I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, growing grapes has as much to do with mother nature as it does with the vigneron. We are at the mercy of what she chooses to serve up and something as simple as too much wind or rain on the wrong day can drastically affect how the crop will turn out.
Each year we hope for a “perfect” season, one featuring rain at the right times, a slow increase in temperatures, no prolonged heat waves, no hail, long sunny days and consistent overnight temperatures for even fruit ripening. More often than not, one of these things goes wrong and we do what we can to mitigate the damage or help the vines along with pruning or thinning, disease management, and watering techniques, but nothing can truly replace a good season.
2021 was one of the best seasons I have seen for our Hard Hill Road vineyard, as it was for most of the Grampians region. At the beginning of the season things looked bright, and when the fruit started to set it looked as though it was going to be a big crop. But so often in the agricultural industry, what happens at the start of the season does not always translate to the harvest. But this year it delivered – great fruit-set followed by a perfect ripening season gave us the biggest crop ever. All in stark contrast to last year, as this year we picked three times as much as we did last year!
In addition to it being a huge vintage, it was the most orderly and serene harvest I’ve seen in a very long time. All the grapes were extremely polite and ripened in their correct order. The end of the season stayed cool, with none of the usual extreme heatwaves, which saw the whites ripen one at a time before the reds started and they too spread themselves out in an orderly fashion.
This was particularly important this year, as it wasn’t just our vineyard that saw bumper crops. Everyone in the region did, and as I make wine for quite a few of my neighbouring vineyards, this slower, spread-out ripening of fruit was a critical factor in the constant juggling act that vintage is in the winery. Grape deliveries, crushing, fermenting, plunging caps, pumping over, pressing, malo ferments, racking into barrels, shovelling out must, and cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning in between each movement of each grape/wine parcel. It’s a hive of activity.
In a normal year, this is more than enough to keep you busy over the many long days and nights of vintage, but because I’m a sucker for punishment, I decided to install a bottling line into our small winery earlier this year. So, while we were pressing reds, we were bottling whites, which is not only unusual but adds a whole other layer of complexity to the logistics and planning.
The weather has cooled off quickly in the lead up to winter this year, and lots of rain has thankfully come with it. This rain will now regenerate the deepest layers of the soil and start to repair some of the deficits the last few hot and dry seasons have caused and will set our vines up for another good crop next year.
In addition to its positive effect in the vineyard, the cooler weather has caused the malo ferments on the reds to slow down. This slowing creates a more complex and layered wine, so it's nice when it happens, despite the extra waiting. All the wines are looking great this year – the whites are very elegant with a beautifully crisp acid structure, especially in the Rieslings, and the reds are full of pepper and spice and deep berry flavours.
Operating as a contract winemaker in a small region like Great Western and the Grampians gives me unique access to see all the exciting varieties now growing in the region, and participate in the changing face of wine styles that have become synonymous throughout our region. So, if you think you know what the Grampians are all about, think again, and come and try what’s new for yourself.
Our 2021 white wines have now all just been released – our Pinot Gris was bottled as soon as we could get it ready, in early June. The Riesling was bottled the first week of July and the Rosé just last week. The 2021 reds will be a while away yet as they all need to be tucked into their barrels and mature, but I have already started planning for a relatively early release of the 2021 Chockstone Shiraz, as we will likely run out of stock by the end of December.
Well, it's back to the winery for me, still lots to do!
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