My kids hate me describing my vines as my children. They roll their eyes and sigh!
But they are all my little babies, you put a year in working in the vineyard to get them to harvest, and then at vintage you 'give birth'… and like children, they all have their own very distinct personalities. Some are immediately cute, others more testing, some are shy at first that blossom in barrel or bottle.
We wine people often say, after vintage, that the wines we have made are 'all tucked up' in barrel or tank, just like little babies at the end of a long day. I have just tucked up all the 2013 wines and I am very excited about what I have in tank and barrel.
At first glance the 2013 vintage had its challenges. After a wet autumn, (we were still getting the ute bogged in the vineyard last winter) we had a long dry Spring and very hot, dry Summer.
Dry Springs can often go hand with frost. And we had a doozie on Grand Final night! It had been a miserable, cold and windy day. Just before dawn the wind stopped and the clouds parted. The heavy cold air settled in low amongst the vines…. Everything was burned in some way, but our new Italian varieties, particularly the Prosecco and Vermentino, being early to burst and with loads of their tender little green shoots unfurled, were “fried” by the frost. It took ages for them to come back, and even then only with a tiny crop.
Spring was then followed by a particularly hot and dry summer and then an extraordinary heat wave just as ripening approached – we had 10 days over 30 degrees C In March. And not only were the days warm, but also the nights...
But adversity and challenge often lead to new ideas and opportunities. In the 2009 vintage, the year we had the disastrous Black Saturday bushfires – I decided to put all the horror behind me and concentrate on something I like. I like quality sparkling wine, so I picked some Roussanne early and made my first sparkling wine... my Sparkling Roussanne is now served at the likes of Pei Moderne in the city and Koots Salle a Manger in Kooyong and has a loyal cult following.
In the cool, wet 2011 vintage, fearing I would never ripen the Roussanne, I decided to lighten the crop and make my first Verjus. Chef Ben Shewry at Attica, (recently voted Australia’s best restaurant and number 21 in the world in the recent World Restaurant Awards) uses a litre of my Verjus a day in his kitchen!
Primitivo, my Italian red variety, bursts late in the season. It emerged from its winter slumber after the frost, completely unscathed! I decided with so much beautiful plump fruit and generous bunches over the 1 ha I have planted to it, that I could really have a play. Over the long Summer months I had been really enjoying rose wines, especially those fragrant, dry ones made from Italian varieties. I put some of that beautiful Primitvo fruit to good use and made my first rose!
We made by the Saignée process. Saignée means 'to bleed' in French. We made this wine by bleeding juice from the freshly crushed, inky black Primtivo grapes. The pretty salmon pink colour comes from the skins bleeding into the clear juice on crushing.
We have fermented it in old oak barrels and have now left it on lees for a short period. This deliciously crisp and savoury wine will be ready for a Spring release and will make great drinking over Summer.
I also made a beautiful rich red from the rest of the Primitivo. To ensure the flavours were as rich and concentrated as possible we restricted crop levels to one bunch per shoot, time consuming but worth it. Then we handpicked a third of the crop and dried the bunches on racks we built into some old silos on the farm. The warm days at the end of March meant the grapes dried quickly and extensively, by 25%! This modern Australian spin on the age old Italian 'Amarone' winemaking tradition has resulted in some wonderful rich and spicy flavours in the wine. It is in oak now but will make wonderful drinking with a slow cooked ragu on a cold winter’s night.
The Vermentino has lots of its delicious gingery fresh flavours again. It will be ready for release over Summer too. The Shiraz and Roussanne crops were smaller than usual due to the frost, but deep and elegant in flavour.
This year we managed to make five very different wines and wine styles from our Roussanne! A crisp and fresh Verjus, delicious Sparkling Base, a deeply flavoured white, a silky perfumed foil for our Shiraz in the Shiraz Roussanne and - our first rich sweet dessert wine! We left the Roussanne and a parcel of Viognier out on the vines until late in Autumn. The grapes were raisined and ripe, nearly 20 degrees baume! The wine is now resting in barrel and we are hoping it will be ready for release around Christmas time. It will make the perfect partner to Christmas Pudding or Tarte Tatin next Autumn.
So lots to look forward to in the coming months as these new little babies make their way on to the market! We’ll keep you posted...