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Recap: Phil Laffer of Jacobs Creek on managing alcohol in winemaking

This show was published 18 August 2023

Overview

Philip Laffer has been a winemaker for Jacobs Creek for 16 years and making wine for 45 years. In 2002 he was named Australia's winemaker of the year.

Jacob's Creek has set a goal to see if within two years they can produce wines of exactly the same amount of appeal as now but not exceeding 14% alcohol. This would mean bringing the alcohol levels down by something like half to one per cent.

Philip explained the reason wines are reaching such high levels of alcohol these days is because there has been tremendous investment in viticultural research over the past few years which has led to better vines. These have much larger canopies, partly because the vines are under less stress as they have less viral problems. But this also means that by the time the fruit is flavour ripe, the sugar development is higher than it traditionally was, so winemakers end up making wines with higher levels of alcohol.

However, there are several things producers can look at to try to redress the balance between the development of sugar and flavour. He cites using less nitrogen, being that this has an impact on vine vigour, as one possibility as well as delaying irrigation until vines are slightly in stress. Night harvesting - already a common practice in Australia - could also help as the grapes have the greatest amount of moisture when they are cold at night, so the percentage of sugar is fractionally lower and might affect a half per cent reduction in the wine.

Using yeasts that are less effective in converting sugar to alcohol could also provide a solution. At the moment there is a small difference between yeasts but it’s possible that with breeding and selection that it could make a significant difference to the alcohol level, maybe 1 – 2%.



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