Straw wine is very different from the ordinary Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. Rather than using the grape as it is picked from the vine, straw wines are created using dried or raisined grapes. These are traditionally dried by laying them out beds or mats made from straw, and allowing them to try naturally. This method has been used as far back as Roman times, and still remains a method of laying out grapes in France and Italy. Because these wines are very labour-intensive, and can take a long while to dry out, they are usually more expensive than ordinary wines, but straw wines are considered to be an acceptable way to produce sweet dessert wines.
In South Africa, the wines known as Vin De Paille have been produced by the De Trafford estate since the late 1990s. It is the first South African wine to be produced using the grape-drying method, and was inspired by the very lack of straw wines in the South African West Cape, where most of the country’s wines are produced. De Trafford’s Straw Wine is unique among the varieties of straw wine available for being made using dried Chenin Blanc grapes.
The ideal weather for producing the De Trafford Straw Wine is a very chilly and damp winter, followed up with a warm, but still rainy, summer. This encourages the grapes to grow large and sweet. However, Chenin Blanc grapes can also do well with a hot season which is preceded and followed up with very cold, wet periods of short duration. However, it is sometimes better to have a slightly wetter season, as this encourages the growth of Botrytis fungus, now used in the fermentation process to produce a very intense, sweet flavour. Grapes are picked during the optimum season, and then placed in a mostly shady area for 3-4 weeks. This concentrates the sugars and fruit flavours of the wine. The grapes are then matured for nearly two years in oak barrels in order to produce the finished wine.
The most important reason for drying the grapes in this manner can be seen in the deep sweetness of the finished wine. This is much more intense than in those wines produced just using ordinary sweet grapes, and is the reason why De Trafford Straw Wine is favoured by those who prefer their wines to be very intensely sweet. The drying process also produces a deep golden colour to the wine, and addition of apricot and honey add an extra dimension of taste to the grapes. The sweetness of the wine make it suitable for desserts, or after a good meal, and the nutty and smoky aromas produced by the oak barrels also make it an excellent accompaniment to picnics, barbecues or summer dinners outside. Due to the drying and fermenting process, the wine may produce a lot of sediment, and therefore it is suggested that the drinker use a decanter to oxidize and filter the wine before it is poured into glasses. And you can read more about decanters on Wine SA too…