This little story caught my eye this week in Australia’s Daily Wine News site. One of Australia’s best celebrated wine producers, Peter Lehmann, has been demonstrating his pioneering ways again. In 2011, the famous Barossa Valley winery decided to install new climate control technology in its storage warehouses – called Climate Wizard. I suppose if you make wine in the chalky hills of Champagne, or the cooled “caves” of the Loire, then keeping the barrels at a reasonable temperature and humidity is relatively easy. However, cut to hot dry Australia, where you can’t easily go underground, and there’s more of a challenge.
So, imagine if you could keep the humidity and temperature just where you want them, so those rows of sleeping barrels can let the wine do what it needs to do, mature, in the best way. Well, as controlling this helps the old bottom line, there’s a good reason to be interested. It is claimed this Australian technology will help improve the flavour and colour of a wine, and stops the inevitable small amount of evaporation that reduces the amount in all barrels. This is charmingly called “the angels’ share” of the wine in the trade, but, in hard cash, can account for up to 15 dollars a litre in high-end wines. Those angels drive a hard bargain and are clearly not accountants.
I like the story of the great pioneer winemaker Peter Lehmann, who died in 2013. His father died young, and Peter then dropped out of school – something possibly on the cards for a maverick like him. He claimed it was to “help at home”, but pretty quickly he learnt his trade in wine making at the Yalumba winery, and then at Saltram Wines. Running his own business came about after a long row with Saltram over a demand that he reduce the amount of grapes he bought from local Barossa Valley growers. He flatly refused as he had “given his word” to them already. Then he took a big risk and went out on his own. In this case, a happy ending to a moral tale – there’s hope for us all yet.
The climate control technology isn’t the sexiest looking thing – but it is now being taken up by other wineries in Australia – only after the highly respected and pioneering late Mr Lehmann took the risk. Energy bills can be reduced by up to 80 percent, and the wine might even have a better colour and flavour intensity. Everyone’s happy…..except those angels, who now have empty glasses. I hope they don’t get too cross – they do have certain powers I understand.