Duncan Harris started his Swan Valley distillery in Perth in 2008 when he had an excess of grapes to make organic brandy. In the hot climate of the Swan Valley where the world’s best organic fortified wines are made, a brandy distillery is necessary to produce organic fortified wines.
Harris Organic Distillery – The Stills
Harris Organic has two stills named Rotunda and Bertha.
Rotunda the organic brandy still
Harris Organic has two organic 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 still is fired with wood, which is highly unusual these days. Most pot stills are gas-fired or electrically heated. The wood used is provided by the vine arms pruned off with the chainsaw during the winter pruning or timber gathered from Swan Valley properties.
Rotunda is used firstly to “knock down” the freshly fermented wine into a stable alcoholic organic brandy solution (low wines) so it can be used later. Later the brandy low wines are redistilled to produce an eau de vie to make fine wood-aged organic brandy in a Cognac style.
Bertha the column still
Bertha is the second still at Harris Organic. It is a 100-litre still modified with a four-inch tri-clover fitting to allow the column to fit. The four-inch hole allows for easy cleaning of the still too.
The still has legs welded to the base and an outlet with a drain valve. Attached is the 1.5-metre column made of a 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 the purity of the organic brandy spirit.
A black foam insulation sleeve helps with the efficiency of the still. On top of the column is attached a crossflow condenser. Harry Jackson designed this two-inch condenser in Queensland.
Column Still Condenser
Under the column still, the condenser is the working part of the organic 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% alcohol is about 500mL per hour. A rate of one litre per hour is easily obtained at 93 plus per cent.
When the brandy 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 organic 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 mouthfeel, compared with other grain-based organic vodka spirits.
These two distillation stills are all that is required to make a range of high-quality certified organic spirits. The organic brandy spirits are available for shipment from Harris Organic online at their online organic brandy store
Distillery Awards – Brandy Awards
Harris Organic brandy distillery has been awarded two consecutive bronze medals at the Perth Royal Show for their XO brandy. The Swan Valley distillery has many years of brandy stored in its underground cellar. Perth distillery tours are available.
How is brandy made?
Brandy is only made from grapes. That is, grapes are made into wine and once fermented the sugar of the grapes has been turned into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The wine is then boiled in a large pot still to extract and concentrate the alcohol. At the first distillation, the resultant brandy spirit is called low wines. Second and further distillation refine the low wines into different products.
Wood-Aged Brandys – Classifications
What do the initials VS, VSOP and XO mean?
VS, VSOP and XO refer to the age and quality of Brandy. Each corresponds to how long the brandy has been aged in oak barrels. In 1983, following a request by the BNIC (Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac)*, the French government drafted regulations governing the terms used to describe a cognac”s quality.
These designations, which may be included on the label, refer to the age of the youngest eau-de-vie used in making the Brandy. VS stands for “Very Special”: only Eaux-de-vie at least two years old can be used to make a VS Brandy.
Other denominators and expressions are permitted, such as “3 stars” or “luxury”, and as such are included in the VS Brandy category. VSOP stands for “Very Superior Old Pale”: VSOP Brandys are created from eau de vie aged for at least four years.
The VSOP category includes designations such as “Old” or “Reserve”. XO stands for “Extra Old”: XO Brandys are made only from Eaux-de-vie at least six years old. Brandys such as “Napoleon” ( 6 years old) were equivalent to XO Brandy but not since 2018.
XO brandy is now greater than 10 years old.
Australian brandy has to be aged for a minimum of two years in oak casks and in Cognac, it is also two years. The age of the organic brandy or cognac is calculated as that of the youngest component used in the blend.
The blend is usually of different ages and (in the case of our organic Brandys) our blended XO brandy has a minimum of ten years of age.
Thus, it is the only organic XO brandy in Australia.
Duncan Harris – Bio
Duncan Harris has been working in the Swan Valley wine industry for over 25 years. Firstly, he would help out on weekends at Riverbank Winery, while looking for land to grow grapes in the Swan Valley.
In 1995 Duncan attended the Spring in the Valley festival and went to Baskerville Hall. He noted that the horse paddock opposite renowned John Kosovich wines (formerly Westfield) was an ideal place to grow excellent wine grapes.
A professional mechanical engineer, Duncan holds a great interest in electric cars and wind power. In 1989, Duncan attended a windpower conference in Houston Texas while sitting windpower sites in Europe, California and Hawaii.
October 1998 was the beginning of his winemaking journey. The Baskerville property was advertised in the Sunday Times newspaper and purchased on Monday.
So, 1999 was the first vintage at the new property. We made a shiraz and a Chenin blanc with the assistance of David McNamara.
Further, vintages continue to be made at The Swan Valley winery premises.
2023 will be the year of 25 years of winemaking at Harris Organic Wines. And over 15 years for a Perth distillery.