The philosophy of Backsberg remains that of providing pleasure and enjoyment to a broad range of wine lovers by producing wines not only with structure and finesse, but also with a high level of “drinkability”.
This philosophy has to exist under an overall umbrella of Care. Care of our land, our product and the people who work for us – and care of the environment in which we find ourselves.
We currently have around 110 ha under vineyard and additional satellite vineyards in two other areas. Our vineyards are located along the slopes of the Simonsberg Mountains, mid way between Paarl and Stellenbosch and some 40 minutes from Cape Town.
We are blessed with a wonderful climate; full sunny days in the summer and cold wet days in the winter – a great location to ‘grow’ wine.
For us the key to producing high quality fruit lies in the word ‘balance’. This word must apply in all our decisions from site selection, to style of trellis, canopy management and irrigation.
A question often asked by other growers of each other and wine writers of growers, is what is your yield per hectare. For us at Backsberg this question has been consigned to the bin and replaced with the question what is your yield per square meter of canopy. Given that the canopy or the leaves are the “factory” of the vine that ensure fruit concentration and ripeness, the issue is not yield per square meter of surface area but rather yield per square meter of “factory” that is balance.
An additional change in our thinking over the last number of years is to say that at the all critical time of harvesting we don’t simply harvest ripe fruit, but rather fruit form ripe vines. The holistic view again – all the aspects of the vine must show ripeness.
Backsberg’s wine making style is very much based on the kiss principle. i.e. “keep it simple stupid”. [img_8009_sml]
In other words, if we have not got it right in the vineyards we are not going to get it right in the cellar.
Winemaking is done with as little intervention as possible, but with Alicia holding the reigns of all the components of the cellar together with the sole aim of directing winemaking to produce wines with a high level of drinkability.
Wines which are seamless, i.e. wines where all the components of flavour are in harmony: fruit sweetness, tannin, acid and where the wines have been wood matured, barrel characteristics.
She has trained her staff well, and all quietly go about the business of winemaking in a diligent planned and organised manner.
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Why Not All Wines Are Vegan (or Even Vegetarian)
As we all know wine is made from grapes. Essentially wine is fermented grape juice as discussed in my post last year on winemaking. Yeasts, either natural or cultured, convert the grape juice sugars into alcohol. So far this all seems to be vegan-friendly.
The reason that all wines are not vegan or even vegetarian-friendly has to do with how the wine is clarified and a process called 'fining'. All young wines are hazy and contain tiny molecules such as proteins, tartrates, tannins and phenolics. These are all natural, and in no way harmful. However, we wine-drinkers like our wines to be clear and bright.
Most wines, if left long enough, will self-stabilize and self-fine. However, traditionally producers have used a variety of aids called 'fining agents' to help the process along. Fining agents help precipitate out these haze-inducing molecules. Essentially, the fining agent acts like a magnet – attracting the molecules around it. They coagulate around the fining agent, creating fewer but larger particles, which can then be more easily removed.
Traditionally the most commonly used fining agents were casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein). These fining agents are known as processing aids. They are not additives to the wine, as they are precipitated out along with the haze molecules.
Fining with casein and albumin is usually acceptable by most vegetarians but all four are off limits for vegans because tiny traces of the fining agent may be absorbed into the wine during the fining process.
A New Direction
But there is good news. Today many winemakers use clay-based fining agents such as bentonite, which are particularly efficient at fining out unwanted proteins. Activated charcoal is another vegan and vegetarian-friendly agent that is also used.
In addition, the move to more natural winemaking methods, allowing nature to take its course, means more vegan and vegetarian-friendly wines. An increasing number of wine producers around the globe are electing not to fine or filter their wines, leaving them to self-clarify and self-stabilize. Such wines usually mention on the label 'not fined and/or not filtered'. Learn more at thekitchn.com.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA'S CENTRAL COAST
San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties make up the southernmost district of the Central Coast American Viticultural Area, AVA. There are 27,600 acres of wine grapes planted in San Luis Obispo County and 16,600 acres planted in Santa Barbara County, totaling more than 44,000 acres. Together they make up 7.4 percent of the total state winegrape crush. The number one wine grape variety in San Luis Obispo County is Cabernet Sauvignon with 8,600 acres. Merlot is second with 4,200 acres. There are about 110 wineries in the County. In Santa Barbara County, Chardonnay is the predominant grape with 7,100 acres, and Pinot Noir follows with 3,200 acres. There are almost 90 wineries.
The city of Paso Robles, situated 20 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, is in San Luis Obispo County, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The area is characterized by warm, clear days, generally unencumbered by clouds, fog or severe winds. Nighttime temperatures drop by approximately 40 degrees, cooled by a marine layer that moves over the region after sunset. Proximity to the ocean, orientation of the numerous canyons and valleys, and varying elevations produce diverse macroclimates, allowing production of both cool and warm loving winegrape varieties. There are four general soil associations, primarily formed from the weathering of granite, serpentine, shale and sandstone.
In Santa Barbara County, the north-south coastal range of mountains abruptly turns to run almost east-west for 50 miles, framing the valleys in a unique transit to the Pacific Ocean. This is the only stretch of land from Alaska to Cape Horn constituting an east-west traverse. The unique topography allows the flow of fog and ocean breezes to shape distinct microclimates and makes the region one of the coolest viticultural areas in California. However, warmer daytime temperatures in the inland areas allow a wide variety of winegrapes to be grown. Terrain and climates vary widely, from steep, wind-swept hillsides to rolling inland valley vineyards where summer temperatures often reach the century mark.
Explore the wonderful world of wine through the eyes and the palates of the experts. Hear their stories, learn the land and understand the many pleasures of this age old libation.