de la terre Noble Viognier 2015

 

Tasting Notes: Colour: – golden yellow when young with a slow evolution to a more golden yellow with time in bottle.

Nose: – Hugely powerful!
Raisin, honey, apricot, lychee – whatever. The nose is primarily about concentration but the key is the clean, fresh aromas – not too heavy.

Expect evolution toward vanilla and crème brulee notes with time in the bottle.

Palate: -Very full and concentrated ‘attack’ with a luscious mid-palate and real length.

Like with the nose, our aim here is to keep this wine fresh and not too heavy / cloying. There is a seam of acidity that runs alongside the fruit to retain freshness and balance.

Power and balance – that’s what this wine’s all about.

 

Production Quantity: 2248 bottles produced, estate bottled in 375ml flutes, hand-labelled and numbered

 

Winemaker’s Notes

 

Vineyard: Hill Country Estate
The Grapes: Following on from the success of this wine style for de la terre, we decided to significantly increase the volume this year.

We now have a much better feel for how to manage the vineyard to get the type of wet, furry raisins we need for this wine.

The grapes we load into the press look disgusting!  Some of the contract pickers we use can’t believe we actually want to harvest this fruit. We have photos showing a huge plume of grey botrytis spores floating above the mouth of the press.

 

We are often asked if we need to spray botrytis spores on the grapes to get it to happen. The answer is ‘no’ – you just have to be patient. Death of the berry (and subsequent infection with botrytis mould) is just a normal part of a berry’s life cycle. Sooner or later, it will happen naturally.

The key thing is in making sure the grapes are very ripe and have fully-developed flavours before the botrytis infection begins.  To ensure this happens, we actually leaf pluck (severely) the fruit zone so botrytis is delayed until after we get the right level of ripening.

The other critical thing for me is not to let the botrytis get too severe. Once the spores begin to form on the berries, they puncture the skin with the vegetative growths called ‘hyphae’. These are like punching drinking straws through the skin of the berry – water evaporates through the centre thereby dehydrating the berry and concentrating the sugars and flavours.

If you let this go too far, you get wines that are too ‘heavy’ and can easily become cloying and clumsy – quite apart from the fact that you lose a huge volume of what you hope to sell!

Due to the dehydration of the berries, we lose about 2/3rds of the juice.

Choosing the right stage of botrytis to pick takes a bit of experience. Kaye and I were lucky enough to be at the Domaines Cordier Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey when they were picking the fruit for their Sauterne wines of the same name. We saw first-hand exactly what berries to pick and what to leave behind for later harvesting. This experience has proved invaluable.

 

Obviously hand picking is critical as the (rotten) grapes fall to the ground at the slightest touch. Also, some bunches need to be avoided if the wrong type of ‘rot’ is present or the fruit is not ripe enough. Machine harvesters can’t make these decisions.

 

Wine Style: This is a true Sauternes-style but rather than using Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, we used Viognier.

 

Several years ago, I worked with French wine consultants (Domaines Cordier) who make the quite famous Sauternes from Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey. Although the primary engagement was to work with them on Bordeaux reds, I picked their brains about making Sauternes-style wines as well.

 

The techniques I learnt from them have been used with this wine here.

 

Strictly speaking, it’s a dessert wine – but probably works best with (creamy) blue cheese and such like. If it were to be with dessert, then something that only has a small amount of sweetness would be best – say creamy panna cotta or crème brulee.

 

The nose is a complex array of raisin, lychee, dried apricot and almond. With even 6 months or so in bottle, the aroma progressively takes on vanilla and crème-brulee notes as well.

The palate is full, rich and creamy with huge concentration existing alongside texture, balance and finesse.

 

We now recognise that our vineyard delivers a slightly higher acidity than most of the vineyards at lower elevation. This has proved critical for this wine as the natural acidity helps to off-set the significant sweetness of the wine. Balance is everything with this wine style. Without this acid seam, this type of wine can be cloying and sickly.

 

Winemaking Notes: The handpicked grapes were pressed (very hard) in our small bag press. This style of wine breaks many of the normal rules with its processing and wine chemistry.

We use high levels of pectinase enzyme to fully-extract the severely damaged grape skins.

 

The juice from the press is chilled and settled overnight to drop out the skin particles and black botrytis spores.

One of the winemaking challenges associated with making these wines is getting the (pressed) juice as cold as possible as quickly as possible. This, plus the addition of SO2, is necessary to stop the enormous concentration of wild yeast from ‘kicking off’ (starting to ferment) before the solids have completely settled out. Because of the (severely infected) nature of this fruit at picking, it is virtually fermenting in the bins even before it gets to the winery.

 

After overnight settling, the clear juice is then racked to a stainless steel tank, inoculated with a special ‘Noble’ yeast and cool fermented to retain maximum fruit intensity.

 

I have continued to avoid using any oak on this wine – I am very happy with the results we have achieved in 2013 and 2014 and the absence of oak has a major influence on the fresh/clean style I’m looking for.

 

One of the key winemaking decisions with these wines is exactly when to stop the fermentation.

There is way more sugar present in these grapes than the yeast could possibly convert to alcohol.
My aim is for a balance of ~ 13.0% alcohol and ~120- 130 grams per litre residual sugar.

I have created a (for me) rather elegant spreadsheet that (in conjunction with some rudimentary analyses) enables me to track the alcohol/sugar balance and pick the right point to stop the fermentation. However, in 2015, I inadvertently over-wrote one of the key calculation cells with a number without realising. As a result, I missed the 13.0% alcohol I was targeting and ended up at 13.5% before I realised my error. Could have been worse but really kicking myself about this – my spreadsheet now has over-write protections built in!

Live and learn.

By the way, to stop the fermentation, I slam on the cooling and give the wine a big hit of SO2 – the double shock of temperature and SO2 kills the yeast and traps the alcohol and residual sugar at that point.

 

Having (despite some reticence) managed to successfully bottle the Noble Viognier ourselves in 2013 and 2014, we again estate-bottled the 2015.  It is always risky with a wine high in residual sugar as any stray yeast may kick off in the bottle. Our small hands-on bottling unit is not equipped with the sterilisation technology employed by the commercial bottling operations.  We compensate for this by adopting a our own special (sterilisation) precautions – so far so good.