Primitivo - The Silos Project

11 May 2012

This year was the first year we picked and made our first Primitivo. We planted Primitivo because we wanted a red in our Italian stable of wines and I was very nervous about Sangiovese and some of the other Italian red varieties we had to choose from. Sangiovese can be so tricky, there were around 25 clones to choose from here in Australia, and if you didn’t luck the right one you could end up, after two to three years of waiting, producing a light, thin, green, weedy wine. How disappointing would that be?!

I knew Primitivo would like our warm and sunny climate. But some wise heads were nervous about it too. They warned me it can be a challenge to grow – some even said it would "break my heart”. It does continually throw little secondary bunches which can be thin and acidic if inadvertently picked with the rest of the fruit. And there can be berries of varying ripeness on the one bunch! (But we have learned to deal with this problem with Roussanne!)

I am thrilled that we persevered with the deep, rich, spicy red variety. From the outset we decided we would take this in a different direction to our Rhone style Shiraz which we co-ferment with Roussanne, and make in an elegant and (dare I say) feminine style! We wanted deep, rich, robust flavour in this wine!

So this meant we needed to make a number of passes through the block over the growing season. Firstly to strip off secondary bunches whenever they appeared. And as these were only young vines, we stripped off quite a few bunches of fruit from each vine so that we ended up with one bunch per shoot. Our thinking being that this would ensure that the little vines wouldn’t be asked to do too much in their first bearing year and would emerge stronger next year, and, the fruit each vine produced would be guaranteed to have nice intensity and deep flavour.

Then we decided to take this concentration of flavour a step further and develop our own version of a traditional Amarone style! In the Amarone process a portion of the fruit is picked and aged on racks in farmhouse attics or out in the sun, and then added back dehydrated and intense, to the rest of the fruit when it is picked, to ferment.

We took two old empty silos on the farm and built drying racks into them. As the fruit inched toward ripeness we took about one fifth of the fruit off and put these bunches on these drying racks. We left them there for three weeks where they dehydrated by almost 20% in the long, languid sunny days we were blessed with through late Mach and early April.

When the rest of the fruit left in the vineyard was judged to be ripe, we hand picked it and emptied the dried fruit out of the silos and fermented them together.

It is still early days, the wine is only now nearly finished fermenting and there is wood to consider (in Italy they use barrels made of chestnut and cherry!) But there are some wonderful flavours in the young wine, it is almost like a liquid Christmas pudding with hints of chocolate, licorice, black pepper and spice . We’ll keep you posted, it promises to be delicious drinking over winter with a slow cooked ragu or another of those hearty ribsticking dishes we prepare and enjoy in the colder months.