Winemakers live for the vintage season. It’s an exciting, stressful, fun and exhausting experience, but it is the one chance a year when we can focus on nothing else but creating our wines. Mother Nature always adds some twists and turns to every vintage, and this season was no exception. What was looking like a nice relaxed on-schedule harvest was thrown to the wind with a two-week heat spell in late Feb/early March just after we picked our Pinot Gris.
Although we normally wouldn’t pick fruit during a heat spells if we can avoid it (I prefer to pick cool grapes), the Chockstone Riesling happened to hit perfect ripeness in the midst of the heatwave, and rather than wait for cooler weather I decided to pick it immediately. So, as you can imagine, it was a great relief to see it come off in perfect condition and with a great balance of acid and flavour. I think the slightly-stressed vines were as happy as me to have the fruit safely picked and in tank.
The white ferments, the Gris and the Riesling, finished in the last week of March and are currently going through the slow process of settling. They look great, wonderfully crisp with a subtle yet aromatic palate. Tasting cool wines from tank is one sure-fire way to forget that hot spell!
Reds always come later as they require more sunshine hours for the flavours to fully develop and for the Baume (sugar), acid and tannin levels to reach my preferred balance, and this doesn’t always happen in the whole vineyard all at once.
I split the Chockstone Shiraz harvest into two parts, the earlier pick from the top more exposed part of the block was harvested just after the Riesling, about two weeks early and came in ripe, rich and showing lots of blackberry and pepper characters. The second half of the block was picked 10 days later and shows a remarkable liquorice and dark chocolate character. Two distinct halves of what looks like one of our best Chockstone Shiraz blends.
We pressed off the last of the Chockstone Shiraz ferments at the end of March, before they commenced their malolactic fermentations (the process where malic acid is converted to the softer lactic acid, which lends a roundness to the wine), and then eventual transfer to barrels for maturation.
The grapes off the Hard Hill Road Close-Planted Shiraz vines were the next to come off, all hand-picked over two days last weekend. The last varieties to be picked, as always, are the Nebbiolo and Tannat, and they will likely be picked this weekend or early next week. Once harvested, they will make up the last of the fruit in our unique blends, The Field and Mule Variation.
The Field is a new blend made up of each of the varieties on our Hard Hill Road vineyard and their percentage of vineyard acreage is their percentage of fruit in the blend: Shiraz 52%, Riesling 22%, Nebbiolo 10%, Durif 9%, Tannat 5% and Viognier 2%. These grapes are fermented in an open-top fermenter with the various grapes being added as they are picked, creating a vintage-long fermentation and a fascinating wine.
The Mule on the other hand is a blend of our most enigmatic red varieties: Nebbiolo, Tannat, Durif, and Shiraz. I carefully handle these big-tannin varieties to keep them soft, supple and under control. I’m aiming for a wine that has a seamless flow between its complex structure and refined fruit flavours.
Overall our yields, while always low (not usually more than five tonnes per hectare), were about on par for the whites and a bit below average for the reds.
Vintages don’t happen without the help of friends and neighbours, so a big thank you to those that have helped out this year, in particular Ian, Andrew, Haydn, and Adrian (visiting from Bali). Cheers boys.
While there have been plenty of afternoon beers on the “three-beer bench” (it took me three beers to make) throughout vintage, it is nearly time to put my feet up for a brief moment, and toast to a successful vintage, before its time to get on the road selling and start pruning all too soon!
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