Winemaking at Villa Maria

We had two bites of the cherry in our visits to Villa Maria, appropriately enough given the scale of its operations.  A pretty comprehensive tasting of its wines at the Auckland HQ was followed by a whistle stop tour of the Marlborough with senior winemaker Helen Morrison as expert guide.  Here are some highlights: 

  • in a big winery, the layout, logistics and work flow really repay the tightest planning. Here there is an area devoted to Pinot Noir, the middle section of the winery handles Sauvignon Blanc and other aromatic varieties while the Private Bin and Cellar Selection fruit is handled in the big volume area out-of-doors.  
  • the Pinot Noir is divided between the larger volumes which are machine-harvested and fermented with selected yeasts on the one hand and the hand-picked portion which goes into cold store for 5-7 days, destemmed and then fermented in open top tanks. Extraction of colour and tannins is aided  with either mechanical punchdown or the Pulseair system which creates homogeneity in the tank but is very gentle. It works by creating a 3-foot bubble of either compressed air or nitrogen which breaks up the cap.   
  • for Pinot, fermentation temperatures are between 28-30º C for volume wines and up to 34º C for the top quality ones
  • after fermentation and maceration, the wine goes straight to barrel 
  • Sauvignon Blanc production is of course where the really big numbers are and Villa Maria can deal with 1,000 tons a day on a 24 hour basis. 
  • Sulphur dioxide, in the form of PMS, is added in the vineyard to control oxidation from the first, the fruit is machine-picked for quality and low temperatures. it is further chilled to 8º C.  It is then pressed in the giant 100-ton presses. Pectolytic enzyme is added to help clarify the must. The big, tipping tanks you can see in the pictures can deal with 20 tons at a time. 
  • The yeast propagation machine starts with a kilo of yeast added to juice. It is aerated with a bubble machine and the cell count checked before the volume is repeatedly doubled until you have the requisite amount. By cutting out the lag time when the must is vulnerable to spoilage yeasts, this procedure leads to good healthy ferments and aromatically pure wines.  
  • the flotation method is used to clarify musts, instead of cold settling, with a stream of nitrogen pushing solids to the top where they can be removed, allowing the fruit to get from vineyard to fermentation tank in 24 hours
  • lees clarification for high-volume wines is carried out with a crossflow ceramic filter

If you have ever wondered why high-quality volume Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc is consistent, vivacious and aromatic, this precise workflow and commitment to the best technology is one of the reasons – making the most of the quality of the fruit that is picked.  

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