Let me take you on my own personal journey of flavour discovery! This time round I’d like to tell you about the very first time I made wine – February 1996 – 12 years ago! Then, we’ll open a bottle together …the first one I’m opening since I made it!
I only spent 2 years at Elsenburg Agricultural College, but it feels like a lifetime in itself. Since I had had my first bottle of Tassenberg the world of flavour sucked me in. Wine tasting after winetasting, beerfest after winefest, we attended them all – all in the name of education of course..!?
It was at College, March 1996, when I had my first ever privilege of making wine!!! The purpose of the exercise: To take the aspiring young (21 yr. old) winemakers through the simplest step-by-step process of making wine. I was assigned with 2 cultivars: Shiraz (red) and Clairette blanch (white). We picked the grapes ourselves and then removed the stems (a process called destemming) with a destemmer (naturally!). The red then went into 20L open top stainless steel tanks where the grapes were fermented. After fermentation we removed the skins and pips, lightly filtrated the wine and bottled it. With the white wine, we immediately removed the stems, pips and skins. We then fermented the clear grape juice in 5L glass bottles, cleared the wine with light filtration and bottled it. With this first encounter of winemaking we simply followed a recipe. As with cooking, there are millions and millions of things you can actually do with wine which will ultimately influence the taste, but in our ignorance we thought the process was quite simple. In fact, too simple for students…
The rest of this story is not for the faint of heart. (I couldn’t decide if I should tell you this story, but then my wife convinced me to!) So be warned. I later discovered that Elsenburg was a place where your popularity actually influenced the quality of wine you made. Apparently the “popular” guys thought it good to use the wine as a way of getting back at the not so popular guys. Or even visa versa?? Instead of leaving the cellar for ablution purposes, they would simply identify a non-suspecting target’s wine and “water the wine”…so to speak. (THERE, I SAID IT! In the nicest way I could think of!)
After much thought and contemplation, I’ve now decided to risk much and open one of the bottles to see if I was one of the victims. The last time I tasted it was 12 years ago before bottling. (Not many guys who can determine their popularity at College by opening a bottle of wine 12 years later, I suppose!)
Tasting Notes: Experimental Shiraz 1996. The wine is a light, red/brown brick colour. On the nose it’s got a well bottle-matured honey character with dusty cardboard / damp soil / mushroom and hints of ripe plum fruit. On the palate the tannins are harsh and green. The fruit is prominently plummy with an overwhelming dusty cardboard taste. The wine is maybe not a great wine, but healthy and drinkable after a rough 12 years in bottle.
My summary: Personally I think I’m not a victim. Either I was popular, or overlooked (more likely!)