Distilling witblits in the mountains
"Things are not always as they seem to be."
One of the distilleries we visited over the 2012/13 festive season is an exceptionally good example of this.
(A special and big "Thank you" to Ampie Kruger of Notre Reve boutique winery for arranging our visit to this remote and very special distillery and also to Adam Boshoff who persuaded the stoker (distiller) to show us around)
Deep in the mountains in the vicinity of Mosselbay, a small distillery is only operated in grape season to produce witblits (unaged grape brandy). This distillery is definitely not your "normal" distillery and the first impressions lasted during the whole "tour" of the distillery. ...until we tasted the end product. This is a no frills distillery, based on family tradition, experience and absolutely minimalistic in it's functionality. But, o boy, can looks be deceiving!
The distiller is not sure what the alcohol percentage of the end product is but we estimated it between 55 and 60% abv. A magnificent witblits, high on fruity hanepoot character, tasty, smooth, incredibly good mouth feel and definately no sharp edges or dull flavours ...and definitely not for sissies. An excellent unaged brandy - produced the trditional way in a three generation family still in the middle of no-where. ...and off-course, if you get your witblits here, you don't get it in silly small 750ml bottles. You get it by the drum!
...and this is where it all starts. The "cellar".
The rusted equipment in front is the press which is annually cleaned and hooked onto the power take off of a tractor to press the grapes and pump the mash into the open fermenter.
A few tons of grapes are pressed and fermented at a time.
The open fermenter wher ethe grape must is fermeted "on-the-skin" for two days. Estimated capacity of fermenter: about 8000 liter.
No commercial yeast is added as "Mother nature knows best".
After two days of open fermentation, the solids are manually removed and the grape must fed by gravity into three separte "dungeons" underneath the open fermenter.
The square "inspection holes" are covered with wooden boads during fermentation and must definitely sing with the sound of the CO2 gas escaping from it.
After the fermention is "as dry as a bone", it is left for another two weeks to settle and partially clear.
From the "dungeons" , the wine is now again gravity fed to the pot still with piping running from the "cellar" to the still.
|The front view of the structure that houses the still.|
|On top of the still with only the pot opening visible.|
|The back view of the structure. No renovations or maintenance are done because "it works well enough as it is".|
The underside of the wood fired pot still. Our estimate on the pot still capacity: about 600-800L.
A wood fire is started as big as the area allows until the wine is brought to a boil. Wood is then removed to only allow for a very slow boil.
The vapour chamber (helm) of the copper pot in the traditional "witblits or mampoer" style.
The brown colour on the end of the lynn's arm and the bottom of the vapour chamber is caused by the previous season's sealing mud used to seal the joins to the pot and to the condenser.
The full copper condenser is housed in a concrete pool that acts as bath and "jacuzzi" during distilling season!...and yes, it is also cleaned annually before the big "stook" starts.
Distilling is done without any instruments and the distillate collected by the drum. Stopping the run is as easy as: "We stop when a cup of distillate no longer burns in the fire". Simple as that!
The distiller indicated that he gets about 1/5th the volume of the wine from the witblits, distills it only once and then store it in 225 Liter plastic drums.
Up to 4 batches are distilled per day with the still running 24 hours per day while the wine lasts.
The drums normally don't last very long...everyone in the area knows when it is "stook tyd" and come and collect with their own drums.
The simplicity of the whole operation once again confrmed:
A good distiller with very basic equipement can distill superior product whereas the best equipment will only produce inferior products in the hands of a poor distiller.
To lean how to distill premium products with simple equipment, consider doing one of Distillique's training courses.