All You Need To Know About Pfeiffer Topaque
By Jen Pfeiffer
Pfeiffer Wines is located in the Rutherglen wine region, world regarded as a premium region for Topaque production.
Muscadelle is the variety used to produce Topaque wines, but the wines are often not labelled as such to avoid confusion with the famed Rutherglen Muscat variety.
We source our Muscadelle grapes from 3 different vineyards. Each vineyard has a different microclimate, producing different characters in the fruit. Our Sunday Creek vineyard, with our oldest plantings of Muscadelle, backs on to the Murray River, with sandy soils over river gravel. This is our coolest vineyard, 135m above sea level, surrounded by 3 bodies of water and Murray River red gums. As a result, ripening is slow and consistent, with elegant wines made, showing honey, tobacco leaf, and cold tea characteristics.
Our Carlyle vineyard is more elevated - about 165m above seal level, with rows running down a rolling hill. The soil is Rutherglen loam over clay. This vineyard ripens earlier, with smaller berries and lighter bunches, and a good level of raisining in the fruit. As a result, wines produced from this vineyard are full bodied, with good weight and depth, and flavours of honey, sultanas/raisins and malt.
We also source Muscadelle grapes from a contract grower, approximately 1km north from the Pfeiffer Wines site. This vineyard is on beautiful, rich, red Rutherglen loam soil, and is the highest vineyard of all 3, approximately 180m asbove sea level. Vigour needs to be controlled in this vineyard, but when cropping levels are below 7 tonnes per hectare, rich and luscious wines are produced, with flavours of honey, apricot and vanilla bean, and some raisin character.
In all 3 vineyards, we aim for Muscadelle vines with loose, straggly bunches and small berries to allow air flow and help reduce the risk of mould.
Budburst is around the fourth week of September with flowering starting around the second week of November. Verasion starts in the fourth week of January and harvest is normally late April through to mid May. The Muscadelle grapes are always the last grapes to be picked from our vineyards, and we have picked as late as June 10th. Often the decision to pick can be based on the outbreak of botrytis or aspergillus after a rain event late in the season.
The vineyard is sprayed with fungicides 7-8 times from budburst to early February. Although our disease pressure is low we need to be vigilant in late December and late January for downy mildew. Our main risk with all our fortified grape varieties is from botrytis, therefore we apply 2 specific sprays concentrating on the fruit zone. 1st at 80% capfall with Spinflo and the second pre bunch closure with Switch. We have been getting good protection as a result.
With the ongoing drought, we have noticed increased bird damage (parrots, silver eyes, honeyeaters, crows, cockatoos and currawongs). At veraison, we bird net the whole block of Muscadelle on our Sunday Creek and Carlyle vineyards. Our contract grower uses scare guns.
We aim to pick our Muscadelle grapes with a minimum of 16ºbe, and an ideal baume of 18ºbe, depending on flavour, seed ripeness, any outbreaks of rot and weather conditions. Harvesting can be done by machine, but in most cases we prefer to harvest by hand to ensure all raisins are picked. Sulphur is added in the vineyard.
The grapes are destemmed and crushed into static potter fermenters, with acid and enzyme additions made at the crusher. The must undergoes a cold maceration for 1-2 days, with pump overs made twice daily. Depending on starting sugar levels and flavour, we either press into stainless steel tanks for fortification, or inoculate with yeast for fermentation of 1-2%v/v prior to pressing and fortification. Bentonite, sulphur dioxide and any further acid additions are made at the time of fortification.
Fortification is made using a neutral grape spirit (not aged in wood) of approximately 96%v/v, chosen from Tarac Distillers. This is selected prior to the beginning of vintage, with a focus on clean, neutral characters to allow the fruit characters in the Topaque wines to shine.
After settling for 1-2 months, the wines are racked off gross lees, cold and protein stabilized, and pad filtered before being transferred to old oak barrels and casks for ageing. The lees are recovered using a RDV filter, and are also stabilised and pad filtered before transferring to wood. All parcels are kept separate for blending at a later date.
We mature our Topaque wines in a variety of barrels and casks of varying sizes. Certain batches are assigned to certain vessels – for example, wine stored in 225L barriques has an increased rate of maturation compared to wine stored in large casks of 2500L, where primary, fresh fruit characters are retained and the maturation rate is quite slow. Location of each vessel also has an impact on the maturation rate – wines stored in warmer locations (eg closer to the tin roof) will mature more quickly than wines stored in an underground cellar of consistent temperature. All these factors are considered when determining which batch of Topaque is matured in which vessel.
During maturation, all barrels are sampled twice yearly, and analysed for Be, pH, TA and total SO2, as well as being tasted for any organoleptic changes. Total SO2 is adjusted to 150ppm. Increases in sugar, alcohol and acidity slowly occur over time, due to evaporation, or the “angel’s share” as we like to call it.
Pfeiffer Wines does not run a traditional solera system, preferring a batch system, where chosen parcels of many different ages are blended together to produce the consistency and the quality we desire. New material is always added into the existing blend, so a small component of the original blend will always remain. As barrels and casks empty, they are cleaned and refilled with young, fresh material.
Each year, new blends are made – some for sale wines and some for maturation purposes. This is one of the best jobs of the year – tasting young wines full of promise through to old, rich, decadent wines that have been carefully maintained over the years. Certainly, the great skill of any fortified winemaker is to know what material to use at what moment in time, and what gifts to leave in the cellar for the next generation to work with.
Of course, with the whole team at Pfeiffer Wines embracing the new name changes, we are sure that the next generation will not only have some great Topaque wines to work with, but will also have a strong market in which to sell and promote these gems.