Normally for a wine you would expect it to start out life in a vineyard or winery at Renegade we started out in Brendan’s living room and then Richard’s garden shed with our experimental wine making. Even for a UK winery a shed is unusual wine making location. In order to make enough wine for more than just our own consumption we needed to get help from a UK vineyard which had space in it’s winery.
A winery is the location in which grapes or other ingredients are fermented to make wine, this doesn’t necessarily mean the grapes are grown there. A vineyard on the other hand is where the grapes are grown. So, a UK winery does not necessarily have a UK vineyard and vice versa but more often than not they are combined together.
The UK winery we used is based on the Kent Sussex border where a large number of UK vineyards can be found and they allowed us access to all the equipment and the machinery we needed. When making it in the shed we could only produce a few litres at a time but using a UK winery allows us to make 10,000 litres in one batch. More than even we could drink!
Having tasted our recipe with a trial batch of 1,000 litres we began production on our first batch of 10,000 litres of each wine.
Initial stages of wine-making
The main difference for our wines compared to other grape wines is at the very start of the fermentation we are using different ingredients. A grape based wine starts with the squeezing of the grapes in order to get the juices out. As we are using elderflowers there is obviously not a lot of liquid to come from the flower, so we must ferment with water. This is the case for both our wines.
To make a sparkling wine requires 2 fermentations the first one to create the base wine, with all the flavour, and the second to create the fizz in the bottle. Once we create our base for our wines the process is then the same to that of traditional method sparkling wine.
We sample the base wine, to check we are happy on how the flavour profile is developing and adjust, as necessary. This can be done by blending other base wines in, although our wines are grape free.
During our first batch fermentation we lost several 100 litres of wine when the base wine was being pumped from the fermenting tanks and one of the pipes sprung a leak! This is just one of the issues you can face when making wine to a larger scale in a winery.
Fermentation to the finished stage
The second fermentation is started by adding yeast and sugar to the wines at this stage the wines are transferred to a bottle and a crown cap put on (this is known as Tirage). The yeast and sugar ferment to increase the alcohol strength of the base wine whilst also releasing CO2 which provides the fizz for the wine.
The yeast then dies and is left in the bottle to add different flavours to the final wine. This is known as ‘leaving it on the lees’ and different sparkling wines have different requirements for how long they need to be left, with some requiring up to 30 months. With our wines we experimented with lengths of time and found very little difference on the finished wine so they are left on the lees for a much shorter period.
Final bottling and labelling
As the wine in each bottle has been through a second fermentation there will be a lot of sediment in the bottle, mostly the old yeast. To remove this, we use a process called riddling where we slowly turn the bottles upside down so that all the yeast and sediment gathers in the neck.
Once the sediment has settled it creates a natural plug. This is frozen by dipping the neck of the bottle in a freezing liquid. Then the crown cap is released for a moment which allows the plug to be pushed out of the bottle by the pressure that has built up inside from the second fermentation.
The final stage is to add a mixture called a dosage (a mixture of wine and sugar) to decide how sweet the final wine should be. This is possibly the most fun part of being at a winery as it requires a large amount of wine sampling to make sure the blend is just right!
The bottle is ready
Once we were happy with the final taste of our wines we corked the bottles before adding the wire cages and foils.
The last stage before the bottles are ready to be sent out is the labelling, perhaps the area, we made our biggest error. As we spent so much time thinking about the label and bottle shape, we did not consider how the labels would be applied. As a result, we cannot use a labelling machine and must hand label every bottle, so you might notice the odd label looking a little off centre…
If you’re interested in finding out more about how wines are made, it is also possible to see all the stages of wine-making at a UK vineyard or UK winery as there are a number who provide guided tours.
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