Vintage 2013 in barrel, Vintage 2014 is underway…

Now that the dust from Vintage 2013 has settled, we can now look back.

This harvest was the most contracted, in terms of the time taken between our first and last pick, since full production began in 2004.  By full production we mean when each of our 7 blocks each began producing wine grapes simultaneously, which usually takes up to 4 years from initial planting.  This years narrow picking window was not unique to our vineyard, but for the majority of viticultural Australia.  Nonetheless, our crop was kept in balance with the seasons particular ebb and flow which ultimately delivered fruit to the winery at an optimal balance between sugar (alcohol potential) and natural acidity.   Now that all wine is settled in barrel (or tank) for maturation, we are now getting a glimpse of what is ahead in terms of potential.  Whilst the road that lays ahead of these wines remains long, early indications are promising.  The last element missing from the wine now, is time, and for the only thing for that is to wait!  But as our custodial role in the winery continues, albeit at a calmer pace compared to harvest, the same cannot be said for the vineyard.  Although the vines are now dormant, we enter one of our busiest times in the vineyard with pruning. Marking the beginning of Vintage 2014,  correct, balanced, pruning sets the vine up for the best possible start come bud burst in September, and also well into the growing season.  Balanced vine equals balanced wine!  Pruning started this year on May the 29th.  We’ll post more on pruning and its importance in the coming weeks.

But to wrap up this Vintage just passed, we would like give special mention to the vintage crew of 2013.  Come to our cellar door and we’ll invariably talk about what a great team we have, who work day in, day out, to especially high standards, which we feel, reflects in the wine. Come to think of it might be fair to say we equally bottle passion as we do wine (if there’s a difference!)  But each vintage, to varying degrees, we need a few helping hands and this year we had one of the most diverse, yet wonderfully integrated vintage crews since being in the business.  We mentioned diverse, as the crew came from all over the world, Phillip described it as being akin to the United Nations.  With one major difference though, everyone got along!  Thanks for being part of our excellent team, whether it was in the vineyard or winery, or both.  An outstanding vintage is only made possible by an outstanding team. Well done, Bravo, 勇敢な & braver!

“The United Nations” were comprised as follows:

  • Louis       (France)
  • Pam         (USA)
  • Florence  (France)
  • Blair         (AUS)
  • Serge      (Switzerland)
  • Ilaria         (Italy)
  • Nicola      (France)
  • Sarah      (Japan)
  • Daniel     (Italy)
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From L to R: Lisa (CF), James (CF), Ilaria, Damien (CF), Sarah, Chris McK (CF) Lisa (CF Vineyard Manager), Nicola, Chris D (CF), Louis & Jenny (CF). At the front right is Daniel & Luke (CF). Thanks also go to the many hands that are not in this photo, too many to mention!

 

 

Three years work in one month!

Over the last month a lot has happened as events involving three separate vintages simultaneously converged in that time.  Firstly we had our barrel declassification of the 2012 vintage where we decide which barrels are ready to bottle (for Williams Crossing) and which go on to become Curly Flat and remain in barrel for the next 9 months.  Classically speaking, the more you do something the easier it should become.  But with our barrel declassification it seems we are destined to walk a different path as the each year the overall quality improves gradually, making the decision of where to draw the line harder to make.  We aren’t complaining about it, and of course the opposite to that is true.  We are here to make the best wine we possibly can and we’re more than comfortable with this ‘predicament’.

From here we then also bottled our 2011 Curly Flat Pinot Noir and the 2011 ‘The Curly’ Pinot Noir.  It took us two full days to bottle this sublime vintage from one of our most challenging but also equally rewarding vintages to date.  A highly aromatic release bursting with berry cherry nose which is tensioned with savoury autumnal leaves and exotic spice that merge to create a palate of buoyant gravity.  You can’t have good Pinot Noir without at least facing one oxymoron!  As for the 2011 ‘The Curly’ Pinot Noir, we’ll reveal more on that over the months ahead…

For the final of our 3 years to justify the title of this blog, we are now harvesting our 2013 vintage where the cycle begins.  Well the cycle really begins back in September when the buds first break to herald the new vintage.  Or does it begin when the potential flowers are set for this vintage, two years ago?   Either way harvest 2013 is now underway and forgiving the above passages, it is my intention not to waffle on (for a change) but rather let photos do the talking!   We will talk more on the nature of the 2013 vintage over time and of course it is like any other year in that it is unlike any other…

VINTAGE 2013 – An Endless Summer

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This may be one of the defining photos of the 2013 vintage. The verdant canopy belies the fact that this photo was only taken yesterday (22/3/13).  Whilst Autumn is in the air, it’s most certainly not in the vineyard as the green spinnaker is out at full, guiding this vintage home.

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Fruit picking snips are clean and ready to go!

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A battalion of picking buckets awaiting further orders

One of our French interns, Louis, cleans up our fruit bins to be ready for fruit

VINEYARD SAMPLING

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Vineyard samples for testing. From our three varieties, we perform up to 26 separate tests (so far) determined by the variety, it’s clone and its specific location

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Hydrometry testing determines sugar levels, but sugar is only part of the ‘ripeness’ puzzle..

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Here we are testing the TA (Titratable Acidity) which gives an overall summation of the total combinant acids in the juice. This and the pH take equal importance to sugar. To determine ripeness by sugar alone can leave a wines potential akin to being a luxury yacht without either a rudder or sail. It may look good, but where’s it headed?!

IN THE VINEYARD

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Grape eats Leaf! Caught on film! 22/3/13

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Chardonnay merges with sunlight, showing aesthetics and function can be in the one package.  22/3/13

MORE TO COME! 

  • A day in the life in the vineyard at harvest.
  • Follow Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Pinot Gris from the vineyard to the winery.

 

Steady as she grows…

Since our last post, the first blushes of veraison have now begun to cast its hue upon select areas of our vineyard.  Currently, and for the last several weeks, our vineyard team have been fruit thinning.  The warm dry conditions over November-December were favourable for flowering and so led to a high rate of pollination, giving our canopy a healthy crop.  We are now reducing that yield to not only increase quality, but to also balance the fruit load to the canopy so as to give optimal opportunity to ripen by (around) April.  Fruit thinning before veraison serves the vines resources better as they don’t then waste energy ripening fruit that is going to be dropped anyway.

Our team have done a great job of keeping ahead of the building wave of varietal colour and therefore helps the vines by lowering vine stress and increasing potential leaf retention for next 8 weeks plus of ripening.

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Some the Vineyard Team in action, thinning out the Pinot Gris. When asked what the key phrase was here, the reply was “there’s heaps!”

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Veraison now underway in our 95 block Pinot Noir.

The canopy itself bears mentioning as its greenery bears a stark contrast to the parched landscape that not only surrounds us, but also runs its drying fingers throughout our vineyard’s inter rows.  Check out this video to see what we’re on about.

Looking at that footage, we have to stretch to recall the record breaking rainfall back in 2011 and the accompanying good winter rains of 2012, but if we needed a reminder, it is here now in the evidence of the canopy.  But this alone still would not have been enough, it goes much deeper than that.  Great soil health continues to increase due to the now 7 year absence of herbicides, effectively timed fertigation, successive years of balanced pruning, an alert team and responsive management have all weaved together to manifest into the canopy we see today.  Nothing good comes easy!

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Every drop is precious!

But the challenge to keep this canopy has only just begun.  Looking at the 3 month rainfall (Feb-Apr) outlook from the Bureau of Meteorology, there is a 75% chance of exceeding 50 to 100 mm for that period (in our area).  Our long term average rainfall figures for the same period is 144 mm, but with current drying trend, that figure seems unlikely.   On the other hand cooler days and nights are also predicted, and if this is true, it will take some evaporative pressure off the vineyard.  But maintaining the health of the canopy is one thing, the next is protecting the fruit!  Due to the extremely dry conditions, bird pressure has started early this year, so our bird radar system is now in effect as well as the usual myriad of avian counter measures.

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Vineyard Manager Lisa and team member Ron, fire up the bird radar towers, in preparation for the potential avian invasion!

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Lisa makes the securing ropes for the radar ‘Hare Proof’, as they like to chew the ropes which can bring down the radar system!

In the meantime we are beyond motivated to do all we can to bring in one of, if not the best vintage to date… but as always only time will tell and there’s still plenty of that until harvest. So while the dry spell looks set to continue, there’s (at least) two things to remember about weather; you never know what will happen & careful what you wish for!

All systems ‘grow’ as vintage 2013 moves along…

Although we now enter the new year (and best wishes to all our readers), for the vines they are already half way through theirs.  We refer here of course to the year from the vines perspective, which really runs from winter to winter.

Below is a basic chart that shows the year according to our vines, in terms of their major phases.  In terms of importance, not one of these steps outweigh any other, as they all ultimately combine to define the nature and quality of the resultant vintage.  The seasonal attributes of each year never fails to infuse its unique pattern into the distillation of a vintage.  These effects can range from the sublime to the obvious, and one thing is for sure, you never have exactly the same vintage twice.  This to us, is ultimate hook of wine.

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Back to Vintage 2013 and needless to say the theme now, after an inconsistent start (hot/cold), it is now of course generally hot and much more the matter, very dry.  This is all thanks to the intense high pressure system currently sitting over central Australia, that is keeping clouds away and letting heat accumulate.  Eleven days into January, we are still yet  to open our rain account for the year and we are currently utilising our gentle drip irrigation to sustain the exceptionally good condition of our vines.  Alarmingly these dry conditions stretch back to September 2012, where we have received at best, 53% of the LTA (Long Term Average) rainfall for our region.  This is currently the driest start for a vintage on our records with an cumulative deficit which stands to date at over 150 mm of rain in comparison to the LTA. The challenge for the remainder of the vintage is adequate hydration, to maintain the canopy to ensure the grapes achieve optimal ripeness.

Sep_Dec2012 RainfallAs farmers we are naturally obsessed with the weather and we’ll do a blog at some point dedicated to our approach to weather and how for us, and now for a lot of people, is far from just being small talk.

Below is the vine year in review with each photograph tracking the development of our 2013 Vintage.

Budburst! First buds open on September 19, which is around 'normal'.

Budburst! First buds open on September 19, which is around ‘normal’.

Developing Inflorescence on our 96 Chardonnay

Grape inflorescence begin to form, each individual berry is first a flower. This is a bunch of grapes at the embryonic stage!

Pinot Noir Bunch just before flowering commenced

Pinot Noir Bunch just before flowering commenced.

From Late November to Early December flowering begins. Each of these flowers are potential berries. Stable, moderate weather is preferred for uniform ‘fruit-set’. Please note this photo is not our own and comes courtesy of Wikipedia.

Fruit Set 2013

Fruit set takes around three weeks usually completing mid December onwards.  Warm, dry weather saw very uniform and healthy fruit set.
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Here is how a bunch looked on January the 11th. Berries are now starting to swell and entering a phase called Bunch Closure. From here, the space you see between the berries will disappear as they swell, to form a tight cluster of berries.

This shows the uniformity of growth in our vineyard. To have a balanced wine, you need a balanced vine!

This shows the uniform growth in our vineyard. To have a balanced wine, you need a balanced vine! The next step here is to control the canopies growth, to do this we put a hedger on the tractor to trim along the top of the row. See next photo.

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This is the same row after the hedger has been through. We hedge the canopy to stop the two sides of our lyre trellis canopy from joining in the middle. This keeps the canopy separate and open allowing for maximum sunlight inception and airflow.

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This photo illustrates what we mean by keeping the canopies of the one vine separate. Hedging is the most practical way to achieve this. From here our skilled vineyard team fine tune the canopy whether it be shoot or fruit thinning and guide the vintage home.

Next phase: Veraison We’ll keep you posted to as when that starts in a few weeks…until then, stay cool!

Happy new shoot year!

The first tentative buds have burst this week (on Wed 19/9) and they herald the beginning of what will hopefully grow to bear Vintage 2013.  But with 7-8 months still ahead to play itself out, we’ll see what platform the season provides us…

If you’d like to know more about Budburst, follow the link for a concise and informative PDF article from the AWRI (The Australian Wine Research Institute)