Posted: 14 Aug 2014

De Bortoli’s Steve Webber shares
his top 5 tips for making wine

Baptism of Fire wine Ever sipped on a glass of juicy shiraz and dreamed of making something even better?

A unique event is giving wannabe winemakers a crack at the art of turning grapes into vino. Part competition, part education, Baptism of Fire connects some of Australia’s top winemakers with six teams of first-timers from the hospitality industry to create a winning shiraz using grapes from Mount Langi Ghiran, Thousand Candles or De Bortoli. Mentors for the wannabe winemakers include De Bortoli‘s Steve Webber (above) and Sarah Fagan, Mac Forbes, Timo Mayer, Gilles Lapalus (Sutton Grange) and Matt Harrop (Shadowfax).

The six teams gave industry experts a taste of their shiraz at Melbourne’s Savoy Tavern on August 4, followed by an auction to secure the packaged product in October. The auction results will be added to votes from an expert panel to decide the winners, with part of the proceeds going to Second Bite.

Steve Webber’s wannabe winemakers are equally famous in the world of cafes – St Ali‘s Salvatore Malatesta and Matt Perger – so their shiraz entry should be one to watch when the results come out in October. For those keen to follow in their footsteps, here are Steve’s top 5 tips for his newbie winemakers.

1. Get dirty

Wine is grown not made. Understanding the land in which we cultivate is the key. It takes a long time to understand the flavours and nuances of each part of the vineyard, where there are differences within vineyards and the varieties best suited to certain sites and soil types. At De Bortoli, we have tried to grade the potential sites into A, B and C quality ratings. C grade blocks are being pulled out and planted to green manure crops for our compost program. Should I need lower quality fruit, there are growers out there that have made an art form out of growing average quality fruit and I can buy this far cheaper than growing myself.

2. Stay calm

It’s important to retain calmness and poise when it comes to extract and oak. Beautiful wine is balanced, calm, textural, intriguing and gentle. You turn your back and the bottle is empty. The other type is often aggressive, overly oaked, overly tannic and generally a bit amped up. At the end of the night these bottles are half full with a cigarette butt gently floating on top.

3. Less is more

Wine is about variety, terroir and wine making. Some wines are also matured in cask which gives an additional variable. When any one of these factors dominate, the wine is out of balance. I often feel some chardonnays have an overt varietal character, quite obvious wine making or too much oak. Less is always better. For the same reasons, overly hopped beer is vile.

4. Mix it up

The best wines are not always single variety. We all know that classic chardonnay and pinot don’t need much else to complete the deal. However some of the great wines on earth are blends and often show more about the place than a single variety. Some of my favourite chianti are blends of sangiovese, caniolo and malvasia nero. Try and sell that to a traditional Aussie drinker.

5. Cull for quality

It is the wines that you leave out of the final blend that can make a wine great.  Tim Knappstein often talks about this. When you understand the vineyard, you start to realise that there are sections that are pulling the overall quality of the final wine down. These may be dips in the terrain, sections with slow surface drainage or changes in soil type. You only realise this when you dissect the vineyard and make separate wines from these smaller, more even sections. This has been the most important aspect of increasing wine quality in our own vineyards in the Yarra Valley. Improving quality is seldom an accident.

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