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Tessa Brown on Whole Bunch Fermentation



Tessa Brown on Whole Bunch Fermentation

There’s so much to learn when evaluating fine wines. So many winemaking techniques. So many tools. So much fiddling. All have an impact on how eventually the wine will taste. And like listening to fine classical music there is so much more enjoyment if you understand the underlying structure and technique behind the music.

Whole Bunch fermentation is an old technique in regions like Burgundy which has gained popularity today in Australia with our winemakers - although it still remains a little controversial. Get it wrong and the wines can taste green, mulchy and mean, get it right and whole bunch adds delicacy, structure, perfume and complex layers to varieties like Gamay, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Grenache.

We recently asked winemaker Michael Hall to explain how whole bunch applies to his own wines. It was a fascinating read. This time we thought we would ask one of our other favourite winemakers Tessa Brown from Schmolzer and Brown to add some more clarity to this most ancient of winemaking techniques.

Happy reading! Thank you Tess…

Tessa, can you please put us all out of our misery and briefly explain the decision by a winemaker to employ partial or full whole bunch fermentation in the making of Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Gamay or Grenache?

Probably not! There's sort of two distinct influences with whole bunches - 1 stalks and 2 the carbonic/ partial carbonic ferment of the berries aspect. If the bunches and stalks are submerged in ferment, you'll pull flavour from the stalks through maceration - it might bring a balancing savoury note to riper fruit along with a green zing to the tannins - this is your classic Bannockburn style that works so well as an anchoring forestiness with bottle age, or that more savoury vegetal wash with youth. Or it might just be nasty and tinny green with the wrong site or unsympathetic viticulture, too.

If the stalks stay dry, through a more traditional carbonic ferment where you drain-off saignee, then you don't really get so much flavour from the stalks and you're more talking about the carbonic ferment character - that Beaujolais-esque lifted red fruitiness which is very cheerful, but can render a sameness to wines when they're all made in the same way. When judging in wine shows over the last few years, you can now find Sangioveses, Shirazes and Pinots that all smell and taste a bit like Beaujolais. It’s definitely a solid tool in additive free/ natural winemaking to overcome the lack of preserving SO2. They make very bright wines of high drinkability, so no shade thrown.

Ultimately though, bunches and stalks comprise a couple of techniques you can use to make the wine taste different. Do you want it to be more tannic and savoury? Wet stalks, so either full or partial whole bunch with no drain-offs. Do you want to lift your berry fruits and make the wine more berried and primary? Then carbonic whole bunches with juice drain-off. Or you can do three, four, five different ferment treatments and blend to a style you think suits your Pinot. See, you're still in misery, aren't you?! They're just tools. 

Tessa Brown, Vignerons Schmolzer & Brown

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