Who am I? My name is Nicholas Gee and I hail all the way from New Zealand, yeah I hear you now saying to yourselves why the fuck are you living in Slovenia?
Well I fell for a girl, in 2007 I was in Paris when I met a beautiful young woman, who as it turns out was from Celje, and as it turns out is now my wife. I moved here to Slovenia at the beginning of 2009 because she didn’t want to leave, but if you ask her now, well the answer is a whole lot different. But the problem with that is when I came here I started my own winery from scratch.
I studied wine making and grape growing in New Zealand, and then spent 7 years travelling around the world working in different wineries. My winery is called Heaps Good Wine Company and we are based near to Slovenska Bistrica, our first year of production was 2010. The aim of this blog post is to explain wine to someone who knows nothing about it, so here we go.
What is wine and how is it made
Wine is fermented grape juice. Okay so maybe that is a bit simple, but it does sum it up. To make wine all you really need is grapes, in theory nothing else needs to be added, this makes wine the most natural of alcoholic beverages.
Lets start by dispelling some common myths, white wine is made from white grapes and red and rose wines are made from dark skinned grapes. These are not the same as the grapes you buy in the supermarket that have no flavour and are covered in pesticides and fungicides.
White wine can also be made from red grapes, as it is the skin that contains the colour not the flesh or juice inside. So to make a red wine the fermentation takes place with the skins and juice together, with white wines the grapes are pressed to leave us with just the juice.
So what is actually happening during fermentation? The main reaction, and the one we really care about is that the sugar in the grapes is converted by yeasts into alcohol. There can also be a secondary fermentation by bacteria that is called malolactic fermentation and converts malic acid(like in green apples) to lactic acid(like in milk) this is traditionally done on most red wines (not so much in Slovenia, if you’ve ever tasted cviček) and some white wines and creates a softer smoother wine. After the fermentation you have a wine, but wine is very prone to spoilage so generally sulphur will be added as a preservative, to stop any microbial growth and oxidation.
Of course not all wine is made with so few additives, winemakers will often add yeast and bacteria to have more control over what strain is fermenting their wine, fining agents can be used to make a wine taste softer, some common ones include egg whites, skim milk, isinglass (derived from fish), so there are many wines that are not suitable for vegans though there are currently no laws that require this on the label. Sugar can be added to grapes that are not so ripe, acid can be added to grapes that are too ripe. However I believe that the more manipulation of the wine that takes place through additions the more you take away the quality of that wine.
So if we ignore all these potential additives and look at wine as fermented grape juice with some sulphur in it then it’s fairly simple, right? So why then do people make such a fuss about it and sometimes pay hundreds of Euros for one bottle?
What influences the taste of wine
Everybody has different preferences when it comes to wine, some people like fresh, fruity wine, others like more complex, strong wines. But what influences the taste? Three things: the vineyard, the variety, and to a lesser extent the work of the winemaker.
The species of grape vine that we make wine from is called Vitis vinifera and it has at least 2000 known varieties. These are often on the label; some you may recognize are Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Sivi Pinot, Modra Frankinja, Laski Rizling, Renski Rizling, Merlot, Refrosk, Cabernet Sauvignon and so on. Each is unique in the flavour that it imparts on the wine.
Now where it starts to get more complicated is that the same variety in two different vineyards can have a remarkably different taste and quality level. This is because the vineyard site influences the way the vine grows and how the flavours develop. The French have a word to describe this mix of soil, aspect, rainfall, sunshine hours, etc for a particular site, it is Terroir. Terroir is what gives the world such a vast array of different wines, the unique influences that each site has on the vines that grow there.
Wine making can also influence the final outcome of the wine, however miracles cannot be performed, you can make a bad wine from good grapes but you cannot make a good wine from bad grapes. I believe that the winemaker’s job is to allow the wine to express itself and the site that it comes from. Though you can greatly influence the wine in other directions to achieve a certain desired taste this causes a wine to lose its identity, and we then have cheap generic wines with very similar taste.
A well made wine will develop in the bottle, but this does not mean that all wine gets better the older it is. Many wines are made to be consumed young, so drink them don’t keep them. Carefully consider what wines you buy if you intend to age them. Here is Slovenia we have an advantage, many of the best wines that are produced here are not so expensive.
Now that you and wine have been introduced, it’s time to get to know wine a little bit better so sit back relax, open a bottle and taste. Smell it, sip it, swirl it around your mouth, enjoy it. You may think you like sweeter wines, but that just means you haven’t tried enough dry wines. You may think you don’t like white wine, but that just means you haven’t tried the right ones. The more you taste the more you learn so get out there and try, it is a never ending journey of discovery. Your knowledge and appreciation for wine will grow as you taste more.