From Vine to Bottle: Base Wine
The second in our series of articles following the journey of Cape Brandy from the vine to bottle, takes a look at the Base Wine for Cape Brandy distillation, and how it differs from normal table wine.Predominantly white wine grapes are used in the production of cape brandy, mostly Colombard and Chenin Blanc.
A good Cape Brandy cannot be made from just any wine. To distill an exceptional brandy, the wine is made to very tight specifications, ensuring that once concentrated into brandy, all only the right flavours remain. This is how we do it:
Love the grapes
The key to a good brandy base wine, starts with the grapes. The soil, watering, sunshine temperature and other physical elements all influence grape quality and flavour. Careful attention needs to be paid to this early stage of a brandy’s life.
Predominantly white wine grapes are used in the production of brandy, mostly Colombard and Chenin Blanc. Other white and red varietals are also used, but these are often used in lesser percentages to the primary grapes.
Harvest with great care
Wherever possible, harvesting of the grapes for Cape Brandy is done by hand to ensure the best bunches are picked for fermentation. The grapes are harvested early in the ripening cycle to ensure the correct acid to fruit ration exists for distillation.
If the grape is picked to early, the acidity content is too high, and it will not produce a good brandy. Likewise if the grape is harvested too late, the extended work of the sun creates too much sugar, also not ideal for distillation. The perfect range to harvest the grapes is at around 18-20 degrees “Balling” (pronounced Ba-ling – a scale used to determine the sugar content of the grapes).
Don’t press me please
Once harvested, the grapes are run through the crusher, to split the fruit open, and allow the juice to be collected. For Cape Brandy, minimal pressing of the grapes is done after crushing, as this can extract unwanted tannins from the pips and skins. Majority “Free Run” juice is used for Cape Brandy base wine further ensuring only the best makes it into the bottle.
Fresh fermentation, no added sulphates
The collected juice is then fermented with special yeast, and left in stainless steel tanks for 10-14 days. Once the fermentation is complete, at a certain “Specific Gravity” (another scale used that shows how much sugar has been converted by the yeast into alcohol, i.e. the final alcohol % of the wine), the wine is ready to be distilled.
No Sulphates can be added to brandy base wine as they can be to table wine to preserve it and prevent “Oxidation” (a fancy word for “going off”). As a result, it is critical that the wine is distilled as soon as possible after the fermentation, to avoid it spoiling. The wines are also distilled unfiltered, with the fine “Lees” in tact to further add flavour to the final distillate.
Distill me don’t drink me
Brandy base wine is not very palatable and certainly not pleasant to drink as it is. With a relatively high acidity, it is sour to the taste, with raw, fruity and yeasty aromas.
But once distilled twice in copper potstills, it is refined, stripped of its raw unwanted attributes, and transformed into a concentrated pure spirit, full of fabulous fruity aromas and is perfectly balance for the long maturation in toasted oak barrels that awaits it.