From the late 1800s until the 1940s the grapes were hoppered by chain off the horse-drawn drays to the 2nd level of the Tower where they were fed into a crusher. The must (the mixture of grape juice, skin and pips), was then transported by moving railway wagons and tipped into the gravity fed open Polish oak fermenting vats (the ten vats first used in 1862 are still in use today), and from there into oak casks in the underground cellar. Leachings were drained into the Still House alongside to make brandy with the "Still" driven by a steam engine that can still be viewed in its original position at the Winery.
In 1979 a new Crushing Pit was commissioned, utilising a disused 90,000 litre in-ground water tank originally excavated in 1880, along with the construction of a modern fermenting and stainless steel storage cellar for the production of premium quality white wines - until this date all whites were fermented in the open vats.
The red grapes are now crushed at the "Pit" and the must is pumped into the original oak fermenters where cultivated yeast is introduced and fermentation commences. Carbon dioxide gas is formed during fermentation and this forces the skins (called the cap) to rise to the top of the vat.
Twice daily the juice from the bottom is pumped over (turned over) the top of the cap which extracts the colour, flavour and tannins from the grape skins - three important elements in producing quality, structured red wines.
Once fermentation is complete (7-10 days), the wine is drained off the skins, which are in turn fed into a membrane press to extract any remaining wine - called pressings, and then pumped into oak casks in the original 1860 and "new" 1875 cellars.
There is storage in both cellars for some 365,000 litres of wine in a diversity of French and Polish oak casks, varying in capacity from 1,137 litres to 6,365 litres - the majority of the casks being well over 100 years old with some dating back 140 years.
The wine is allowed to settle and mature in the cask, being twice transferred (racked) into clean casks leaving the sediment (lees) behind.
Maturation time is approximately 18 months (the temperature stays a constant 15-16°C all year round - perfect for maturing red wine) and on completion the wine is filtered and bottled then cellared for a further 12-18 months prior to labelling and distribution (Tahbilk 'Eric Stevens Purbrick' Reds and '1860 Vines' Shiraz will be have up to 4 years cellaring prior to release)
At the end of the 1860 Cellar & New Cellar is part of the red wine storage area where bottled wine is hand stacked into bins holding approximately 8,000 bottles each.
The Tahbilk approach to red winemaking is considered very traditional and produces wines with emphasis on fruit flavour (as distinct from oak flavour) with the proven potential to improve and develop added complexity if patiently cellared.
With the construction of the dedicated White fermentation cellar in 1979 - one of the first initiatives undertaken by Alister Purbrick after assuming the General Manager's role - white winemaking at Tahbilk was ushered into a new age.
The white grapes are crushed and the must chilled to 5-10°Celsius before being pumped into computerised grape presses.
The juice is separated from the skins and pumped into refrigerated stainless steel tanks and fermented with cultured yeast under strict temperature control to maximise flavour and freshness.
On completion of fermentation (10-15 days), the wines are stabilised in additional stainless steel tanks, prior to filtering, blending and bottling (Chardonnay is the exception, being matured in new French & American oak barrels for up to 12 months).