Duncan Harris started his organic brandy distillery in 2008 when he had an excess of grapes. In the hot climate of the Swan Valley where the worlds best organic fortified wines are made, a brandy distillery is necessary to produce organic fortified wines.
Harris Organic has two brandy stills. The first one is a 300L stainless pot still with a copper condenser. The capacity of the condenser is rated at 20kW. The pot is fired with wood, which is highly unusual these days. Most stills are gas fired or electric. The wood used is provided by the vine arms pruned off with the chainsaw during the winter pruning.
This brandy still is used firstly to “knock down” the freshly fermented wine into a stable alcoholic brandy solution (low wines) so it can be used later. Later the brandy low wines are re distilled to produce eau de vie to make fine wood aged organic brandy.
Bertha is the second still at Harris Organic. It is a 50 litre beer keg modified with a four inch triclover fitting to allow the column to fit. The four inch hole allows for easy cleaning of the still too. The beer keg has legs welded to the base and an outlet with a drain valve. Attached is the 1.5 metre column that is made of 2 inch stainless steel tube filled with stainless steel pot scrubbers. The pot scrubbers add surface area for increased refluxing within the tower, this increases purity of the brandy spirit. Black foam insulation sleeve helps with efficiency of the still. On top of the column is attached a cross flow condenser. This two inch condenser was designed by Harry Jackson in Queensland.
Under the condenser is the working part of the brandy still. This is a vapour management (VM) controlled still, which means the vapour is controlled with a valve . A one inch stainless tube is teed off the main column with a one inch brass gate valve as the controller of the vapour. From there the vapour condenses in a one inch vertical condenser. The maximum rate obtained from this still at 95% is about 900mL per hour. A rate of one litre per hour is easily obtained at 92 plus percent.
When the spirit is over 90 % by volume alcohol the product is very smooth to the taste when it is diluted to an acceptable 40%. This organic spirit is classed as a neutral brandy spirit. Instead of calling it N.B.S. or spiritus vini rectificatus (SVR) we call it vodka. This smoothness is due to the ability of grapes to give a wonderful mouth feel, compared with other grain based organic vodka spirits.
These two stills are all that is required to make a range of high quality certified organic spirits. The spirits are available for shipment from Harris Organic.
By Louise FitzRoy; “We’ve created a niche and people come to us for that niche.” Harris Organic Wine in Western Australia is the only certified organic distiller in Australia making brandy and vodka for the national and Asian markets. Owner Duncan Harris says, “We sell a lot of wine and spirits online and have just started exporting our certified organic brandy and organic vodka that was released in 2010 to Asia.” read more about our organic wine blog.
“It is proving extremely popular with Asian countries and here in Australia. Our spirit is used in making the only Australian fortified organic wines, which are winning medals at the Swan Valley Wine Show. We were producing spirit for our fortified organic wines, so thought we’d make the most of it. Vodka has the same spirit base used to fortify our ports.
“All our sales into Asia are done with online sales. No intermediary; no wholesalers. We ship direct, door-to-door, with no import duty for Hong Kong.” In 1998 Duncan Harris bought a property in the Swan Valley – the oldest wine region in Western Australia and about 30 kilometres from Perth – and started establishing an organic vineyard. Their first vintage was in 1999 using Swan Valley grapes from a neighbouring dry grown vineyard.
Duncan says, “Most of our handmade produce is sold at the cellar door, which opened in 2000, besides one bottle shop in Perth. We prefer to sell “cellar door” as we are able to give seated tastings, build a relationship with our customers. This develops our brand. We don’t need to worry about competing against other organic wineries in established wine states in Australia.” “We have no desire to sell interstate because the wholesalers want 30 per cent markup.
This means we would have to make twice as much wine for the same income. “We are looking for more markets in Western Australia however. Some years ago we sent out a survey asking our customers where they would prefer to buy our wine. People asked us to supply bottle shops in the city. We asked a few stores about their range of customers and whether they would like to stock our organic product and most were not interested. This has been disappointing considering how close we are to Perth. “I’d also like to target more overseas markets, but you have to consider whether the effort of doing so is worth it.
Duncan would like to sell his wine to an organic, all-natural wine bar in New York or Paris, but with the continual trips required – not to mention the import and export permits that are necessary – you’d spend a whole year doing it and may not even end up selling any wine. You would need to be there several times a year to service the customers, the wholesalers and the importer. Personally, he would prefer to be at home driving the tractor.”
According to Duncan, there are only about 10 organic wineries in Western Australia. “We are the only certified organic winery in the Perth area. We became certified with Australian Certified Organic in 2006. There’s a big enough market for more than one of us, however, not many wineries want to venture into the organic industry. It starts with the vineyard. There are only a few viticulturists that have the energy and passion to get out and dig weeds and walk vineyards day after day.”
The environment, social aspects, customs and economics are four important elements of Duncan’s sustainability plan. “I built an underground cellar for naturally cooler storage temperatures and we bottle our wine in recyclable glass and cork. We use very small amounts of electricity in producing a litre of wine. This is low compared with the average usage for most other wineries in Australia. We also use low amounts of preservatives and additives.”
Being an organic producer in a state well known for producing high quality wines has not influenced Duncan’s price point. I add up the production costs plus margin, but being organic doesn’t mean that I need to raise the price point. My wine is competitive with other high quality wine in the country. He says the business’s online presence, continues to be very important to its growth and viability. This includes being on Facebook and Twitter. This is where people look for answers and this is how many of our customers have found us. You’ve got to be on line, otherwise you’ll miss out.
People in general are not aware of the herbicide, pesticide and chemical fertiliser residues found in wines. More marketing of the differences and health benefits will increase the awareness and the demand for organic wine.”
It’s not unusual for Duncan to host the occasional ‘Brandy evening’ at the winery. This gives him the opportunity to educate people about his products, enabling guests to ask questions about organic viticulture. “To make a supply chain work, it’s like building a brick wall. Do it one brick at a time.” Harris Organic Wines is the only certified organic winery and vineyard in Perth’s Swan Valley.
“We believe that the organic wine movement is a world-wide trend because smart consumers are demanding to know exactly what is going into their foods. It represents a social backlash against corporate monopolies who are fundamentally only interested in extending shelf life and profits, rather than human life and ecological sustainability. We say: think biological welfare – not warfare… it is the way of the future.
Grape juices containing high levels of grape solids can result in increased hydrogen sulphide production during primary fermentation. However, excessively clarifying juices may result in fermentation difficulties. Attenuated or stuck primary fermentation resulting in elevated levels of volatile acidity may occur.
Well says winemaking text 101. While there is a lot to be said about winemaking 101. For Winemaking 101, previous work by the (AWRI) has revealed that fermenting on grape solids also results in significantly more polysaccharides in white wines. This is due to more than extensive skin contact, using pressings, and even more than partially fermenting white juice on skins. Higher levels of polysaccharides are thought to positively contribute to white wine mouth-feel. Polysaccharides also enhance both protein and cold stability resulting in less bentonite fining and lower refrigeration costs.
While juices will naturally clarify under the action of gravity given time. Commercial vintage logistics dictate that the settling process be achieved as quickly as possible.
“We never say we have plenty of time, it’s vintage”. We don’t say this. Adding pectolytic enzymes achieved fast clarification. Adding enzymes, which within minutes, ‘mulch down’ the juice polysaccharides that inhibit settling. This hastens clarification. Alternatively, settling grape juice can be sped up by adding bentonite as its charged surface helps to agglomerate grape solids into heavy particles which precipitate more easily.
Meanwhile, the AWRI investigated the effect of different types of juice clarification (natural settling, enzyme and bentonite assisted settling) on the macro-molecular composition of white wine.
Clarification methods and the time taken to achieve various levels of clarity are being investigated. Polysaccharide, protein and phenolic composition levels are also being investigated by AWRI.
For more information about the fermentation of our wines, please contact me by email in the first instance.
By Duncan Harris ” WINE, ALL OF ITSELF – Organic Natural Wine. ” When Duncan talks about natural wine he is talking about more than the fact that his Swan Valley vineyard and winery is certified organic. He is an organic natural wine specialist and is quietly surprised how natural wine has become such a hot topic of conversation among many a wine aficionado.
While the definition of natural wine seems as manifold as there are vintner’s making it, Duncan would like to state for the record that his philosophy of Natural Wine is wine that begins in an ideal vineyard, is hand-picked, gently pressed, fermented with natural yeasts, unfined, unfiltered, aged and sealed with cork. The wine should be very stable and not liable to spoil. Ideally, the energy used should be sustainable sourced also. He recommends all the free solar energy that vintner’s have at their disposal during vintage should be harnessed with photovoltaic (PV) panels.
1. The Vineyard – must be not irrigated. This means that the fruit does not uptake artificial moisture as from dammed water or bore water. This means that the water is sourced by the (quite resourceful) vines – making for a high quality fruit harvest. The vines are hand-pruned and dressed, de-leafing is carried out to reduce fungicide spraying and the fruit is hand-picked when the sugar level is optimal for good wine-making.
2. For a natural dessert wine, the fruit should be picked late in the season and very high in sugar. It is de-stemmed and crushed before ferment starts via natural yeasts (another gift from the Gods of wine). Thereafter the must is pressed by any means practicable. Duncan uses a basket press, to extract the partially fermented juice.
3. The wine should be unfined and unfiltered. There is a saying,” Good wine falls bright”. This means very little to no sediment most of which can be avoided by age settling prior to bottling and decanting after opening on the part of the consumer. Any protein haze is a natural part of the process of maturation.
4. The wine should be sealed with cork as it is a natural sustainable product. Cork is a renewable resource and uses 1/2 the electricity to produce, and hence half the CO2. Unfortunately electrical energy is cheap and screw caps are about half the price of corks.
In conclusion, natural wines are better for you and the environment. Enjoy in moderation.
Caltrop (Tribulus terrestrilus) can also be called bindi eye, GG’s, Cats head
Removing Caltropseeds and seedlings, an obligate summer grower in the Swan Valley Wine Region of Perth Western Australia. It only appears after summer rains. In some years it is really bad, in others it will not be seen. There are also several similar native species, but these generally have less spiny fruits.
Eradication is essential, and vigilance against introduction is critical.
Readily controlled by herbicides in most situations, a few other pasture plants are alive at the same time, and selective control is easy in lawns and grass pasture. It generally grows too low to mow but could be controlled by solarising.
It is definitely a plant against which an eradication campaign is worth mounting. Incidentally, the original caltrop was a weapon of war – an iron device with four tetrahedral prongs that were strewn in the path of enemy horses. Whichever way it fell, one prong was always upright, ready to lame the horse.
Charming – but walk on the plant with bare feet and you will agree that it has been well named!
Caltrop in an Organic Vineyard.
Occasionally, Duncan finds some caltrop seeds and seedlings in the vineyard. It grows after summer rains and we have had a few showers this year.
In row three in the shiraz plantings, right in the middle of the row, was a larger plant 800mm diameter, with lots of dried seeds besides some 20 other smaller plants.
What is an organic vigneron to do? He can not use herbicide.
A wheelbarrow, pair of snips and a dustpan and broom are all required besides some patience. Watch the video to get a better idea of what we do.
Firstly, spot the bright verdant green caltrop plant in the late afternoon sun. Using the snips cut the taproot, then lift the plant carefully and remove it to the wheelbarrow. Then with the dustpan and broom sweep up all the loose sand and seeds from the plant area. Most dried seeds are within a hand span of the crown.
The removing caltrop seedlings are nearly done.
Next is the hard part, walk all the rows to check for other plants, then return in two weeks to check for new plants again before the Autumn rains.
You may ask, what do you do with the contents of the wheelbarrow? Duncan puts it in the waste bin for the local tip to compost it. Once he tried to burn the plants. The local authorities saw the smoke and believed that a conflagration was occurring.
Building a pizza oven from used solid bricks can be a very rewarding project.
This pizza oven building project was started in May 2010. Here you will find all the steps to build a workable oven that cooks real pizzas and marvellous bread.
The pizza oven is a traditional dome type whereas the tunnel type of pizza oven is easier to build. If you have any questions feel free to make comments. The oven is designed to be moved by forklift, but not towed on a trailer.
First of all, determine what type of base you require. This one is made from delta core concrete, light and strong and transportable. I got it home with my 6×4 trailer. This means I can pick the oven up with my forklift and place it anywhere I want. Most people will choose to build theirs in place.
The base is 1500 x 1200 mm and 150mm deep. You will need to add two tension bars across the base to give tension in that direction.
Determine the diameter of the oven. This one is one metre inside diameter.
Here I have marked it out and placed the outside base layer of red solids in place. These are glued to the concrete with a mixture of clay, lime and cement. Remember you are building a brick oven, not a mortar oven. To do this keep the gaps between your bricks less than 3mm.
To set the base out I drew the one-metre diameter on a 6mm sheet of cement sheet with the entrance of the pizza oven door too. Under the sheet went a 25mm layer of high-temperature ceramic insulation. To cut and shape the bricks I used 14-inch friction saw, with a masonry disk. Old bricks are easy to cut and if soaked in a bucket of water have a reduced amount of dust.
Insulating a pizza oven
Insulating a pizza oven is most important. Mineral wool is the best as it will withstand 2000C, much more than required. Rockwool is the next best or perlite, depending on whether it is under or on top of the bricks. If the insulation is under the brick floor it needs to be supported to no squash the insulation.
Here is the first layer in place, ready for the next layer.
Finish the floor.
The first layer and the floor finished.
Here I have used clay floor tiles, in hindsight, not a good choice as they crack under heat stress. A later version has ceramic furnace tiles in place of these. NB that under the floor tiles is a layer of 50 mm brick pavers sitting on top of the cement sheet. Next build I will place 50 mm of insulation under the brick pavers.
Making the door and formwork.
You will require two pieces of steel, one for the door and the other for the flue entrance. I bent these the hard way with a hammer. In the centre of the photo is the form for building the brick dome. The door is 550mm wide and 260mm high.
The former is a piece of sheet metal angle welded to a steel rod. At the centre is a washer welded to the rod.
Can you see the pin in the centre of the floor, next to the cup? It’s a bolt through a piece of plywood and stuck to the floor with masking tape.
Here the second layer is stuck to the first layer. Looks like the last brick need to be cut to finish this layer.
The third layer in place.
Note the small pieces of brick used as wedges.
A mock-up early in the build.
Note the inner top bricks are getting towards being vertical, meaning the mud between the bricks has to dry before moving the former.
Finishing the dome
The final part of the brick building. In this step, I have placed a disk of sheet metal inside through the door up under the dome. It is held up with bricks and wood. On top of the sheet is some sand formed into a dome and the remaining bricks placed onto the sand.
Once all the bricks are in place the sheet is removed and it all stays together.
The inside finished.
The first chimney in place. just needs mortar.
Firing and drying
Chimney No. 2.
The first chimney was OK but smoked on startup. After making the larger chimney #2, which was much better, I found that they all smoke on startup. It is the volume of smoke produced that the chimney can’t cope with even if you have a big fire. The answer is to start small.
Insulating the oven.
Here I have used old fibreglass batts, however, “Rockwool” is recommended.
Adding the mortar.
Painful. The lesson with this is to place aluminium foil or some other non-combustible on top of the insulation under the wire mesh. Also, you need to place foundry chaplets in the insulation too so the mortar will not squash the insulation. Then, if the insulation is compressed the chaplets it will hold the mortar away from the bricks. In this case, the mortar overhangs the concrete base, which does not help. There is a better way.
Mortar layer all finished.
The finished article.
Then allow some time for the mortar and bricks to dry inside and out and then its pizza time.
At Harris Organic vineyard the undervine weed management has never included any chemical herbicide usage. Every spring the diesel tractor was used to pull the “silly plough” along the rows to strip away the soil and growth under the vines. This aids to the health and fitness of the operator and to the communication skills of man and wife. Now you can guess who drove the tractor and who did the yelling!
There is a lot we can learn from the old ways in the Swan Valley region. At a recent European exhibition there was not a single under-vine herbicide machine, they were all mechanical machines. Further this gives some context to the recent decision from the French and Belgium Governments to ban the sale of glyphosate (the active constituent in Roundup). A large portion of European grape growers are opting for organic/biodynamic vineyards. The progress of the organic movement has allowed the advancement of chemical free options.
Organic vignerons are turning to engineering companies which produce practical, versatile machines that combine a number of operations. These are all changeable to the base unit on the tractor. Then the system uses an under vine blade, mulcher and a rotary hoe which are easily attached to the side mounted unit. This gives the grape vine grower the ability to adapt to each vineyard situation which is crucial in Australian vineyards due to our varied weed species, vine age and differing soil types.
Here in this video is what we do now in our organic vineyard.
As glyphosate resistance is already a problem across the country, due to normal weeds becoming resistant to herbicides. Then we should all be looking at ways we can manage our weed populations. Also, this can be done effectively, efficiently and in the most sustainable manner by ploughing. In the first instance giving the under vine area a shallow ploughing removes the chemical resistant weeds.
This leads on to the question, “When is glyphosate going to be banned in Australia”?
Duncan Harris, the owner of Harris Organic Wines, has written about his organic wines, events and titbits for your information and education. This is a blog site to the main site of Harris Organic Wines and Organic Vodka websites because this is a word press site and the other is html. Enjoy.
Harris Organic has an online wine shop, so if you are unable to get to the Perth Swan Valley you may order online.
Our cellar door is in the Swan Valley, Western Australia. We are able to ship wine anywhere in the world and have heavily discounted freight to most capital cities in Australia. And on case sales, we have discounted postage costs on the interstate and overseas deliveries.
Feel free to ask a question by emailing our winemaker Duncan at any time. We even have an organic wine club. Members can receive the latest vintages, old and rare wines and reserved wines for members only.
Volunteer, Helpx, Workaway and Wwoof at Harris Organic Wines is a wonderful experience.
“We are all visitors to this time and space. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn to grow to love…. and then we return home.” An Australian Aboriginal belief.
Volunteers are also visitors……
What is Volunteering?
WWOOF means willing workers on organic farms. WWOOFing occurs when a farmer exchanges food and board for work provided by the willing worker. But Volunteering is much more than that; it is a cultural exchange, about learning new skills and sharing a host experience. We love woofers!
Volunteers are all visitors to this time and space at Harris Organic. They are just passing through. Their purpose is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love…. and then they return home with a wealth of experience, new skills, new friends and a new way of life.
What is Helpx?
Helpx means help exchange for non/organic farms. Helpx.com is an online help exchange website where hosts and helpers can register. In some ways it is better system than WWOOFing as there is no paper book, little cost for applicants and helpers and they can have their photograph and details of wants and experience. Hosts can view the profiles before accepting the helper. Hosts are also able to turn on and off their profiles so that they are able to accept workers when help is required. Its a system that works well for helpers and hosts, we love it.
Here are all the 2015 wwoofers, with Eva, Carl and Charlotte staying twice. 🙂
Today was a typical day. What did we do; we walked three rows of vines doing some thinning of the grapes, before the sun was too hot. Mowed some grass to clean up some leaves, made some pizzas for lunch in the shade of one of our large gum trees and after some sleep, cleaned some windows, watered some plants and then watched a movie before dinner.
During the year we have a number of organic wine events to tickle your taste buds.
Organic Wine Events at the Organic Winery
Breakfast Crush Club – 2nd Sunday in February
For those who want to experience a real organic vintage, come and help us pick some grapes and enjoy breakfast on us, plus a tasting of the wine variety you just picked. 7.00am – 10.00am. Get tickets here to ensure your place – a paid event. Harris Organic Wines.
The Post Vintage Weekend – 3rd Saturday in March
Harris Organic Wines is celebrating the 2020 vintage with a special Swan Valley Food and organic wineSundowner at the Vineyard. Come and join us for a glass of our hand-made ‘Methode Traditionale” organic sparkling wine, followed by several vintages of verdelho, accompanied by Mediterranean tapas. You will also be treated to our speciality dessert wine ‘pedro ximenez’. Sundowner event – 6.00 pm Friday eve. Organic Sundowner Tickets
Breakfast Crush Club – 3rd Saturday in March
Start your Swan Valley Vintage weekend adventure with us at the Breakfast Crush Club! Arrive at 7.00am and help out with putting fruit through its first stage of processing, followed by breakfast in the cellar and wine tasting in return! Get tickets Breakfast Crush Club here to ensure your place.