Have you ever wondered how a bunch of freshly harvested grapes like this…..
gets made into a bottle of wine like this?
Well this is how the Mendel winery in Mendoza makes their Cabernet Sauvignon wine.
The grapes arrive at the winery in these plastic bins loaded on a truck.
These Cabernet Sauvignon grapes had just come in from the Perdriel area of Mendoza.
The bins of grapes are removed by forklift and weighed.
The bins of grapes are next taken for processing. Here you can see the man pouring the clusters of grapes into a destemmer.
These are whole bunches of grapes still attached to their stems. If all the stems go into the winemaking tank with the grapes, the wine may well have a bitter flavour, so normally wineries prefer to remove most or all of the stems before processing the grapes. That’s what this machine does.
The individual grapes come out onto this vibrating table. These young women are sorting them and removing any under-ripe or bad grapes and anything else that might be in amongst the grapes, like leaves.
The grapes then pass on onto a conveyor, which moves them up into a stainless steel tank. A lot of wineries these days like to use stainless steel tanks because it is easy to keep them clean and free from harmful bacteria, stop oxygen getting in and also to control the temperature.
At Mendel, they add yeasts to the tank full of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, set the temperature to 25°C-27°C and close the lid, so fermentation can start.
This tank shows Cabernet Sauvignon a few days into the fermentation process. During the fermentation, grape skins and flesh float to the top of the tank and form a mass there, known as the “cap”, which you can see clearly here.
It’s important to break up this cap and stir the solids into the liquid again for several reasons. One key one is that it is the skins that give the wine its colour and most of its tannins and, by stirring them up, you make a richer, more colourful wine. So the winery staff do punch-downs twice a day, pushing through the cap and stirring it all up.
After the fermentation finishes, the wine and skins are left in the tank for 3-5 weeks to macerate. During this time, the final colour and tannins are imparted and the tannins have time to mellow a little.
The Cabernet Sauvignon wine is then transferred (“racked”) into brand new oak barrels for 12 months. Oak-ageing is a magical process which changes the wine. If the barrel is new, as in this case, the oak lends spicy flavours and aromas to the wine (think cinnamon and vanilla, even cedar or sandalwood and toast). Also during barrel-ageing, tiny amounts of oxygen enter the wine through the wood and they subtly change it, making it more mellow and rounded and reducing any astringency.
In the photo, Luis Perocco, Vineyard Manager and Winemaker at Mendel, is showing us one of the rooms in which barrels of wine are maturing.
Not all types of wine grapes suit oak-ageing but the classic Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot) are amongst those that do.
After the barrel ageing, the winemaker tastes the different batches of Cabernet Sauvignon wine and makes a blend. Then the wine is bottled and the bottles stored in a cool, dry place to mature in bottle for 6-9 months before being released for sale.
We tasted the 2015 vintage of Mendel Cabernet Sauvignon wine, which had recently been released.
It had all the classic blackcurrant and black fruit aromas and flavours you expect from a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in a warm area like Mendoza, together with the spice notes and that drying cigarbox texture you get from ageing a wine in new oak.
This was a very pleasant, full-bodied wine with medium acidity and pronounced, ripe tannins. It would benefit from a few years’ of further ageing.
For more information about Mendel, check out their website.
Posts to come:
Over the next few posts, I’ll be writing about my short but action-packed trip to Mendoza, including details of visits to a number of wineries, including Mendel.