“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”


DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)


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18 March 2010

VAUCHER BEGUET REWRITES HISTORY

THE FIRST VINTAGE AT YANGARRA ESTATE'S BRAND NEW WINERY AT KANGARILLA, McLAREN VALE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA. LEFT TO RIGHT: WINERIES BY DESIGN'S MD, GERALD ASBROEK, JACQUES BLAIN, CO-INVENTOR OF THE VAUCHER BEGUET MISTRAL GRAPE SORTER, AND PETER FRASER, GENERAL MANAGER AND WINEMAKER AT YANGARRA
  
Vibrators And Hair Dryers ... Handbag Raid Produces Perfect Fruit ... New Aussie Winery Starts With A Deft Polish
by PHILIP WHITE ... A VERSION OF THIS STORY WAS PUBLISHED IN THE INDEPENDENT WEEKLY ON 12th MARCH 2010


In the late eighties, I lived for a while on the edge of Australia's vast Murray Mallee, between Truro and Eudunda. It felt like the edge of the desert.

There were no vineyards within a thirty minute drive, but I always knew when vintage was on. Mighty juggernauts piled with grapes suddenly began to roar by, 24/7, trucking fruit from the over-irrigated Murraylands to the Kaiser Stuhl/Penfolds refinery at Nuriootpa. 

Blokes who normally carted landfill and gravel would seal the tipper flap at the back of their trucks with stuff they called Gorilla Snot – it came from a tube - and suddenly switch to the fine wine business.

Curiously, I slipped in to the winery one afternoon to check the quality of that fruit. After hours of dirt roads, the sticky grapes had gathered a thick layer of dust, which was mud by the time of arrival. They’d break the seal and simply tip the muck into the hoppers, where the great worm screws would force the disgusting load into the winery.

Mud wasn’t the only contaminant. Harvesting machines pick snakes, lizards, rats, mice, snails, birds, earwigs, spiders and everything else that lives in the vine canopies. Everything went through the big worm, with the sugary mud. Unless the wine-makers used various chemicals to remove the resultant protein and filth from the finished wine, we drank it.

No other food industry would permit such contamination.

The machinery has improved since those days, but mechanical harvesters remain indiscriminate. To make better wine, and provide a more marked point of difference, thereby justifying higher prices, proper winemakers still go to the bother of picking by hand. 

There are fewer stalks, leaves and critters, and the beautiful hand-selected bunches I see each year going through the hopper at Penfolds Magill, for example, look as if they have been hand-washed. They are pristine.

For many years the fanatical winemakers of Bordeaux, and other grand French vignobles, have been hand-sorting such carefully picked bunches once more before they hit the crusher. Bunches with botrytis, other moulds, too many raisins, or the slightest blemish get the flick. Australian wine industrialists regard such care as prohibitively expensive.

JACQUES BLAIN AT THE YANGARRA ESTATE REVIEVAL HOPPER. THE GRAPES ARE PREMIUM HAND-PICKED GRENACHE FROM THE HIGH SANDS VINEYARD: ALL UNIRRIGATED BUSH VINES PLANTED IN 1946

Enter a suave French engineer, Jacques Blain, of Lyon. He runs a company called Vaucher Beguet, designing and supplying the best wineries of France with grape processing machinery.

We sat chatting in my patio last week, a short stroll from the new Yangarra winery near Kangarilla. Inside that handsome building sits a glittering example of Jacques’ ingenuity: a Vaucher Beguet Mistral grape-sorter. This single invention is changing winemaking forever.

“A customer in Bordeaux complained that human grape sorters were far from perfect,” Jacques said. “They talk with each other, you know, tell the jokes, take their eyes from the work, and still we see imperfect fruit getting through. So they ask me to design a sorting machine. We have three weeks to deliver.”

Jacques sat down with his business partner, Gerard Vouchet, and designed a machine that destemmed the grapes, then vibrated a sloping perforated steel panel which let the smaller imperfect berries fall into a bin before the better fruit went into the crusher.

THE WASTE FROM THE SHAKING TABLE: BOTRYTIS BERRIES; EARWIGS; MILLIPEDES, ASSORTED GREENERY, AND ONLY BACCHUS KNOWS WHAT

“It did not work very well,” he explained, “because all the leaf and stem and other contaminant still come through with the must. So I say to myself ‘We should try with wind’. Gerard said ‘Give me five minutes’ and he soon came back with his wife’s hair drier. It worked. I patent the machine and we delivered ... In 2005 we have sold seven sorters: four in France and three in the USA. Now we have sold 300. There are six in your country.”

GREEN WASTE AND MUCK BLOWN OUT BY THE MISTRAL FAN

I can watch this machine for hours: it’s hypnotic. Other wine-makers can’t wait to put their fruit through it ... there’s a queue. 

There are four bins surrounding it. One fills with the stalks from the destemmer. The next fills with a shitty grey pulp of raisins, unripe berries the size of lentils, crawling with earwigs, snails and whatnot. The third fills with leaves, more stalks, petiols, bits of critters, mucky broken berries, more earwigs, snails, and numerous surprising unmentionables. There was one perfect kidney in there last week.

WASTE FROM THE MISTRAl: PREVIOUSLY, ALL THIS ENDED UP IN THE FERMENT

And the fourth bin fills with perfectly-matched individual grapes, looking as if each one was hand-selected and polished clean. It’s incredible to think that it took so many centuries of dirty wine- making to see the need for this improvement, and get on with designing and building the machine.

But the biggest shock came not with your average machine-picked fruit, but the first batches of fastidiously hand-picked whole bunches. 

Stuff that we’ve always regarded as clean, perfect material for the very top shelf, suddenly began spitting out the hidden greeblies from within each bunch: not quite the volumes of contaminating crap the harvesting machines deliver, but enough to make all who see it curse in disbelief.

The ferments are brilliant.

FINISHED POLISHED GRENACHE

 

my picks


Dowie Doole Tintookie McLaren Vale Chenin Blanc 2008

$30; 11.5% alcohol; Diam cork; 94+++ points

Brian Light makes this beauty the old way, with wild yeasts, lotsa lees, some old oak, and the best handpicked old vine Chenin Lulu that Lunn and Drew Dowie grow on the deep Semaphore sands of Blewett Springs. It’s still grainy, like an old Bunuel movie, but finer and less agricultural than the 2006, which I pointed equally, but has the same propensity to age for decades. It has the perfectly pithy dry finish that makes the drinker feel starved for fresh char-grilled seafood, and the darned thing sits in your mouth like a belligerent squatter, long after the eviction order has been issued. A new benchmark!

S. C. Pannell Adelaide Tempranillo Touriga 2007
$27; 14.5% alcohol; screw cap; 93+++ points

Adelaide is an appelletion super-zone, covering everything from Clare to Kangaroo Island. Steve Pannell made this from Spanish and Portuguese varieties grown there, in respect of the mighty but rare Wendouree pressings reds. Since wendouree is a western Victorian aboriginal word meaning piss off, it makes those wines seem rarer still. This is not quite so scarce. But it has all those magnificent bone dry tannins, in a boisterous, forceful mouthful with still retains some berries, natural acid, and right royal poise – it’s not based on brute alcohol. I could utter many fulsomely profane curses here. Go buy!

3 comments:

envyverde said...

Thats amazing. Have we been drinking all that crap?

Anonymous said...
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peter said...

these machines are fantastic i saw them in operation in St emilion in 2009 this is the sort of equipment that should be embraced by the australian wine industry to show the world we are serious about premium wines and the way we treat our fruit from vine to bottle