The 2022 harvest season is in full swing, after careful vineyard preparation and management the grapes are picked at their peak based on the wine they are destined to become. The quality of the grapes determines the quality of the wine more than any other factor. Once harvested the winemaker will start the process of making the wine, called vinification. Each step is carefully considered to ensure the juice extracted retains its quality and there is an interesting history on how this process has evolved over the millennia.
We celebrated this history and tradition of winemaking at the Ken Forrester Harvest Stomp on Saturday the 19th of February 2022. This event offered welcome drinks, the traditional stomping of grapes, lunch, and Ken Forrester wines all afternoon.
The history of winemaking has been traced back as far as 8000BC in ancient Persia through to Babylon, Egypt, Greco-Roman times, the Middle Ages to the modern-day. As the ages evolved so did the knowledge, techniques, and technology of winemaking. Initially, it is believed that whole bunches were crushed by foot or hand to extract the juice into vessels where fermentation would take place. These vessels started as hollowed-out logs and progressed to water-tight bags and clay pots or amphoras. Throughout this time the winemakers learned incremental steps to improve the quality and consistency of the final wines.
The first wines were most likely light in colour and body since the manual techniques of crushing the bunches would have been unable to extract the necessary compounds. Egyptians developed equipment that twisted bunches in a bag to create pressure and catch as much of the juice as possible. In Greco-Roman times a wooden wine press evolved where a lever controlled by a pully system exerted greater pressure than previously possible. This started to make wines that were darker due to more colour extracted from skins and higher in tannins due to stems and pips.
In the Middle Ages, the basket press was developed with vertical wooden staves held in place by a metal ring. The basket was filled with bunches of grapes and then gravity pressed with a heavy disc and additional pressure by a lever or hand crank.
Modern winemaking uses machinery evolved from the basket press into the tank press where bunches or loose berries, depending on the winemaker, are loaded into a closed tank and pressed by an inflatable bag or bladder to extract the juice. This machinery can exert precise pressure to control the amount of extraction desired for the end wine.
Over time, an understanding developed of what made good wine and what would potentially impact the quality. When large amounts of bunches are collected in a basket it was noticed that the weight would start to crush the berries and juice would run without extra pressure. This was known as free-run juice and it was prised for making the highest quality wines and at times was reserved for medicinal use. Free-run juice is still prised in modern winemaking.