Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wine & Dine Tour

Table grapes that we picked for our trip back to the Hostal.
The wine tasting area where we sampled our three wines.

Aging room filled with approximately 1500 barrels at any time.

Our horse drawn buggy that took us through the vinyard past all the different varieties of grapes and irrigation system of canals.

Old wine, dusty and no good anymore ...but nice for decoration

Feb 10

So who else knew that there were 21 different types of grapes grown in Chile which were used to produce wine that was shipped all over the world?
The vinyard that we toured was named "Viu Manent" they're famous for their Malbec wine that contained 85% malbec and 15% other secret blends of other grapes. I asked what the secret was but the guy said that when he was told, that he was offered a tour guide job and has never left since!
The tour began with a little history about when they used to buy grapes from other vinyards back in 1908 to produce wine in Santiago. Then in 1935 they purchased their own land and began growing their own grapes still using their family owned recipies that were over a century old from Spain.
The vinyard at this particular site was 150 hectares but the family owned over 500 ha. Their main export is Malbec as the climate is condusive to growing this particular variety of grape. They try to water the plants as little as possible to promote deep root growth and thus better absorbtion of minerals from the soil which adds to the quality of the wine as well. Some of the grape trees (wine trees) were 90 years old and the older the tree the higher quality of grape. The farm used the methods of cloning and also grafting of other younger plants to existing root stumps to excelerate production by two years over planting a new seedling which takes 4 years to produce fruit.
The very best and oldest plants which produce the best grapes were hand picked and typically produced 3.5 tonnes of grapes per hectare. The younger plants produced an average of 7 tonnes per hectare and were harvested by machine.
We toured the processing facility where the grapes were macerated (mashed) and where the juices and grape skins were stored to allow the tannins from the skin to leach into the juice. The tannins give the wine the dry feeling in your mouth and the color to the red wine.
The wine was stored in giant 130,000 litre concrete tanks (which are pretty much eliminated in most new precessing facilities now, but kept here for the history and consistency of temperature that the concrete tanks allow for) of which there were 20 or more lining the inside of the facility. Many of the other tanlks were made of Stainless steel.
We peered into the lab section of the facility where there were people testing pH and tasting the wine and giving direction as how to handle the next batch of wine for market. The processing stages are very complex and involve for instance: Pouring juice from the 130,000L tanks with yeast and 17 grams of sugar per volume of wine (750ml) into 80% french oak casks and 20% American oak casks and allowing them to sit anywhere from 7 to 10 to 16 months respectively depending on the type of wine being produced. For instance the French oak (which was "toasted" charcoaled on the inside and gave the smokey, chocolately flavor where as the american oak gave the vanilla, mango, fruity flavors). One individual barrel could only be used 5 times maximum before its life was over. The barrels were stored in a humidity controlled area so that the moisture was controlled by the outside environment and not the moist wine inside the barrel. The ceilings were lined with Chiliean pine and the floors were soaked with water when the temperaturte outside soared and humidity levels dropped. Some wines had to be placed in a new barrel for 3 months and then moved into a barrel that was used 3 times for 2 months and possibly back into a barrel that was used only twice for the remainder of its aging time in order to attain the exact flavor that the wine Chemist (connesaurist)"old guy" ordered. It was then removed from the oak barrels and into a settling tank and the temperature lowered to 5 degree's C where particulate could precipitate out and give clairity to the wine. The exhausted barrels were then sold to Spirit producers who could use the barrels for 30 years or more. Finally the clear, pure wine was siphoned out to the bottling station where an automated precessing line steam cleaned and dried the bottles, filled them and corked them ready for labeling when a country ordered a shipment.
From here the wine guide took us over to a seating area where we had 3 bottles of wine to sample. This was my first time testing wine so I was actually pretty interested about what was going on after the very informative tour of the processing plant.
Of the 3 wines there was one Malbec stored in oak for 7 months, and two Cabernet Sauvignon, one that was oak barrel stored for 10 months and the last for 16 months. The Malbec was quite good and had a smoky smell to the aroma and not so dry as there were less tannins present. The 10 month Cabernet had a fruity smell from the American oak and a strong dry (tannins) sensation. The last wine that has won several awards for the Vinyard was stored for 16 months, and had a fruity smell the same as the 10 month Cabernet but had a smoother dry sensation as the tannins were mellowed by age and wine derived from 100% the oldest Cabernet grapes. In order to be considered a Cabernet Sauvignon only 75% of the grapes used must be derived from Cabernet Sauvignon, the remaining 25% can be a blend of any other kind of grape to attain the desired flavor a brand is looking for.
The tour was excellent and the correlation between petroleum refining, settling and storage was very similar to wine storage and processing. Many of the tanks, although quite smaller were very similar to the the tanks that I've been involved with in the welding industry. It is interesting that so many things along this trip have been delightfully associated in some way or another to my previous experiences either in forestry, geology, metallurgy or geography. It is truely a small world afterall.

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