VHS Unicorn Club #8 - Negro Amaro

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The story of Unicorn Club #8 - Negro Amaro from winemaker, Sam Smith

Before Vintage 2019, we had never processed Negro Amaro, nor tasted an Australian example before. Native to Apulia, in Southern Italy, Negro is reknowned for producing rustic red wines, deep in colour, and genereally with an earthy bitterness. it's love of warm to hot climates led us to believe that the Riverland would provide ideal growing conditions. 

Although generally suited to calcerous and limey soils, Negro Amaro adapts well to most soil profiles and the free draining sandy Barmera vineyard would prove no exception. Negro Amaro grows a highly vigorous canopy which would provide excellent shade over multiple 45 degree days, as was the case in late January this year. 

Sometimes decisions to pick fruit are dictated by climatic variables and at other times dictated by intended wine style. Negro Amaro pick times, this year, was a perfect combination of both. With extended weather forecasts indicating that we were in for a very hot end to the growing seasons we wanted to make sure that we had pulled a selection of fruit early in order to provide some balance across our 2019 wine portfolio. It was also an opportunity to flip the script on what is known as a medium to heavy style red wine with bucketloads of tannin.

The aim was to highlight Negro Amaro's softer, more restrained side and highlight the intense sour cherry and red fruit character that seemed so abundant upon fruit receival. Over the eyars VHS has been closed linked to extended skin contact ferments, in the hope of extracting as much flavour as possible. The 2019 Negro Amaro would provide the perfect opportunity to pair back this approach and hone in on a new stylistic direction. 

We processed 2 tonnes of Negro Amaro in total but the #8 Negro Amaro in front of you was a blend of 2 out of 4 ferments. The first ferment was pressed off after only 4 days on skins in order to retain as much primary fruit as possible and extract minimal from the skin and seed. That ferment was pressed into a brand new Demptos Hungarian oak puncheon (500L) which had been smoked with cherrywood prior to filling. The Cherrywood smoke adds a layer of savouriness and complexity to the wine. The decision to press mid-way through fermentation also allowed more seamless and pronounced oak integration through the latter parts of the primary fermentation. 

This decision also allowed us to rack the Negro Amaro back out of oak and into stainless, sooner preserving some of the higher and more volatile aromatics. The result from that particulra fermenter has resulted in a very clean and precise Negro Amaro and will provide a phenomenal blending option when the wine is finally blended in a few months. 

The second blending component of the #8 Negro Amaro was from a 300kg ferment of Negro Amaro that was that was carbonically macerated for a period of 2 weeks on skins. After this time the ferment was pressed off into stainless, a reductive environment, in order to preserve the confectionary aromatics that had been produced through carbonic maceration. 

We took a sample of wine, at the time of pressing, and identified a dry-herbal component heavily reminiscent of sage. The decision was made to enhance this herbal quality by infusing the wine with 1kg of safe through direct infusion method for a period of 12 hours. The resulting wine from the second fermenter, for me, is a perfect balance between fruit sweetness , fruit sourness, and herbal savouriness. 

It is important to note that sage and sour cherries share numerous aromatic compounds and are therefore very complimentary when utilised together. In many ways, the #8 Negro Amaro was conceptualised in a very similar manner to the Chapter 3 Saperavi in 2017 except that it is light, and with the cab-mac component, more confectionary-like

The final blending percentages for #8 were 65% of 4 days on skns ferment and 35% of the cab mac ferment


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Adelaide Hills