Fermenting in the field
Dom Maxwell is a thoughtful winemaker. He’s made a string of great wines for Greystone (tastings) and Muddy Water (tastings) in Waipara and justifiably ranks as one of our most successful winemakers. I particularly like his aromatic wines made from riesling, gewürztraminer and pinot gris but also put his chardonnay and pinot noir on a lofty pedestal.
Maxwell is a fan of organic viticulture and believes that wine should have a strong sense of place, or Turangawaewae, the buzz-word at Pinot Noir 2017. He is also a fan of ‘wild ferments’ using indigenous rather than cultured yeasts because natural yeasts are part of the local landscape. They help shape the character of wine, forming part of the vineyard signature.
Once he was satisfied with wild ferments, Maxwell experimented with a further step toward greater authenticity by shifting a one-tonne fermenter into the vineyard and allowing pinot noir to ferment alongside the grapevines from which they’d been recently plucked. He reasoned that they would be exposed to a purer selection of vineyard yeasts than they’d find in the winery.
No attempt was made to control fermentation temperature, which was left to the vagaries of the weather. It was a warm, dry vintage in 2013. The ferment started slowly and responded to cooler night and warmer daytime temperatures. Meanwhile, an identical selection of pinot noir grapes was fermented in the winery as a control.
Maxwell was happy with the outcome and continues to ferment in the field by placing fermenters throughout the vineyard. Alcohol levels are consistently half-a-percent lower in the vineyard. Sometimes the field-fermented wines are darker in colour but they can also be lighter than the winery-fermented pinot noir. Vineyard fermented wines often appear earthier than those from the winery.
Field ferments have encouraged the vineyard workers to bond with wine rather than just grapes while they also draw winery workers into the vineyard.
“It started as a way to express our site but had given us greater respect for pinot noir from our place” concluded Maxwell.