There’s more than one way to make a Shiraz wine, but trying something new requires confidence as well as knowledge.
That’s the driver behind an innovative Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) workshop being rolled out either side of vintage. Seventeen sessions were held across Australia between mid-January and the end of February, with half a dozen more planned for when the winery action calms down a bit.
At each session, winemakers see, taste and learn about 15 Shiraz wines made in different ways with the same fruit. The aim is to showcase exactly what happens to the wine when you change one variable, such as conducting a natural ferment or extending skin contact time post-fermentation.
‘It’s something we are uniquely placed to do because we have access to a specialised small-lot winemaking facility to make wines under controlled conditions’, said Con Simos, the AWRI’s Group Manager – Industry Development and Support.
‘That means when you look at a wine you can confidently say that the way it tastes is a function of the treatment we’ve applied, without influence from other variables. Wineries simply can’t do that with the same degree of precision.’
- Con Simos
However, wineries did have significant input into the process when Simos and his colleagues asked what they were doing to create their Shiraz wines, to ensure the variables being tested were valid and relevant.
The team also had to find a vineyard manager who was willing to put aside some grapes and allow them access to do their own testing to assure the fruit was what they needed. The grapes all came from a specific part of a vineyard and were randomised to reduce the risk of fruit variability having an influence.
The 15 wines were made in 150-kilogram parcels by the Wine Innovation Cluster Winemaking facility at the Waite Campus in Adelaide.
Response to the tasting workshop has been overwhelming, with all sessions booked out and numbers only limited by the quantity of the wines available. Mind you, the organisers aren’t surprised by the demand, given that they booked out a dozen sessions looking at Pinot Noir last year.
‘That was intended as a one-off, but we realised that it resonated because it was what winemakers are really interested in’, Simos said. ‘You can talk for hours around a concept, but it’s more effective when you can put a glass in front of someone and say “that’s what I’m talking about”, especially when they can compare that glass with others.
‘What we want to do is encourage winemakers to experiment and be willing to try new things by removing some of the risk in doing something different – not just the risk of messing up the wine, but the risk of ending up with something they didn’t plan.’
The sessions also look at some winemaking basics, such as the pros and cons of not adding acid or not filtering the wine before bottling.
Simos is one four AWRI presenters, along with Matt Holdstock, Peter Godden and Geoff Cowey. All are winemakers themselves, allowing them to talk first-hand about how and why each wine was created.
The workshop has visited smaller regions, such as Stanthorpe in Queensland and Denmark in WA, and even made a side trip to London, when Simos was invited to present to the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW) the day after Wine Australia’s Australia Day Tastings in January.