Hot Off the Press: Noisy Ritual's 2018 Vintage
After the amount of fun Terri and I had at The Stomp, we couldn’t wait to get back to Noisy Ritual for our next session: The Press. Sitting down to our first glass of Pét-Nat for the day – it’s like drinking sunshine from a bottle and was the perfect refreshment for a 30-degree Autumn afternoon – we learned from Alex exactly what had happened to our grapes in the two weeks since we’d stomped the shit out of them.
Straight away, our grapes had begun their initial fermentation where the natural yeasts present on the grapes – and our feet … (kidding!) – convert sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Not wanting the fermentation to take off too quickly, Alex and the Noisy Ritual team rotated our bins in and out of the cool room to slow things down and get the most extraction from the grapes (extraction is what gives wine its colour, flavour and tannins).
During fermentation, the carbon dioxide bubbles that are produced push all the skin, stems and seeds to the top of the bin, creating a ‘cap’ on the juice. This cap kind of protects the grapes and juice from spoiling during the process, but it reduces the amount of flavour and colour being imparted into the wine from those elements. So, throughout the fermentation, the Noisy Ritual crew regularly pushed the cap back down into the bin and stirred it all together again, which is called a ‘punch-down’.
Overall, Alex was happy with how our fermentation had progressed and it was time for us to press! This involved scooping buckets full of grapes out of the bins and tipping them into one of three basket presses. A lot of wineries have big machines that would do this process for them, but as with the rest of the wine-making process at Noisy Ritual, we were using the more traditional, hands-on equipment. This proved to be just as fun as getting knee-deep in grapes to stomp them – and surprisingly even more messy and satisfying.
With the first buckets that went into the basket press, wine started gushing straight through into the collection tubs below. Because we hadn’t done any actual pressing at this stage, this initial liquid is known as ‘free run’ wine and has a different flavour profile to the wine collected from pressed grapes. As our wine was going to be aged in barrels, and we didn’t want one barrel full of just free run, we poured the wine from the tubs into big steel tanks so it could get mixed up with all stages of wine from the press before going into the barrels.
As our basket press started filling up and the flow of wine slowed, it was time to get our hands dirty again and start pressing the grapes as much as we could. At this stage, the pace was hectic, and it felt like a million things were happening at once. We had people bucketing the grapes into the press, people pressing the grapes with their hands, people rotating the tubs that were collecting the wine so as not to overflow, and people passing these tubs of wine up to more people who were pouring the wine into the steel tanks. Phew!
Once our basket was full of grapes and we couldn’t push any more down with our hands, it was time to let the press take over. We loaded wooden discs and blocks onto the grapes and ratcheted them down; to begin with we could turn the press by walking the handle around the basket, but the lower down we pressed the harder it became, so we had to get cranking – and boy was it a good workout! Once we had pressed as low as possible, we got to open the baskets up and reveal the leftover pulp, a beautiful sight to behold and endearingly named ‘the cake’. We scooped the cake away and sent it off to yet another bin where it would go on to find new life as fertiliser, livestock feed or perhaps even a delicious vermouth or spirit.
And then we reassembled the press and began the entire process again!
After all the grapes had been pressed, the group sat down to taste our wine and learn how it would change throughout the aging process. This was another example of how impressive a winemaker’s palate actually is. While we were tasting some pretty weird grape juice, Alex was able to differentiate between the fruit flavours, alcohol, tannins, acid and spicier flavours that all wines have, and assured us that once the wine had completed its second round of fermentation, known as ‘malolactic fermentation’, we would be able to taste them too.
Malolactic Fermentation is the process that happens in barrel-aged wines and converts the strong, sharp acid in the grape juice into softer lactic acid. This change is most noticeable in barrel-aged Chardonnays, which have that delicious buttery quality I absolutely love. After MF occurs, all of the elements that Alex could taste in our juice will become integrated and we should end up with a delicious, medium-bodied Heathcote Shiraz! In order for this to happen however, we needed to get the wine into the barrels.
While we had been tasting, the crew had lined up a mixture of new and old oak barrels, placed funnels in each top and organised a bunch of buckets. It was our job to hose the liquid out of the steel tanks and bucket it into the barrels without spilling a single drop! Needless to say, a lot of drops were spilt but we still had at least eight barrels of WINE that we had made. We ran out of time before we could empty the last tank into the barrels – we had produced 3000L of juice from the press – but the Noisy Ritual crew were there to finish the job.
After all our hard work (and it was physically a lot harder than the stomp!) we sat down to another delicious meal together before saying our goodbyes. From here, our wine will spend seven months ageing before the annual bottling party in November. In the meantime, we will be invited to a few different barrel tasting sessions to see how the ageing process is progressing, stay tuned for the updates.