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Winemaking trials in smaller wineries can be valuable if done properly

By Cathy Howard

How does a small to medium winery go about undertaking winemaking trials to give the most useful and accurate results?

Over the years, I have been actively involved in trials in wineries of varying sizes, and with varying levels of resources on hand. Certainly, in the medium and larger wineries, I have had the luxury of being part of a team with many more resources on hand than I have now in our own very small enterprise.

However, conducting an in-house winemaking trial for a small winery is not impossible; it just means spending the time to plan out your trial beforehand, with careful consideration of exactly what you want to achieve from your trial, and how best to go about it with your fairly limited resources.

Another option to consider, which I will cover later in this article, is utilising an outside facility or service to conduct the trial for you if you do not have the resources on hand to carry it out yourself. The return on your investment may well be better if you pay someone else to conduct a small-scale trial for you, and you then have accurate, reliable results to utilise in-house.

Prior to making wine, I worked as a technical officer first for the Department of Agriculture in Hobart and later for CSIRO Marine Laboratories, so I am very familiar with experimental design, monitoring regimes, data collection and recording, and reporting requirements for research trials. I do know from this work that you must adopt a fairly disciplined, methodical and organised approach to your trial project, no matter what scale it is, to ensure that your end results are meaningful, and that the work that you have undertaken has been worthwhile, yielding you not only reliable and useful results, but also a good return on your investment.

Where to start?

This is a case of rediscovering what scientific methodology is and how to utilise this to design a winemaking trial that will yield you reliable, meaningful, and ultimately, useful results. There are a series of steps to follow when developing and implementing your winemaking trial. These include:

  • Outlining the purpose or goal of the trial
  • Undertaking background research
  • Developing a hypothesis
  • Determining the materials and resources required
  • Developing a trial procedure
  • Collecting and monitoring data during the trial
  • Conclusions
  • Communicating the results.

As an example for this article, my small-scale winemaking project for the 2015 and 2016 vintages is to improve the depth and intensity of colour in our Frankland River Shiraz and Geographe Cabernet Sauvignon post-pressing.

The purpose

Establishing the goal of a trial starts with a question and it might be based on an observation you have made, or a particular technique or additive that interests you. Your question needs to be about something you can measure and will typically start with words such as what, when, where, how or why.

My trial goal is based on my observations of the colours of various parcels of our reds over the past few vintages. I haven’t been entirely happy with the depth and intensity of the colour of our reds post-ferment. Consequently, over the past few vintages I have trialled different colour extraction enzymes and addition rates, along with different brands of ferment tannins and rates, as well as used various percentages of pre-ferment run-offs. I have ‘a gut feeling’ now about what seems to work best and what doesn’t work, but I really need to undertake a scientific trial to determine exactly what combination of enzymes and tannins works best for our grapes, and at what rates. My purpose would be, ‘How can I improve the depth and intensity of the colour of my reds post-pressing?’

About the author

Cathy Howard is winemaker and, together with husband Neil, proprietor of Whicher Ridge Wines, near Busselton, in Western Australia, and has been making wine for more than 20 years. She also consults part time to some wineries in the Geographe region.

This article was originally published in the September/October issue of Wine & Viticulture Journal. To subscribe, visit www.winebiz.com.au/wvj/subscribe





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