Spirit Stills and Plums

I've just returned to the city from one of the more dream-like adventures into production I've taken. A 5 hour drive towards the intersection of the Vic, NSW and SA state borders landed me at the Murray-Valley Distillery in Robinvale. Formerly run by McWilliams and currently helmed by a couple of spirit mad brothers out of Melbourne, who's serious passion for the industry lead them to acquire the facility 8 years ago and since then produce some of the best grape derived spirit in the country. 

I was there on an R&D mission. In the same way excess pears lead us to start Faire Ferments, wasting 20 tonne of first class blood plums was more than Dario (our grower) was willing to take, so under his drive and passion we're exploring new ways to use these plums and make the most out of premium Australian produce.

We had juiced and fermented the plums into wine and I was on my way to oversee the distillation of the wine into a plum spirit, the character of which was going to be a total surprise.

I showed up at Robinvale to find cleaned, empty tanks and the majority of hoses back on racks for the year. The boys were winding up after a big season and our plum distillation was the last run of the vintage. I was really happy to be back on an old Australian winery. Every time I visit wine regions I'm always struck by how engaging wineries are. Unlike the constant modernisation of most production industries, wine has been made in practically the same way for centuries so these places hold unparalleled historical significance, particularly in our young country. Just by walking through many of  them they offer a view into the working conditions of Australians from decades ago and so often with a flavour of first arrival immigration. Buildings with a European confidence planted within the surrounds of gnarled red dessert. 

The Murray- Valley distillery was built in the 60s and the masses of concrete give as much away. While the place is a distillery it still functions as a large winery would, only in this case when the wine is fermented dry it goes to the huge, rocket-like stills to become spirit. 

These stills are the most captivating visual component of the distillery but what is equally intriguing  lies beneath your feet. While most large scale operations these days will have an extensive stainless steel tank farm marking their location among the surrounding vines the MV Distillery uses great concrete tanks recessed into the earth below. While I was there the guys were rewaxing the concrete with a mix of paraffin and beeswax to keep the tanks sealed. I was lucky enough to get down into the tanks and take a few photos posted below. 

We ran the plum wine through the pot still (also pictured below). Neither the guys or myself had distilled plums before so we were both excited to taste the resulting spirit. Given we're yet to release this product I don't want to give too much away about what we achieved, but I will say chatting with seriously passionate distillers for 10 hours watching the still operate generated a great raft of ideas. 

Our experimentation with the plums is far from over and there are more possibilities now than before we started. Over the next few months we'll trial  everything that comes up from clear spirits to amaros to aged options. When we do have a product to drop we'll be sure to let you know about it.