Organic Wine Making - from the harvest to the bottle
25 years - Thomas Walk Vineyard !
In order to produce our characteristic organic wines the entire production process, from grape picking to wine making, is meticulously carried out largely by hand. An ergonomic working level was already an issue in the early stages when Thomas Walk planned the vineyard. Our minimal pruning method also ensures that the grapes may be harvested from a comfortable standing position, while the harvest hands have a good view of the grapes for optimal selection. Both the harvest hands and the grapes benefit from short distances at the winery: the wheelbarrows only need to wheeled to the vineyard tractor nearby, while the destemming machine is only a 5-minute tractor ride away.
The day’s harvest is always destemmed and mashed on the day. For our Rosé wine, we even press the must on the same day, to make sure we retain its freshness and clarity. The red grapes remain on the skins for several days, with the addition of selected yeasts, before being pressed and transferred to stainless steel fermentation vats.
After a couple of weeks, when the fermentation process is finished and the young wine has come to rest, the wine is first drawn from the yeast. With the yeast separation, malolactic fermentation also gets under way. This process organically reduces the young wine’s acid content over a period of several months, while enhancing its body and flavour. For the most part any further acid reduction becomes unnecessary. What follows is periods of rest alternating with the removal of any remaining sediment in the vats. The wine effectively clarifies itself over time. All the goodness remains in the wine, without the use of alternative filtering methods. The wine appreciates being given time and rewards us with increasing clarity, both literally and in terms of taste.
It is possible that a small amount of sediment remains in the bottle, either at the bottom or as a lightly visible ring around the bottleneck. This has no implication on the taste; rather, it should be seen as proof that the wine was clarified organically, avoiding filters, centrifuges or other clarification methods.
The following year sometime between spring and summer, Thomas Walk Vineyard sommeliers take samples to determine the exact point in time at which the different wines from previous harvest will have developed their own unique characteristics. We simply wait for the desired degree of maturity to arrive, rather than treating the wine to speed up the process. Usually, our Rosé wine matures a little earlier than than our Ruby, while the Velvet variety makes optimum use of both. Only rarely does one of our vintages require additional acid reduction. Should it ever become necessary, we reduce the acid content quite gently using organic means – to benefit both the wine and those who enjoy it.
At this point, some of our Velvet and Rosé wines are portioned off to mature in a different manner. Applying the “méthode traditionnelle” the wine is bottle fermented in Champagne-style bottles to become our exclusive sparkling “Exubérance Clairet” or “Exubérance Rosé”.
For our non-sparkling wines we chose traditional clear Bordeaux bottles, for the content to be clearly visible, and because this bottle-shape has proven to be best suited for pouring our organic wines. Our emphasis on ecology and sustainability even extends to the cork we use. To protect the limited resource of natural cork, Thomas Walk Vineyard use a two-disc cork. This cork is composed of two cork discs at either end, which compress smaller cork particles between them. While using high-quality natural cork, this procedure avoids cutting unnecessarily large pieces, instead making best use of even residual parts.
An issue which must be taken into consideration when producing organic wines is storage life, for a certain amount of gentle sulphuring is unavoidable to ensure a wine retains its quality and may be stored for longer.
From our own experience, it is much more likely that any potential malaise the morning after is to be blamed on the use of conventional herbicides, pesticides or other chemicals rather than sulphur or alcohol content. We believe it pays off to commit to organic wine-making and sustainability and to give a good wine not much else but time.
Naturally, wine connoisseurs like to compare wines and different wine-producing regions, so how does Thomas Walk Vineyard compare? Are the wines similar to a German Spätburgunder or more like a French Bordeaux or a Spanish Rioja?
In effect, such comparisons are difficult, because the wines produced at Thomas Walk Vineyard are quite unique, full-bodied reds, characterised by four distinct factors: the country, the location, the manner in which the vines are cultivated and eventually how the wine is produced and refined. It is probably most helpful to describe these wines as traditional reds with hints of dark cherry and blackberry.
A few closing words on the subject of tartar and sediment: Tartar is a natural product derived from the minerals and fruit acid in wine, which effectively make it the “jewel” in a wine, indicating a high mineral content. In effect, the longer the grapes are allowed to mature on the vine, the more minerals they will absorb from the earth. When these minerals and the wine’s natural acid meet they react to form crystals over time. Some of these crystals will not have dissolved in the wine or settled in the vats, rather they fall out, to settle at the bottom of the bottle or on the cork.
These days it is common practice to stabilise tartar using either metatartaric acid or physical means (low temperature treatment). At Thomas Walk Vineyard we prefer to refrain from both, again emphasizing our wish to maximise naturalness.
In any case, the wine will benefit from our choice of a traditional Bordeaux bottle. Its characteristic shape allows any potential deposit to settle quite easily in the “broad shoulders” of the bottle when pouring gently.