moving units

by crushed & stirred

I’m still in Australia. I plan to be here for a little while. Like, a little while. My job at Juniper was pitched as through sometime in June. It’s January now. So I’ve decided to settle in – to quit this nonsense about avoiding getting used to things that will change in a season’s time. Turns out, not possible for this wandering cellar hand. If I’m looking at 6 months, I might as well get right in there.
First order of business, I now have my own roof over my own head. I spent a month in the comfortable home of my winemaker and his family. They fed me and watered me from their prodigious wine cellar; not so bad, you would correctly assume. But one cannot mooch forever. After weeks of roving for housing, at last a more permanent option materialized. A dilapidated farm house on the Juniper estate – at first referred to as “unlivable” by one member of the staff – is now livable. My future roommates/Juniper-mates and I have spent weeks reclaiming it from dust and other creatures and now we live there.  It couldn’t have a more idyllic setting. To the west the sun dances over a horizon of abundant vineyards. To the east the Wilyabrup creek runs through towering trees and lush greenery. To the south, the cellar sits in wait.

Yes, the cellar. Since starting a couple of weeks ago, I’ve spent most days racking tanks and barrels and topping any wines not to be bottled. The 2012 reds that have more ageing in their future have gone back to barrel. But all of the 2011 reds and 2012 whites have been moved to tanks, blended into final position, and fined with whatever quantity of whatever substance our trials suggest will serve the wine best.


my diagram of the winemaker’s work order; just imagine the pumps & lines in all directions, taking up space in the cellar that . . . just isn’t really there



my office



painting the concrete with chardonnay lees and tartrates

There are a lot of ways to fine a wine. Natural additives like gelatin or powdered egg whites and skim milk or pea proteins or bentonite smooth out a wine by binding up certain compounds and settling them out of the wine. Many wineries will boast that they don’t fine while others yet will say they don’t but do it anyway. Fining, like filtration, is something of a hot-button issue in marketing as much as in winemaking. Opponents say that fining (like filtration) can strip the wine of some of its character along with some of its roughness, like a bit of bite on the finish, for example. Fining usually makes a more approachable wine – a wine that is visually clearer and smoother on the palate. Again, opponents – for winemaking is an endless argument – will say that a wine made well enough shouldn’t need such smoothing or clarifying. Wines meant for immediate release on the market at medium-ranged price points and below are almost universally fined because they aren’t designed or marketed for ageing to the extent that more complex wines are, and ageing would naturally prompt some of the softening that fining accelerates. People looking for more expensive wines are also more likely to cellar them. Part of the wine’s built-in expense is the time it’s kept in barrel and in bottle before being released for sale. Pricier and more complex wines may still see fining and filtration, but with their anticipated ageing profile in mind.

After we’ve run trials on different addition rates of different fining agents, we select the one that seems to produce the best results. Once we’ve added it, we give it some time to take effect before racking the wine off of the newly settled-out solids and into a fresh tank, where it waits for the bottling line to roll into the winery in the next week or so.

That is, after it’s been filtered. The sound of the Cross-Flow filter has rattled our ears for the last week. On good days, its impertinent control panel leaves us alone.

On bad days, it does this:


Or worse yet:


Why? Some wines didn’t settle out well enough after fining and couldn’t get through the Cross-Flow’s fine membranes despite great amounts of pressure. Not only does this slow everything to a crawl, it causes the wine to backflow into the tank, where it gets recirculated through the filter and gets bashed around. Such abuse isn’t good for all the delicate things in the wine that make it taste and smell distinctive and good. At worst, some poor soul (ie, an assistant winemaker) has to babysit it through the night like a newborn. Or through the weekend like a ferment. Or like all kinds of things it’s not. So we had to switch gears and pre-filter our wines to be Cross-Flowed. Which did the trick. But it was a lot of monkeying around between tanks and we’ll all be glad when we can just get the stuff in bottle.

Because here’s the fun part: our bottling dates are currently set to overlap with our first projected fruit dates, and every tank is currently full. Look at the veraison on this cabernet:


At your marks, Margaret River . . .