14 May 2013

One of the fastest-growing trends in Australian winemaking these days is the use of stalks in red wine fermentation. All the cool kids are doing it.
Once upon a time,we used to remove all the stems, stalks and non-grape berry material before fermentation. We believed that stalks would only add hard, green, undesirable characters. Well, it turns out we may have been wrong. It's quite common now for winemakers to include a percentage of whole bunches in their fermentations, especially in Pinot Noir and Shiraz. Proponents will say they add a more savoury, scented character to the wine while critics will say they make the wine herbal, green and stalky. This is one thing you have to decide for yourself.
At Squitchy Lane, we have not used stalks or whole bunches in our Pinot Noir fermentations. I have never been happy with the level of maturity of the stalks as I inspect them in the vineyard before harvest. When I see still-green stalks, I have excluded them from the fermentation, reasoning that if the stalks are immature and green then the flavours they add will be similar. Those who have tasted the 2010 for example will know that it is delightfully ripe and shows no hardness or stalky influence. We value silkiness and suppleness above all so are very careful to avoid anything that may compromise these two vitrues. So, no stalks so far in the evolution of Squitchy Lane Pinot Noir.
Enter 2013...after such a warm, dry season (with some cool nights early on), the stems actually started to lignify and turn brown. This was both unusual and exciting and gave me the confidence needed to include some in the Pinot fermentations. For the first time, both the 114 and MV6 batches included about fifteen per cent of whole bunches.
So far, it has worked well. I don't expect we will do it every year but when the conditions are right, the results can be impressive. The 2013 Pinot Noir is going to be one of our best yet.
(The lovely picture above is by Beatrice Haines, from the Hoxton art gallery collection).