Making Wine the Old-Fashioned Way

By: Qian Leung posted Jul 06th 2018 02:19PM

Winemaking has been in existence since 4000 B.C. in Armenia. Turning grape juice into wine requires a fermentation process that converts sugars into alcohol. To be exposed to yeasts, the juices need to come into contact with the grape skin. This also imparts tannins and colour. In the past, this was done by feet – the weight of the human body was just right, breaking the skin without crushing the seeds, which might otherwise cause the wine to become too bitter. Recently, a winemaker from Adelaide Hills in southern Australia decided to fly 600 kilogrammes of the harvest into Singapore, and give us a small taste of what winemaking is really like.

“Wine is a bit of a mysterious thing,” says David Bowley, 38, of small-batch winery Vinteloper. “And what I realised was, no one’s pulling back the curtains, and letting people come behind the scenes, and see how wine is made.” Aside from the fresh grapes, ready for foot treading, there’re also grapes in the press, for guests to see the juice being separated from the skin, as well as wines made at last year’s event in Sydney. “The grapes from tonight, we’re going to bring them back to Australia and make wine out of them, and bring them back here again next year.” Previous editions had taken place in Adelaide and Melbourne. “From the 2017 edition, we produced about five thousand bottles of wine,” says Bowley, a city kid who always knew office life wasn’t meant for him. “We keep a record of all the names of the people who came for the event, about 300 of them, and print their names on the labels.” So there’ll be 15 bottles with your name on it.

To go with the wines, Chef Duncan McCance, 35, of Frank Foods, presents a pan-seared Australian barramundi with organic greens and grilled Cape Wickham sirloin with potato purée, confit tomato and onion rings. The chocolate lava cake with salted caramel and vanilla ice cream makes one swoon. 2017 Vinteloper pinot gris is refreshing and aromatic, while 2017 Urban Winery Project White #4, a blend of semillon and sauvignon, is the second wine after Château le Puy’s Marie-Cécile to make me so blissfully happy and high that by the end of the night, I feel as though I had known the couple at the next table all my life, though we had been complete strangers before. 2016 Vinteloper pinot noir is poetic and thought-provoking, while 2017 Urban Winery Project #6 Red, a blend of shiraz and tempranillo, bursts with oomph and pizzazz.
Hopping out of the bin, American Ben Wightman says, “This is something we’ve never done before.” With his partner, Surtini, he’s been to wineries in France, Australia, and South Africa, but never had a chance to get their feet wet. As the bin is kept chilled throughout the night, everyone starts to squeal the moment they get in the bin, because it’s so icy. “It’s cold, but refreshing,” says Surtini, who’s originally from Indonesia. “When I first jumped in, I went deep inside; it’s like wet mud.” Wightman adds, “There were so many grapes, it goes up to about your knees.”
Asked about the next edition, Bowley just laughs. “Every year that I do this event, I say I’m never going to do this again.” Since there’re so many details involved, such as getting the grapes here, finding a location, and getting the word out – and it happens during the busiest time of the year, the harvesting season, so it makes no financial sense. What keep him going are the guests. “There was a guy and a girl at the Sydney event, who didn’t come prepared.” But they were so enthusiastic, the guy ended up taking off his pants, and jumping in with just his briefs, and while the girl didn’t take her clothes off, she’d lifted up her dress so high, she may as well have taken it off! “And look, this whole experience of bringing this to Singapore has been a highlight, I don’t think I’ll be able to forget it,” says the trailblazer, whose first attempt in 2011 didn’t work out. It did, however, make him more determined to make it happen the following year. “I believe that after experiencing, in some small way, what goes into actually making wine from grapes, every glass of wine that you drink for the rest of your life is going to taste better.” QL
Adapted from the May Jun 18 issue of Cuisine & Wine Asia.

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