellar door!