ViiniTV’s favorite wine maker from South-Africa, Craig Hawkins, tells us where he’s going with his wine making. Off the beaten track, that’s for sure...
The big question is whether to Charme or not to Charme. The charmer method started by Dirk Niepoort in the Duoro in the early 2000’s, where the red grapes, stems and all are foot trodden for a period of 8 – 10 hours in his granite lagares. After the feet treading there is nothing left but a single layer of seeds on the surface of the must. It looks more like a giant pit of black tar speckled with seeds rather than the pre cursor to one of the world’s great ports.
Some Portuguese soup by Craig
Once alcoholic fermentation has started naturally, the skins rise to the surface, and it is now the decision of the wine/port maker when to drain off a portion of juice to finish fermentation in barrel (this separated juice to finish fermentation in barrel is known as the Charme style) and the rest of the skins and juice are added to another lagares where it will finally produce port.
The idea behind the method is to get all manner of extraction before alcoholic fermentation, thus resulting in a semi opaque liquid with very fine elegant tannin structure (which is the exact opposite of what conventional teachings would preach).
Semi-delicious Gruner veltliner action in Austria
There are many advocates for this method and quite naturally those against it. Those against argue that the wines will not be able to age as long as “conventionally” made wines, due to a generally higher pH due to the stems being crushed during the foot treading process. I have found this to be true (a higher pH), although the wines seem to gain another level of complexity not found in the normal wine making process, not necessarily a higher level, but I would say a side level parallel to conventional characteristics and nuances in wine, something you cant quite put your finger on. For some it is like vegemite, either you like it or you don’t.
I have been working with this method for 3 years now in Europe and South Africa, and have done my own kind of experiments within the Charme style. And so far what I have found is that on Blaufrankisch with the old vines we use from the Spitzerberg in Austria, is that the wine generally benefits with an extra day or two on the skins once fermentation has started just to soak up a little more of that stem character to provide that edge and bite we all love on red wines.. (or at least I do), The idea is NOT to focus on color as the determining factor on when to take the juice off the skins, Color is insignificant, But rather to keep tasting the juice until the right feeling is obtained, and then drain the juice off into old barrels, not new.
In South Africa where this year we used the Charme style on our Syrah, Grenache and Pinotage grapes, I have found that taking the juice off almost immediately as fermentation starts has been most beneficial, the wines now dry, although far from ready, already display massive elegance and intensity…
I once posed the question to Dirk why he did not use the method on his white grapes, he answered simply: “good question” thus the idea manifested over to white wine making. In 2008 I made 3 barrels of white charme in Portugal from old cordiga/rabigatto grapes, and again in Austria with Gruner Veltliner from the Spitzerberg. And this year in South Africa with our old Chenin blanc vineyards.
The most charming way to crush it!
Each time the results were all along a similar vein and completely the opposite of what I thought would result. The wines even though far apart in soil type, altitude, climate and variety all displayed a similar creaminess on the palette, and a surprising lightness which spat off hints of power. The fermentations were all very reductive and smelly, but this always disappeared after 3-4 weeks and once the wines became clear the color was a rich yellow hue. It is going to be exciting to observe how they develop in bottle and barrel.
For those against the method and even those who have never heard of it before, The Charme style is a very useful tool to have in every wine growers armory, whether you want to use it as a single wine or use it as a component in a blend, where I am personally a fan for the red Charme style, and more in favor of leaving the white Charmes “as is” without blending or alteration, just for pure entertainment.
We will see.