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Winemaker for a Day

Published in Man's World Magazine | July 2007

I’VE FINALLY GOT A WINE named after me. Don’t believe me? Look at the accompanying photograph. In the middle of the label, my name in all its modesty is followed by two important words: assistant winemaker! And to think that it took me all of thirty minutes to have made that distinctive achievement.

Want to make your own wine with your name on the label? Simple. Fly to Adelaide, capital of South Australia, and be driven to Australia’s most famous wine region. Not Hunter Valley, not Yarra, not Margaret River. We’re talking about Barossa here. Barossa’s reputation as Australia’s finest wine region has been built over a hundred and fifty years. More than twenty per cent of the country’s wine is made in Barossa. Giant wineries like Seppette, Penfold, and Jacobs Creek ship millions of litres worldwide daily. Flagship grapes that make white Rieslings and red Shiraz wine styles have put the Barossa name on the world map.

And now it’s your turn to put your name on a Barossa wine bottle. ‘Make Your Own Blend’ is an interactive and fun wine experience for anyone who wants to be winemaker for a day. This marvellous experience is conducted by Penfolds, whose wines are sought after worldwide. After a walking tour of the winery and wine cellars, guests are taken to the winemaker’s laboratory to try their hand at making their own wine.

Bill Biscoe, Penfolds’ wine educator, leads our motley crew of visitors to a room that reminds me of my chemistry laboratory in college. The difference is that the winemaker’s laboratory is sparkling white, and lined with so many bottles of red wine, that you could mistake it fora trendy new restaurant.

We are all given a glass of Penfolds Bin 138 GSM to nose and taste. GSM? It’s a winsome blend of wine made from Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre grapes. So breathe. Breathe in the rich aroma of GSM. What do we notice? Fruit? Good. Which fruits? Plums? Blueberries? Spice? Taste the GSM wine. What are those complex flavours on your palate? Notice them and now start making your own blend.

In front of each member of the group, are three bottles full of red wine โ€”Grenache, a Shiraz, a Mourvedre. Also placed are large test tubes with measuring scales. There is also a form indicating three alternatives of percentages for us to fill in while trying to make the blend that comes closest to the Penfolds Bin 138. What would your winning blend consist of, dear reader? 70:30:10 (G:S:M)? 60:20:20? Now, that would be 60 percent Grenache, 20 percent Shiraz, 20 percent Mourvedre. Thirty minutes later, Bill is ready to judge. My winning blend is 70:15:15. Bill checks everyone’s form and then announces the winner. It’s not me but my neighbour, an Indian journalist whose redoubtable Persian nose arrived at the correct blend of 50:40:10.

We are all given the final kind gesture of making that blend, bottling it and bringing it home. So, I didn’t get the first prize. But at least my wine blend bottle is smiling back at me. That’s reason enough to say cheers. Sante.

MAN’S WORLD WINE FUNDAS

Most Grenache and Grenache Blends come from regions in South Australia and often from old vines. Grenache is thought to have originated in Spain. It is an important and widely planted variety in Southern Rhone. Grenache is a versatile variety and is, with its flavours of berry fruit, cherries, earth and spice, used to make both light and heavy red wines.

Shiraz is the most widely planted grape variety in Australia. It currently represents 40 per cent of the total red grape crush and constitutes one fifth of all wine grape production in Australia. Shiraz underwent a renaissance when the international world began to focus on Oz. Ripe fruit, a fleshy mid-palate, soft tannins and a kick of American oak, became the template for Australian Shiraz.

Mourvedre is Spain’s second most important variety after Grenache. Mourvedre adapts well to a wide range of soils and loves warmer climates.

It produces thick-skinned berries, which provide perfume, inky, gamey, spicy, anise characters and gritty tannins. It is also used to add complexity to the wine.