Flying winemaker Simon and our new Yecla blend San Simone

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If anyone is wondering where Simon Tyrrell is this October they need to look further than the streets of Dublin and into the vineyards of Europe. Fresh from vintage in the Southern Rhône with his Simone Joseph and Deux Cols wines Simon has headed out to Yecla and is standing over vats of Cabernet Franc, Monastrell and Syrah carefully shaping them into what will be our first winemaking venture in this arid but exciting part of Spain. Bring on San Simone!

In between his ‘ward rounds’ checking that the bubbling vats of wine are fermenting happily Simon has filled us in on his management of the grapes. Turn away now if you don’t want to be dreaming about skipping through warm Spanish vineyards and turning their healthy, exciting produce into new wines. From this side of the water it looks to really be the ‘good life’.

I’ll let Simon’s email updates take you on from here. In true Simon fashion they are quite technical, something that will appeal to those of you out there who get excited by pH and talk of DAP etc.

Day 1 – Monday 10th October

Thought I’d send you just a couple of photos of the first day out here. 8 tons of Monastrell hand harvested. The first 3.6 tons were de-stemmed and then crushed before being pumped into a chilled tank. We then put in 800kg of whole bunches (see photo) on top before completing the tank with another 3.6 tons of de-stemmed and crushed grapes. Tomorrow we’ll  take the cooling off the tank to let the fermentation begin. The fruit is very clean with no rot, even after some rain last week.

Day 2 – Tuesday 12th October

So the grapes spent their first 24 hours in tank doing a pre-maceration cold soak. This helps us extract some colour and flavour but because we don’t have any ethanol and the temperature is low, we don’t get any tannin extraction or astringency. The cooling was switched off yesterday morning and the temperature is rising slowly, 12.5°C this morning. We did a 10 minute pump over earlier and have added 200 litres of strongly fermenting Cabernet Franc from another tank (a technique known as a pied de cuve or apparently and quite helpfully ‘uno pied de cuva’ in Spanish) to help get the fermentation underway.

Below is the first analysis of the must. You’ll see in column 2 that the total acidity level is quite low (3.921g/l) so we have *added 1g/l of tartaric acidity this morning to bring this up to about 5g/l and to reduce the pH to about 3.63.The Baumé reading isn’t too accurate at this stage as the grapes (particularly the whole bunches) will continue to release some sugar for a short while but our potential alcohol level will be about 14.5%. Once we blend in some Syrah we should have it under 14%.

*Addendum from Harriet: For those purists out there I might just have to put a small hole in your bubble (sorry!). In hotter regions to avoid compromising on flavour sometimes something’s gotta give. Sugars rise fast, acid falls and flavours rise steadily; in warmer areas hitting the sweet point where all are at optimum levels is never easy. Heidi Barrett ex winemaker of Screaming Eagle and currently of La Sirena wines in California makes no secret about her addition of Tartaric to dial down the pH once the tannins and flavours have hit full ripeness. I’ve tried this wine that retails for about $130 a bottle and it’s pretty darn special!

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The interesting thing is the primary (alpha) amino acid reading of 152.8 and the ammonia reading of 53.8. These gives us an idea of how much assimilable nitrogen is available for the yeasts during fermentation and the level is very good. It often isn’t in hot regions  but here for some reason they have very good levels. The benchmark is about 150 mg/l. We’ll add some DAP (about 5g/hl) however as yeasts prefer to metabolise the simpler form of ammonia and sometimes find it difficult to break down the amino acids. The DAP will ensure a smooth fermentation and lessens issues of reduction.

I’ve been really happy with how the team here has approached the project. They couldn’t have been more helpful. The only thing is to get them to stay with the protocol as they tend to like big, rich, extracted wines. It’s amazing to think that they hand harvest 550 hectares but as you’ll see from the vineyard shots a lot of these guys are from South America, used to working through these long hot days.

Currently, the post fermentation plan is to keep 4,000 litres in tank and 2,000 litres in barrel. I’ve specified older, French barrels (3-4 wines) as in my experience Mourvèdre doesn’t like too much new wood (think Bandol). Apparently they have some 500 litre barrels available which would be perfect.

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