Up till this time our whole attention has been taken up with everything that has to do with the production of the grape. But with the gathering of the crop a complete change has taken place, for nature no longer exercises such a controlling influence. At this stage the art of wine-making really begins, and the climate, the soil, and all the other factors that have so much to do with the growth of the grape assist us no longer. From the moment that the grapes are gathered till the wine is ready for bottling is a most eventful period; for, during this important time, under proper treatment, wine may be made to reach perfection.
Indeed, it is only by paying the most minute attention to all the details connected with the making of wine that Australian vignerons will succeed in placing our wines before all others; because it is very important to remember that the must produced in Australia is equal, if not superior, to any in the world. Now, all that follows this portion relates to wine-making alone; and it should for that very reason, therefore, possess a special interest for us. Moreover, it will be a good thing for the wine industry, for Australia, and for her people, when such an interest becomes part of our daily life.
Naturally the first thing to suggest itself, therefore, in the making of the wine, is the place in which it is made. There is no doubt that in Australia the importance of a proper cellar has never been sufficiently appreciated. But the French have a proverb, "the cellar makes the wine," showing that it plays no inconsiderable part in the production of good wine. As Mr. Walter W. Pownall, the representative of the Australian Wine Company, explained before the Vegetable Products Commission in Victoria, a knowledge of cellar routine and cellar work would avoid the spoiling of much good wine. A man thinks when he has grown the wine that is all that is necessary. But the fact is, a winegrower has never done with his wine till it has passed out of his hands.
There was a valuable pamphlet on Australian wines written by the late Doctor Bleasdale, of Melbourne, in 1876. It is now out of print, and regrettedly so, for the worthy Doctor was one of the best connoisseurs of wine Australia ever had. Mr. L. Bruck, the well-known medical publisher of Sydney, however, has placed me under considerable obligation by giving me his own copy, and in the preface therein I note that the author, in speaking of this very question, remarks : - "I would here reiterate what I have often stated, "namely, that if the cellar management in the three colonies "were equal to the magnificent produce of the vines, no "country on the earth could surpass, in quality and variety "of kinds, Victoria, South Australia, and New South Wales."
Then again, Mr. James Smith, of Melbourne, in the course of his admirable prize essay on Australian wine, which appeared in Greville's Tear Boole of Australia for 1886, has these observations on this subject: - " It is, however, in the management of the cellar that one must look for the most efficient means of securing that uniformity of quality which I regard as such an important desideratum. If it be not a science, it is certainly an art requiring special knowledge, training, and experience, combined, perhaps, with natural aptitude. And it is precisely in this respect, I fear, that our deficiency in Australia is greatest.
"In the wine-making countries of Europe the cellar-master is an expert who inherits the skill, traditions, methods, and usages of many generations of men who have adopted and followed the same calling. His organs of smell and taste have been educated to practise the nicest discrimination of flavour and odour, and if the vintage of a particular year differs in quality from that of its predecessor, he knows how, by a judicious blending of the old with the new, of the highly coloured with the pallid, to arrive at that uniformity which is so indispensable."
The cellar must neither be too damp nor too dry. Any excess of dampness would rot the casks and give a musty taste to the wine; while, on the contrary, in too dry a cellar the staves of the casks would shrink and cause leakage. The cellar is usually kept somewhat dark. The openings for the admission of air and light should be provided with shutters, so that the atmosphere and temperature may be under control. The floor of the cellar should be paved or cemented, be well levelled, and cleanliness throughout should be strictly and strenuously maintained.
But the following remarks of Signor Bragato as to what a cellar ought not to be will perhaps be more instructive, and besides they contain a vast amount of information on the subject. In referring to some of the cellars he came across during his tour of inspection through one of the Victorian districts, he writes : -
"The majority of the buildings used as cellars are nothing less than wooden sheds, with galvanized iron roofs. Here the air has a free circulation day and night, and the cellerman is thus rendered powerless to control the temperature, which very often, from 100 in day time, goes down to 54 or less during the night. The appliances required for wine-making are all round badly preserved, and are covered with mouldiness and dust. The floor of the buildings is not paved or cemented, and it consists of earth, so that it has the power of absorbing the wine that gets spilt and becomes the source of pernicious germs, which will spread all over the cellar and in the air, to be finally deposited in the must and in the wine, causing irreparable loss in the quality of the wine. There are a few good cellars, but these, also, are badly kept and badly used.
"The casks are neglected, and the coat of tartar is scrupulously left in the cask, with the erroneous idea that it tends to preserve the wine. All the empty casks I have smelt in the cellars inspected are impregnated with bad odours, which are not detected by the majority of the owners, in consequence of having accustomed their olfactory organs to the predominant odour of mouldiness in their cellars, and so they are unable to detect if the odour of their casks is healthy or not.
"With the bad cellars which the vignerons have at their disposal, combined with the neglect of the casks and other appliances, and the little care in the preservation of the wine, it is only natural that a large quantity of the wine produced is spoiled, and condemned to the still to be converted into inferior brandy of bad taste and colour, which is often used to fortify the wines, with the result of rendering them unfit for consumption.
"Amongst the wines I have tested, I found some really very good ones, presenting all the characteristics required in a fine wine. But if there are good wines, there are also very bad ones, and these, I am sorry to say, represent the bulk in every cellar I visited. Some of the wines are cloudy, sweetish, with a good deal of asperity. Others present tartaric, lactic, and acetic fermentations."
After some further comments on various other matters, the same gentleman concludes his report with the following : -
"Finally, I may say that by what I have seen I cannot help expressing the opinion that Australia is capable of producing really fine wines, to be highly appreciated in the world's markets. But to produce an appreciable wine, it is necessary that the vignerons should improve in their system of wine-making, and substitute for their sheds cellars constructed on a rational principle; and by devoting more attention to the cleanliness of the casks and other cellar appliances. A modification in the system of cultivation and pruning of the vines will also be factors in improving the quality of the wine.
" There is in this country good soil, and a climate which cannot be equalled for the successful cultivation of the vine. Capital is plentiful, and the people very enterprising; so there remains only the want of Technical Instruction, by the institution of practical schools of viticulture, without which it is doubtful if ever its vignerons will succeed in making wines likely to be appreciated in the foreign markets."
In the same way Mr. J. A. Despeissis, of the New South Wales Department of Agriculture, also insists upon cellar cleanliness. And it would seem, indeed, that there is ample justification for his deprecatory remarks. It appears that on several occasions he has noticed fowls and pigeons roosting in the wine cellars. Now, as he pungently observes, the wine cellar was never intended for this sort of thing. Another way of putting the matter would be to point out what a mad thing it would be to use a fowl house as a cellar. Moreover, he gives minute directions for disinfecting the cellar, in order to destroy any germs or minute organisms which may be lurking in crevices or in odd corners. This is best accomplished by burning some sulphur in earthenware pots, distributed over various parts of the cellar; previously seeing that all the windows and gaps are rendered air-tight by means of bagging. The fumes should be left in the cellar for a day or two, after which the doors are opened, and a free current of air allowed to sweeten the whole place.
Moreover, a model cellar is necessarily a very elaborate affair, considering it is the laboratory, so to speak, in which the wine is created. A model cellar would consist of the following six compartments: -
1. The section for the first treatment of the grape.
2. The fermentation department.
3. The section for the preparation and storing of the new wine.
4. The underground cellar for the storage of the matured wine.
5. The bottle department.
6. The distillation department and for the utilization of the refuse of wine.
The cellar of Mr. Henley, near the Ovens River, in Victoria, is very complete. It is provided with a steam lift, a steam crushing machine, and a steam pump, while there is perfect ventilation and a uniform temperature. His cellar is divided into three compartments : the fermenting house in the middle, the cellar for the new wine, and the cellar for the old wine. The building is 83 feet by 80 feet, built of brick, with double walls 9 inches thick outside and 4 inches inside, and between the walls there is 4 1/2 inches of space. The temperature on the hottest days in the summer never surpasses 80° Fahrenheit; and, lastly, the floors, both of the cellars and the fermenting house, are cemented for the purpose of absolute cleanliness.