POPPAEA APPROACH - THE VINIFICATION PROCESS

Unlike the larger vineyards and wineries, much of the ‘vine-to-wine’ process is carried out manually. This allows the team to intervene at all the critical stages so that only the best clusters of grapes are harvested and, during the enological steps, the winemaker can manipulate the wine chemistry to achieve a good balance of acid, tannin, fruit and complexity in the finished wine.

Starting with the harvest, usually late August through September, the berries are collected before the sun comes up so that the crop can be placed in the winery while still cool from the evening before. They are then stored over solid carbon dioxide until later in the morning when destemming takes place. Importantly the grapes are not intentionally crushed. In this way, some of the berries can act as their own ‘fermentation factories’ and thus maximally extract the flavours and pigments characteristic of the varietal.

The resulting mixture of whole berries and juice, the ‘must’, is pumped into macrobins which are then placed in the cold room. Here the must is first treated with SO2 to take advantage of the chemical’s anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial properties and cold-soaked to maximise colour extraction from the red skins of the grapes prior to alcoholic fermentation - the pigments are more soluble in water than mixtures of water and alcohol.

Back in the preparation room, the primary alcoholic fermentation is initiated by addition of yeast specially selected for the style of wine desired, in part based on the varietal being processed. This is the point at which THE critical chemistry of wine production takes place – the conversion of sugar stored (C6H6O6) in the grape berries into alcohol (C2H5OH) with carbon dioxide (CO2) also being produced as a bi-product. It is this gas which now blankets and protects the developing wine from oxidation. Energy in the form of heat is also generated and the temperature is restricted to the 75 – 85 oF range by the use of automated cooling plates so as to avoid volatile flavor components being lost.

Typically within 8-14 days, alcoholic fermentation is complete – an event witnessed by the grape skins sinking to the bottom of the macrobin as they are no longer made buoyant by entrapped CO2. At this point, the contents of the macrobin are lightly pressed using a membrane press to a maximum pressure of 2 psi so as to minimize crushing the grape seeds and the extraction of unwanted astringent tannins. The juice so obtained is rapidly transferred into a waiting stainless steel (SS) tank already filled with CO2 gas. The juice still contains yeast debris from the fermentation (the ‘lees’) and is allowed to settle for a few days before the racking into a fresh SS tank to remove the bulk of this solid material and prepare the developing wine for malolactic fermentation (MLF).

We find it important to engage in this second fermentation using ML bacteria to remove the malic acid (MA) taste reminiscent of sour apples and replace with the much softer, even creamy, lactic acid (LA) – a process that can be monitored by thin layer chromatography (TLC). Once complete, typically 4-8 weeks, a second racking allows the increasingly clear (and nicely tasting) wine to be transferred into oak barrels for aging taking the opportunity to also adjust the levels of sulphur dioxide (SO2) appropriate for the pH and total acidity (TA) of the wine. The choice of oak for each varietal is determined by current practices at some of the famous vineyards in Italy – often French or eastern European oak barrels.

Every 4 weeks or so the winemaker has the task of assessing the progress of the aging process by carrying out chemical, visual and tasting analyses - all of which can be carried out in our tasting room and adjacent laboratory. Corrective steps are taken as needed and barrels are topped up to reduce undesirable macro-oxidation whilst acknowledging that some level of micro-oxygenation is both desirable and inevitable. Blending, if judged to be useful to enhance the wines’ attraction, takes place during this period – or sometimes even as early as the primary fermentation.

After a total of 12-18 months at 60-64 oF, the wine is ready for fining if needed to clarify the wine; often this is not necessary. Finally, the wine is filtered prior to bottling. Normally after 6-12 months in the bottle, the wine is ready to be released.