Making our wine
is hard and timeous work - but so much fun! We have our enthusaistic friends to thank for the joy of starting each year on a high, energetic note. Our goal is to make truly handmade wines, from the first day of harvest to the labelling and packaging of the final product.
In the vineyards
Carla takes great care to select the grapes from vineyards that are well tended and healthy. The most important aspect, however, is the taste of the grapes as they ripen. Their flavours should promise to deliver a fresh Cap Classique, a lively Syrah, or a minerally Chenin blanc.
The Chenin blanc grapes come from 40 year-old bushvines on the northern slopes of the Paardeberg in the Swartland region where the soils are rich in minerals. The vines produce a low yield of intensely flavoured grapes that lend themselves to barrel-ageing, while the minerals ensure a fresh acidity which lifts the pallet. These particular grapes are harvested at a sugar level of between 22 and 23 degrees Balling (ºB) to ensure an ideal balance of flavour vs alcohol in the final product.
The Syrah grapes come from vineyards on the northern side of Malmesbury in the Swartland, overlooging the Kasteelberg. The terroir provides spicy and rich berry flavours with beautiful minerality and a vibrant, clear colour. The grapes are harvested at around 25 ºB. Curious about our preference for the term Syrah as opposed to the more common Shiraz? Syrah is the French spelling for the cultivar and hints at the fact that we aim for a French style of slow barrel ageing with long cellaring potential.
The Cap Classique is made from two classic Champagne cultivars, namely Chardonnay (60%) and Pinot noir (40%). We source the Pinot noir from an ocean-facing vineyard close to Somerset West and our Chardonnay grapes come from a vineyard to east of Robertson where the soils along the Breede River have a greater lime content - a bit like in France! In our warm climate (Champagne lies on the 49th parallel North whereas we are at the 33rd parallel South) it is very important to harvest the grapes at lower sugar levels than for normal wine - at around 19 ºB. Sugar levels above this will produce a wine with too high an alcohol level for the second fermentation to occur. This calls for careful monitoring of the vineyard to ensure that the grapes are harvested at just the right moment.
When we started making MCC our friends gathered at the vineyards early on the first harvest day of every year, each armed with a pair of plyers, a hat and lots of water. We carefully harvested the grapes in small crates, loaded them onto a pick-up truck and took it to the cellar for the basket-pressing. Pressing with hands and feet inevitable leads to joyful dance - thus the name Saltare was born, to dance! Click on the pictures to the right to share in some of the action - see also our 2009 harvest day photographs!
In the cellar
For the rest of the MCC harvest grapes are sorted by hand to remove any leaves and unhealthy bunches. The grapes are then placed whole-bunch in a small vacuum press and the cuvée (the first 500L per ton of grapes) is gently extracted. The remaining taille (the following 100L) is kept separately to ensure it is of highj enough quality to blend with the cuvee or not.
When the best juice has been extracted it settles overnight in cooling tanks and the next day we draw the clear juice to wooden barrels and small steel tanks. Over the following two weeks the wine undergoes its primary fermentation. We leave the wine in barrel and tank for six to seven months. Our barrels are always second or third fill to not add too much wood flavours to the wine. Frequent stirring of the spent yeast cells (the lees) at the bottom of the barrel adds creaminess to the wine. This wine is called 'still wine' or 'base wine' as opposed to the final product, 'sparkling wine'.
In the bottle
When the base wine is ready to be bottled we devote a lot of attention to blending the different cultivars with ten percent of reserve wine kept from the previous year. The aim is to not only attain a balanced taste, but also to retain continuity in flavours from previous vintages. The blended juice is mixed with sugar and a carefully prepared yeast culture so that the wine will start fermenting again as soon as it is bottled. Once bottled the bottles are stored somewhere safe and cool and the yeast can work its magic in the bottle and creating those fine bubbles (or mousse) that we associate with sparkling wines. Although the fermentation process is complete within the first month, the idea is to leave the wine on the lees to provide creamyness and yeasty flavours to the fresh taste of the wine. The spent yeast cells disintegrate as they impart their brioche flavours to the wine.
The final step is to disgorge the bottles: each bottle is placed head-down in a riddling rack where it will be turned (riddled) until all the yeast cells have gathered in the head of the bottle. The head is frozen and the cap removed so that the pressure in the bottle shoots the frozen yeast cells out of the bottle. The bottle is topped-up with wine and corked. We do not top-up with sugar or liqueur (the dosage) as is normally the case with sparkling wine, which means our Cap Classique is truly a dry and fresh sparkling wine. We leave the wine on the lees for at least two years, some up to four years, so that with the dryness and freshness the favours will have the brioche-richness and creaminess characteristic of French sparkling wine. Our sparkling wines therefore stand firmly within the tradition of the traditional method or méthode champenoise.
The Chenin blanc and Syrah are also made by hand (hand-picked, chilled overnight, crushed and destemmed, basket-pressed, barrel-fermented in third-fill barrels so as to not impart too much wood, and aged). The Chenin is left in the barrel for up to nine months and stirred to mix up the lees and enhance the flavours, before it is bottled. The Syrah stays in the barrel for 18 months, or longer, until we feel it is ready to be bottled. Both wines are kept in the bottle for further ageing before being released - the Chenin for a couple of months and the Syrah for at least a year, preferably longer.
We decided to design wrap-around labels for all our wines. The MCC labels indicate dates of bottling and disgorgement so you know exactly how long it spent on the lees and how long it has aged on the cork. After labelling the MCC Reserve and Syrah are individually wrapped in white paper and packed into boxes of six. Once done the wine is finally ready to be shipped. Below are examples of our MCC and Syrah labels.