Our winery is situated at 530 metres above sea level in the Upton Hill region of the Strathbogie Ranges. Construction of our winery began in 2002 and with small batch, premium quality wine production being at the forefront.
The central philosophy behind the design of our winery is functionality. Instead of the emphasis on an architecturally designed building, it is our over-riding objective to have the best possible facilities for winemaking. The aim is to carefully and efficiently guide the fruit from our Elgo vineyards into the best possible expression of this cool climate region.
Each step of the winemaking process has been carefully considered in the design of the winery:
Receiving the Fruit
Fruit grown on any one of the Elgo vineyards is either harvested by hand or machine and promptly delivered to the winery. Much of the grape harvesting is conducted in the cool of the early morning, to ensure the harvested grapes are kept in prime condition. With the furthest Elgo vineyard only 5km from the winery, the grapes arrive fresh and untarnished from such a short journey.
Crushing and De-Stemming
Red or white grapes are tipped into the winery’s grape receival bin. When full, the bin lifts carefully and gradually presents the fruit to the crusher/de-stemmer. The crusher/de-stemmer firstly removes the berries from the grape stalks by pushing them through a perforated drum, whilst a series of rotating paddles discard the stems. Once this separation takes place, the berries may pass through a set of rollers – this is the “crusher”. These are designed to give the berries a gentle squeeze as an aid in releasing their juice. Some of the grape varieties we process in the winery are not put through the rollers as we are choosing a slower and more gentle means of extracting the goodness from the berries.
Underneath the rollers lies a hopper that acts as a chute to a large pump. This pump transfers the combined grapes, juice, pips and skins (which we call “must”) to either the “press” (if we are making white wine), or to fermenters (if we are making red wine).
The Actual Winemaking
At this stage, the method of making red and white wines is taken in opposing directions.
With white winemaking, in a bid to preserve delicacy we are aiming to separate the juice of the grape from the skins, pulp and seeds as quickly and gently as possible. The clarified juice is then inoculated with yeast, or allowed to spontaneously commence fermentation with naturally occurring yeasts. Fermentation is the process whereby yeasts consume the sugars in the juice and in turn produces alcohol.
On the other hand, red winemaking demands the regular mixing of the juice with the skins, seeds and pulp over a number of days. This gives us the colour, flavour and tannins characteristic of red wine. Concurrently, the yeast – either added as a culture or already resident in the fruit – is consuming the sugar in the fruit and producing the alcohol.
The fruit, either completely intact, or de-stemmed and crushed, is delivered to our Australian-made Vintek press. This press is truly wonderful! It consists of a large cylindrical tank lying on its side. One half of the inside of the press is an inflatable membrane and the other half is composed of several screens. Guided by a sophisticated computer program, the membrane inflates and gently pushes the fruit against the screens, allowing the juice to run through and leave the solid matter behind. From there the juice is rapidly pumped away to a tank where the juice is allowed to settle whilst remaining cool.
After a day or so, the clear juice is pumped away from any sediment that settles on the bottom of the tank. Depending on the style of the wine we are electing to make, the juice will be either transferred to another tank or to be prepared for going into barrels. Fermenting the juice in tank is employed when we wish to preserve the fresh, delicate qualities of the juice. The tanks themselves are neutral in that they do not impart or modify any flavours from the fruit. They also possess excellent cooling; enabling a long, slow fermentation.
Conversely, we employ barrel fermentation when we wish to impart more texture to the ultimate wine and possibly contribute some new or modified flavour components. In fact, we often employ a combination of the two with our Elgo Estate white wines to arrive at the ideal balance between freshness, delicacy, texture and complexity.
The time from grape to being in bottle can be quite rapid for some of our wines. Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc is harvested in April and bottled sometime in July or August. These wines are simply about the pure expression of fruit, something we feel quite strongly about around here!
The Elgo Estate Chardonnay spends a much longer time maturing in our quest to build complexity and texture into these wines. Often remaining in barrel for up to twelve months, the sediment lying in the bottom of the barrel is regularly stirred up into the wine, aiding in imparting a creamy texture to the wine. If these wines are stored in newer barrels, some of the flavours residing in the oak make their way into the wine – vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, coffee and coconut are some of those identified. For many wine-lovers, white wines give them all the pleasure they desire. However, for others, they are merely the curtain-raiser to the main game…
The high and relatively cool location of our vineyards means that much of our fruit, even at full ripeness, express more delicate characteristics than many of the warmer Australian regions. Therefore, we wanted our red winemaking to be gentle, but still achieving high levels of extraction. Our red wine fermenters either have a capacity of five or seven tonne and are open, facilitating the method of hand plunging to effectively yet gently mix the juice with skins, seeds and pulp. This method typically takes longer (and a good deal more effort!) to achieve the end results, but we are more than satisfied with how the wines eventuate – bright fruit flavours, soft tannins and beguiling aromas.
When fermentation is complete the finished wine is either left to remain extracting more flavour and tannin from the fruit, or it is drained off to a tank. The remaining solid matter in the tank is then raked, shoveled and simply dragged out of the tank into bins which are then tipped into our press – this really is hard work! The wine that is pressed out of these solids is generally richer and more tannic than the “free run” that was initially drained off. In most cases we blend them together to arrive at a cohesive wine.
The wine can be left in tank for a matter of days or months, depending on our objectives for the batch. The wines will typically be inoculated with a bacterial culture that converts the harsh and metallic malic acid in the wine to the softer lactic acid. This is known as malolactic fermentation and in the interests of hygiene and control we prefer to let this occur in tank rather than barrel.
A large proportion of our wines are matured in barrel. The wine is transferred to barrels off the sediment that has settled out of the wine after the completion of fermentation.
The Importance of Temperature Control
A vital part though the winemaking process is to manage the temperature of the wine. Much has been invested in maintaining the fruit, juice and wines at the optimal temperature through this process. The reason for doing this is simple; it further allows us to be able to produce the best possible wines from the grapes of our vineyards.
|As the fruit ripens||No means of controlling the temperature here, but we can help by planting the grape vines in the right place! High in the Strathbogies, our beautiful Autumns are characterised by long, warm, sunny days followed by cool, crisp, clear nights.|
|As we harvest the fruit||As cool as possible – We harvest the fruit in the cool of the morning. Mechanical harvesting is quick and nowadays, very clean. If we have to pick a parcel of grapes by hand, we will place the fruit in our specially designed cool-room. Keeping them there overnight will see them at around 5 – 6ºC the next morning.|
|Before fermentation||As cool as possible – All of our tanks possess in-situ cooling, the optimal temperature being mediated by an electronic control system. At this stage, the fruit or juice is vulnerable to oxidation – keeping it cool is vital to avoid this getting out of control.|
|Fermentation||For reds – not too hot, not too cold – As red fermentation takes place we employ heat to aid extraction, however, temperatures over 35ºC will kill the yeast thereby arresting the fermentation. Therefore, cooling is necessary, but retaining heat is also important. As you can appreciate, we spend a lot of time monitoring our red fermentations!
For whites in tank – nice and cool – Our delicate white wines are fermented at around 12ºC, to retain freshness and their wonderful aromatics.
For whites in barrel – a bit warmer – Our cool-room has a split personality. After keeping the fruit cool at around 5 – 6ºC, barrels containing the fermenting juice are placed in there. The temperature is monitored to keep their contents at around 16 – 20ºC.
|After fermentation||In the barrel hall, a stable temperature – Our 900 square metre barrel hall has wall, floor and roof insulation in a bid to keep the temperature constant at around 16 – 18ºC through the year. Whilst it can be a challenge keeping it warm through winter, we do have cooling to take the edge off the heat of summer.|
|In the bottle||A stable, relatively cool temperature –After bottling we store the wines adjacent to the barrels, therefore keeping them at a relatively stable temperature. To keep your wines in prime condition, we also strongly recommend that you store them in a location free from the extremes of heat and cold.|