Slate Fermenters

The Slate Fermenters were originally built in 1863 and are made from massive slabs of stone quarried locally in the Willunga Hills. They are thought to be the last of their type remaining in Australia – and quite possibly the world.

It dawned on me when launching Ox Hardy Wines that the fermenters hadn’t been used since the original winery stopped processing nearly a century ago. We’d always dreamt of restoring the winery to its former glory, so I washed out and re-sealed the seams of two of the fermenters using beeswax. We then made the wines using only a bucket, shovel, plunger, and the natural yeast from the vineyard – the epitome of natural, inefficient, hand-winemaking.

To our delight, this laborious winemaking exercise was a revelation, with the wines showing a unique minerality and structure compared to the same fruit processed in our normal facility. There’s a unique tension and flavour profile to the wines made in these fermenters which I can’t explain, but there’s irrefutable proof in the glass. It’s fascinating!

Each year since that first release in 2018, we’ve bucketed Shiraz fruit from our Moreton Bay Block into the Slate Fermenters, and everyone’s pitched in to plunge the fermenters three times a day. Then with the ferments complete, we’ve dug them out by hand and basket pressed the skins – essentially making wine exactly the same way my great great grandfather did over a hundred years ago.

Slate Shiraz

The way in which I vinify the Slate Shiraz is extremely labour intensive, as it would have been for my ancestors all those years ago! Fruit from our Moreton Bay block is destemmed, crushed and chilled before being bucketed by hand into the open slate fermenters. Ably assisted by wild yeast, the ferment is hand plunged three times a day over a period of 9-12 days, after which I pump out the juice and dig out the skins with a bucket and shovel. The purpose of this wine is to show the character of the Moreton Bay block, as well as the impact of the old slate fermenters. As such, oak is used sparingly, typically spending about 18 months in older French oak barriques.

“With unhinged levels of pepper and seaweed accompanying astoundingly adroit Shiraz fruit, this is one of the most dynamic and expressive showstoppers I have tasted in all of my years dunked in McLaren Vale Shiraz and to think it has only just started on its journey. The mind boggles. Do whatever you can to taste this wine. 19.5/20″

Matthew Jukes, 2021 Ox Hardy Slate Shiraz