In theory I have lots of time on my hands. I only work 8 hours a day (unlike my previous jobs, it’s a bit tough to bring winery work home). This should mean I have loads of time to write my thesis, enjoy my summer, relax. So of course, I promptly joined a barbershop chorus. This is a style of music I’ve never worked with before…isn’t barbershop just for men? (you ask) Actually, no – it’s a style of a capella harmonization with four voices, which can be sung by male, female or mixed groups.

Easy mistake to make.

Though I’ve sung in choirs for years, this is really different, and very challenging. I’m singing the part of the baritone (though an octave higher than the male baritone voice), and its function is to fill out the chord (the famous barbershop seventh) that the other three voices – tenor, lead and bass; regardless of whether males or females – are singing.

There is NO vibrato. This element will be tough to eliminate after years of classical training, which I’m starting again with a great teacher in Niagara. The vibrato comes so naturally, even my Iron Maiden covers 5 years ago featured it. (We were probably the only Maiden tribute band with much of that… Metal opera: Viking helmets meet headbanging! …..Also, very dangerous…perhaps protective eyewear would also be in order.) And there are far more sequins in barbershop performance than I’m used to – though my short time in Niagara means I’m unlikely to besparkle myself just yet.

Ok, I promise I haven’t left wine, it’s just that the musical side of When Wine Sings is so fascinating sometimes! (And also it’s one of the reasons that I’m not writing as frequently as before. I’m still settling in! That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.)

Sort of… (except in France it would be butter, not ketchup). And the chorus puts on the finishing touches (and a little glitter!) at the dress rehearsal.

On that note, I’m getting into the rhythm at Tawse. Though of course the sparkle is in the wine and not on the clothes. Actually sparkling wine makes up a significant portion of the wine volume here. Unlike the still wine process, there’s a lot of activity while the wine ages, to create the bubbles.

Magnum bottles are filled by hand – we adjust the fill level and capsule them manually right away. Then we wait…. We put them in the gyropallets which ‘riddle’ them, or turn them ever so slowly and gently over the course of a week until all the lees (the spent yeast cells) gather in the neck of the bottle.

Two things are happening during this waiting period. The first is that the wine is fermenting again, and the second is that it is aging. A tirage is added – a mixture typically made of sugar, yeast and wine. The addition of sugar and yeast causes the wine to start fermenting again. This typically adds 1-2° of alcohol. Once the secondary fermentation is complete, the wine continues to age on lees which adds complexity to the wine. This aging period can last anywhere from a few months to years! (Decision made depending on how thirsty one is.) The secondary fermentation period is really important because this is what adds the bubbles (in the form of carbon dioxide) to the wine. The build-up of carbon dioxide in the bottle, however creates the pressure inside the bottle, which is key for the next step.

Getting ready to disgorge. First off – safety equipment is key! These bottles are under a lot of pressure, and if one breaks, broken glass goes everywhere. Next, I insert upside-down bottles into a freezing solution that converts the lees into a solid, frozen slug. Next, the bottle is popped open; the slug of lees shoots out thanks to the built-up pressure inside, and the bottle is topped up with the dosage, a mixture of sugar and wine. The cork is inserted into the bottle, followed immediately by the wire cage, to hold it in place.

Though I’m not outside much, I found out the answer to my question about the 4 canes. In fact, it is still a 2-cane strategy (Guyot double) but with the extra canes for frost insurance. Thanks to our lovely cold climate, we need to take extra steps here to insure against frost damage which can be particularly lethal in spring when the weather may cool again after the buds have started growing. The extra canes are removed in late spring, once the risk of late frost has passed, and the remaining two are tied to the wire, as below.

The right and left canes (orange arrows) are the two planned for the season. The two growing straight up (red arrows) are the contingency should one of the two lower canes have frost damage. The two excess canes will be pruned away and the result will be two canes tied to the wire, parallel to the ground.

It’ll be interesting to see how this vintage turns out. The spring has been quite wet so far – probably good for the vines as the winter apparently did not have as much snow as usual. Winter precipitation is critical to the vines’ ability to store water and nutrients in preparation for the quick growth spurt in spring. With all of the rain in Niagara, hopefully the vines are replenishing any unfilled stores, and are getting ready for a big growing season!

Dense fog and lots of rain have characterized this spring so far (that’s the Tawse winery on the other side of the pond). We’re still a few weeks away from flowering.

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2 thoughts on “under pressure

  1. Hi there –

    This might be unusual, but through (perhaps excessive) googling the term “Masters Vineyard and Winery Management Bordeaux” I came across your blog. I was just admitted to the program myself and was hoping you would give me some tips or answer a few questions about moving to Bordeaux and anything I should prepare for that isn’t in the ample materials the program has been sending me – particularly around apartments/accommodations in Bordeaux.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog – definitely filled in a lot of holes already!


    • Hi Aly! Not to worry – I’d be happy to share any insights from my experience in the program. I have your email so I’ll contact you directly and we can go from there. Congratulations on being admitted! You are in for an adventure 🙂

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