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Billy Button Wines

Jo Marsh
 
29 September 2015 | Jo's blog | Jo Marsh

Making wine in China!

I am sitting here in my hotel, writing this blog while drinking a nice cold can of beer. Very unusual for China, because I am a woman drinking beer (I have had many people photograph me doing this) and because the beer is cold - the Chinese do not drink cold beverages because they believe it is bad for your health.

I have been at this winery Senmiao Moon Valley for a week now, and I'm starting to feel like part of the family! I picked my Cabernet on Friday and was one of the first to do so. There is a large vineyard of Cabernet Sauvignon about 1 1/2 hours south of Yinchuan and each winemaker randomly selected one block from it of at least 3 hectares, so that we can each harvest 15T for the competition. I think I was lucky to select one of the best blocks, it was one of the ripest, the fruit had very good flavour and it was very clean and free from disease.

Lovely small berries and bunches in my Cabernet block

Friday morning myself, the winemaker Liu, and her director Mr Yin drove down to the vineyard ready for picking. I was again lucky, because only 2 winemakers were picking that day, so there were many pickers available for our block. At least 60. Maybe 100. Entire family groups, older people, many women, older children and some very young children. At 7am everything kicked into action.

Start of picking!

I quickly worked out that the families picked in groups, and the crates they picked were stacked together at the end of the rows for counting, as they were paid by the crate (I don't even want to think about what they got paid). I asked if there were a spare pair of snips so I could pick - the people from the winery couldn't understand why I would want to. I found a pair and got to work,the pickers couldn't believe that a 'foreigner' was picking and thought I was very fast. But I was only allowed to pick one row, then I had to 'rest'.

Crates stacked at the end of the rows

Within 3 hours we had nearly finished picking, but then the waiting began. The crew who stacked the cratees on the trucks were not the same crew who picked, so we had to wait for the loading crew. And wait. And wait. About an hour, but then the crates were finally being loaded. We got a ride in the first truck heading back to the winery. I used the time to take a nap, I woke up along the way and quickly decided I was much better off finishing the trip with my eyes closed.

When we got to the winery the processing equipment was setup and ready to go, so we started almost immediately. Every winery has sorting tables, similar to France, so the bunches are sorted first, then the berries are sorted after destemming. My fruit was quite good but it was still good to be able to sort. There were some rogue varieties in the vineyard (not Cabernet), some shrivelled fruit, some underripe fruit and a tiny bit of mould. I later helped another winemaker sort their fruit, which was much more variable and the sorting tables were very useful to ensure only the best fruit ended up in the fermenter.

Bunch sorting

Berry sorting

My winery uses students from the local university studying winemaking to work in the winery, so the sorting was very good. Friday afternoon we finished the first truck - 6.5T but left the next 2 trucks til Saturday. It tooks us most of the day Saturday to finish processing - using the sorting takes about 30 mins per tonne.

The winemakers have a set of instructions for making wine there, so they were quite intrigued by my 'project', which was quite different to theirs. I decided to do a natural ferment on my Cabernet, like I do with my reds in Australia, which is not very common here. It is day 4 now and my ferment has not yet started, every day they ask if I am going to warm it up (it is at 15 deg) and add yeast. I keep telling them we will wait. But I think they will start tomorrow, there is a small amount of activity on the surface.

The race is on now - I have 9 days until I fly back to Australia and I really want to get the wines pressed off and dry before I go. So I really hope the ferment will start tomorrow!

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