Wine harvest in Matakana
As the grape harvest approaches, a number of factors come into play before the decision to pick is made. The wine style, fruit ripeness (measured by brix (sugar), Ta/pH (acidity), and flavour) along with the condition of the fruit and the weather forecast are all considered.
There is no one ideal moment to pick. The factors above influence every winegrower differently and that is a critical part of what makes each Matakana wine unique.
Because of the relatively small size, the rolling hills, and wide mix of grape varieties (11 whites and 17 reds) in Matakana there is only one option and that is to harvest by hand.
The teams of vineyard staff, winemakers, contract crews and backpackers that you will see working through the local vineyards over the next number of weeks have possibly the most crucial job of the entire harvest – ensuring that fruit of only the best quality is harvested and delivered to the winery for making this year’s wine.
Fruit that is not sufficiently ripe will be excluded; as is fruit that has split, or has rot caused by high rainfall and humidity.
Judicious harvesting can be a slow process, but in a challenging year it is the final and most critical quality control before the grapes start their journey to becoming wine.
Once the fruit arrives at the winery there are two very distinct winemaking protocols that may be used.
White wine (from white grapes) and rosé (from red grapes) winemaking starts with the juice being separated from the skins of the grapes through a grape press. Pressing the fruit against a screen either inside a horizontal tank press, or in a vertical basket press, lets the juice flow without letting skins or seeds through.
Cooling of the juice and settling for 12 to 72 hours encourages the pulp/juice solids that come from the press, to settle and compact in the bottom of a tank, then the clear juice can be pumped (racked) off.
At this point the clean juice is suitable for fermentation – the natural process where specific alcohol tolerant yeasts consume sugar and produce alcohol. It is this which releases and converts flavour precursors in the juice into the fabulous array of aromas and flavours that we find in wine.
Fermentation for white and rosé wines takes place in either temperature controlled stainless steel tanks (at a relatively cool 14-20ºc) or in oak barrels.
Red wine winemaking is significantly different in that the juice is not separated from the skins until after the fermentation has taken place.
The warmer (25-32ºc) temperatures, combined with regular mixing of the skins and fermenting juice (must) extracts colour, structure, and flavour from the skins (and seeds). The pressing of the wine from the skins usually only occurs once all of the sugar has been fermented into alcohol.
It is not until all wines, white, red, and rosé have finished fermenting and started their maturation process towards future bottling, that harvest can be truly considered finished.