St Mark’s College has seen a tremendous growth in their school vineyard, with their 2017/18 crop of Shiraz vines becoming a record harvest for the agriculture students.
Students began picking the grapes in February this year, with the total volume weighing in at 1170 kilos, in comparison to 540 kilos the year before.
This has left the school with 550 litres of now fermenting wine, in comparison to the 240 litres produced in the previous harvest.
Manager of McNally Farm and trade skills centre Joel Head, says the student’s success was due to the weather and the extra attention they paid the wines throughout their growth.
“The conditions were perfect for us, even though it was really hot. We had really good summer rains; October and November we had more rain here than we had in winter.”
“We pruned really hard in June last year, which probably helped invigorate the new growth. We put our birds nets on and we had perfect conditions from then on, even though it was really hot. Just from what I have heard from around the region, a lot of wineries at the moment have really full and big harvests.”
“The pruning is pretty critical, which is when they go dormant, in that June/July period. Before a new bud bursts and that was something we put an extra focus on last year. We did a lot of mulching around the vines because we are on dry land. We are lucky because we catch a lot of rainwater here. Other than that, because we are low level, we are not susceptible to frost and mildew, which some of the wine areas are”, Joel said.
Year 10 student, Georgina Grossman said although the process is long, it is worthwhile seeing the end result.
“We got our buckets and shears and started picking. It did not take long to fill a bucket. We made a fair bit.”
The masses of wine the college has clarifying remains in the purposefully designed wine room on the farm.
It is hoped to be bottled by November or December this year and with more bottles than ever before, the school has found new ways to incorporate subjects of all year levels.
In 2018, the Year 11 Chemistry class have had a wine program embedded into their curriculum, which will see the students testing the wine’s pH levels.
The Year 8, 9 and 10 classes help cover the vines with bird nets and then the also perform the testing of the sugars.
Once the testing is complete, that then determines the correct picking date for the grapes and both Year 9 and 10 agriculture classes spend a day picking all of the grapes.
“The students weigh and record off each row and then bring them in. They go through a crusher destemmer and that process separates the vine bunch, the grapes, skins and juice. They all go into an open vat. Then moved to a stainless steel vat, and we try and get it to 20-30 degrees and then we add yeast to start primary fermentation.”
“Once the yeast has worked and has transferred the sugars to alcohol, then the wine becomes susceptible to oxygen, so we have to protect it from oxygen.”
Towards the end of the year, the Year 11 design students skills are put to the test with the opportunity to design a label for the vintage.
The label is later voted on by staff of the college and this student then receives recognition for their work.
“We will generally bottle from November to December, in towards seven or eight months and that is purely because we are a cottage industry and we don’t have the facilities to de-oxygenate a bottle. A little bit of sulfur is added, not much, just to protect the wine, and it is especially drinkable from one-six years.”
“From there the Year 10s do the fermentation stages, they do the pumping out, cleaning and racking.”