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Crypto-Wine: Oldenburg Vineyards' Views April 2021

5 May 2021  -  Oldenburg Vineyards

In a world that seems to move faster and faster, becoming crazier by the day, it is often hard to tell the difference between the virtual and the real. In April, Bitcoin surpassed the U$60k mark. Also recently, a piece of 'digital' art sold for U$69 million. Wine is now being digitally 'tokenised' and has joined the Blockchain.

The good news is that we still have a farm, vineyards and wines that are real. Tangible. And, to my mind, knowing that there is a bottle maturing in my cellar is far better than a digital token stored somewhere in my laptop. At some point, that bottle will be consumed, shared with friends and family over a lovely meal, and it will offer a memory of a time and a place. Beat that, Crypto!

In the January Vineyards' Views, I mentioned it was Full Speed Ahead at Oldenburg in 2021. Continuing in that high octane vein, I am excited to announce a new addition to our team: Christo Crous as General Manager for Viticulture and Farm at Oldenburg. Christo's appointment fits our firmly held view that great wines "are made" in the vineyards. It is, however, not just the importance of Place but also the addition of Practice that makes the real difference. Christo is one of South Africa's rising viticulture stars. He brings a rare combination of passion for the vine and the application of science in all its aspects. I believe that the addition of Christo will allow us to move many steps forward with our ambitions of creating the exceptional.

We completed harvest at the beginning of April this year – the first time we have ever finished so late in the year. The harvest continued to be a great one - long and cool, all the way through. Nic is pleased with the fruit he took into the cellar. No harvest is ever perfect, but '21 is pretty close! With the coolness has come a nice uptick in acidity - no doubt the wines from this vintage will show great freshness across the board. We also saw an increase in quantity, with a harvest more similar to pre-drought 2016, in terms of volume. I am both excited and confident that our pursuit of quality – that began in earnest in 2015 – continues with Vintage 2021. During April, many of the wines started malolactic fermentation – or “malo”, as it is known in shorthand. We uncover some of the mysteries and complexities around the process in this month’s Point of View, below. Worth a read.

Back in 2011, we installed our first solar array. This week, we completed the 2nd phase of our solar project by utilising the entire cellar roof. Interestingly, the cost of solar panels has fallen by about 90% over the past ten years.

We will now generate the bulk of our power requirements from our solar arrays. The final phase will happen in a few years: removing our need for grid power completely. Knowing our power is climate-friendly feels fantastic!

Our Chenin Blanc 2018 featured as a 'Must-Try' wine in the May edition of Decanter Magazine. With a 93-point score, we concur - every time we have the chance to open a slightly older Chenin, we grab it! If you are looking for any of our wines - Delivered to your Door - around the world, take a peek at our vintage price list here.

We also released our Rondekop Rhodium and Per Se 2018 this month. The Rhodium featured in the March REview, and this month we feature the Per Se 2018. Both these wines are showing us what is possible on Rondekop, which certainly keeps us excited. In my opinion, the Per Se 2018 is a wine for the cellar and a little bit of patience. If you can allow yourself to wait, you will be richly rewarded in time!

Post-harvest April is supposed to be a month of rest. The vineyard activity has calmed down, and the vines receive a well-earned drink of water to facilitate their pre-winter growth. However, in the cellar, things are still extremely busy. The wines have now finished their primary (alcoholic) fermentation, and now malo is the main event. The team is working on pump-overs, and putting many of the wines into their barrels. Once all the fermentations are complete and the wines are in their respective maturation places, there will undoubtedly be a collective sigh of relief!

In the Tasting Room, we are slowly quietening as we end the summer season. However, the recommendation is still very much: 'reserve your spot' - join us for tasting, a chance to drink in the view while you sip your wine, and unwind. Just wine, though - crypto not accepted!

Malolactic Fermentation

Diving into a relevant topic this month – as many of the wines in our cellar are currently undergoing this type of fermentation -  it is a good time to demystify the term, which is often used in the context of winemaking, but not always understood.

First, some basic chemistry. In winemaking, primary fermentation is the process through which grape juice (or must) is turned into wine. Yeast (usually Saccharomyces cerevisiae) converts the sugar in the must to alcohol and CO2. Malolactic fermentation (also referred to as MLF or just ‘malo’) is a secondary fermentation, that can take place shortly after primary fermentation is complete.  MLF is undertaken by a family of bacteria called lactic acid bacteria (Oenococcus oeni) but can also be done by species of Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. These bacteria convert the malic acid found in the wine to a different type of acid – namely lactic acid.

The main result of MLF is a change in mouthfeel. Malic acid is associated with a more tart, green apple taste, while lactic acid gives a more buttery, rich taste and mouthfeel.

MLF in winemaking is not a necessary process, and the decision whether to allow a wine to convert malic acid to lactic acid depends on the style of wine desired. The climate of the area also plays a role. As MLF conversion causes a drop in acidity, it may typically be more desired in cooler areas (e.g. Elgin, or specific parts of Burgundy), where wines might show higher acidity. Conversely, warmer climate wines may have lower acidity to begin with, and MLF conversion might not be required or wanted.

At Oldenburg, Nic is selective in which of our white wines undergo MLF. Wines destined for <CL°, for example, aren’t put through MLF, allowing them to retain their fresh, fruity characteristics. He may choose partial MLF on some of the barrel components, but as excessive MLF can create an extremely buttery richness (think heavy-hitting California Chardonnay), it is important to monitor the progress of MLF through both tasting and analysis.

All the Oldenburg Vineyards red wines undergo MLF, and Nic inoculates with Oenococcus oeni to ensure the right strain of bacteria drives the fermentation. MLF can easily occur naturally (as the bacteria are already present), but the pH of the wine plays an important role in which specific strain dominates. If the wrong strain drives the active fermentation, the wine could be left with a faulty character (for example, the dreaded “mousiness”).

Next time you enjoy a wine with a particularly full, rich mid-palate, you can thank the process of MLF.