Edition 1: Sunday 20th January 2013
This year’s vintage will start on Monday morning, 14 January, with six or seven tonnes of traminer from John Tulloch at Broke and at this stage, on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, we will pick pinot noir and chardonnay for sparkling base. This is probably two or three days earlier than I originally expected.
The vines have stood up remarkably well in the heat and dry conditions although at Fordwich, where John Tulloch’s vineyard is, they had 4 inches of rain at Christmas against the 80 points we had here.
On Monday morning we will test Penfold Vale chardonnay and all of the Verdelho, which can quite easily all be picked in 10 days time. An inch of rain would be more than welcome as the fruit has dehydrated a bit forcing the sugars and acids up, but there is not really enough flavour out their yet.
Edition 2: Monday 21st January 2013
The first week of vintage is ending on one of those days where you need to be inside with a cold one in front of the television watching the cricket. The week started with only two thirds as much Traminer as we expected and everything else we have picked this week looks like being down against budget between half and a third. This is a result of really no rain from the end of July until now. The little bit of rain we had last weekend did the vines the world of good as it freshened them up and got them working again.
Tuesday night we picked Pinot Noir for sparkling base and we only have enough to make half our normal quantity. By tomorrow night all of the Verdelho will be finished and we are keeping a tank of John Tulloch’s separately for Fordwich; the juice has great flavour and terrific acid. By tonight, all of the Penfold Vale chardonnay will be picked. Again, it has good flavours, fair acid and will be just a touch under 12% alcohol, which is just perfect for that vineyard. By Monday morning, all of Neil Stevens’ Semillon will be picked. This is an amazing old vineyard that has been battered by hail four years in the last six, and the oldest vines still look healthy and are good size bunches. At the beginning of the week I thought we would be racing to get the fruit off before the sugars got too high. Sugars have not gone up as much as I thought this week and with the best of the grapes, the flavours are just not quite there. They all need a few more days.
Like last year, the chardonnay will all be picked before the Semillon. Tomorrow, we go to Belford to pick four to five tonnes of chardonnay and then we come back to Tyrrell’s on Monday morning to pick all the good Pinot Noir, which has got the best crop it has had in about six years and is developing really good flavours. So, Vat 6 should be pretty smart from 2013. Tuesday, I reckon, we will start picking the chardonnay around the winery. The last two days has seen all of the HVD Chardonnay hand-picked and all put through the basket press. The quality of juice that comes out of that press is just spectacular.
Extraction rates so far this week are fairly good but the overall tonnage will be down. The best thing of the first week of vintage is that I still have dry boots. This time last year, they were already soaked.
We are all happy with the quality of juice we have this first week and we will see what happens as we progress. I doubt there will be any white left to pick in two weeks, and we will probably have already started to pick some Shiraz.
Edition 3: Friday 1st February 2013
The stars of the last week have been our two picking teams. Firstly, the normal team who have got over the same amount of vineyard in four days that we expected them to take five. Two reasons for this – the very good picking team of mostly backpackers from China to Latvia, and the other team, who successfully picked DeBeyer’s .515 tonnes of Chardonnay, was Jason’s All Stars, made up of the warehouse and bottling crew.
Friday and Saturday night saw the end of all of this year’s Verdelho from a whole range of growers. The tank of John Tulloch’s, that we keep separately, really looks the goods and we may yet have a chance at the local Verdelho trophy. Penfold Vale was finished picking on Friday night with the total pick of 73 tonnes. On Saturday morning we went to Belford to pick the Chardonnay and came back in time to pick the first of the Pinot Noir – about 4 tonnes of our own 3 tonnes from a local grower. Ours was a little lower and more perfumed but the grower’s fruit on Hermitage Road has fantastic big colour. Monday was another early start for the hand pickers. Our policy is to start picking at sun-up so we can get as much done before it gets hot. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday morning, we picked all of the Chardonnay on the Short Flat and the NVC behind the winery. All of this fruit was basket pressed and all looks destined for Vat 47. Yields ranged between 2 and 3 tonnes per acre and sugar levels will see the wine between 2.5 and 13 + % alcohol. Monday night, we finished Neil Stevens’ semillon. In total we picked 30 tonnes of Stevens’ semillon against 60 tonnes last year. Tuesday, we took a small team away from the main group of pickers to pick the 2 tonnes of Pinot Noir from HVD to go on the bottom of the fermenters with another 4 tonnes that was machined harvested. This tested about 13.25% alcohol equivalent and has loads of colour, loads of flavour. The remainder of our Pinot Noir we are picking for red tomorrow morning. After finishing the Chardonnay on Wednesday lunch time, we have picked all of the Pokolbin Hills Semillon and all of the Belford Semillon. Crops of both of these are down about half to what we expected and this seems to be the general number across the district. The lack of rain from August through to Christmas is now really showing its effects.
We still have all of Vat 1, Johnno’s and HVD Semillons on the vine and although the chemistry looks like they are ready to pick, they still do not have enough flavour and so we have decided to gamble on possible major rain Sunday and Monday and leave them out to get properly ripe. By this time next week there will be virtually no white left to pick.
We tested the first Shiraz today and it is a bit higher in sugar than I expected. We may have some Shiraz fermenting by next weekend. We have 25 tonnes of Semillon to be picked tonight and after that we are finished for the weekend. Let’s hope that most of the rain stays north of the Hunter Valley or a quiet weekend might stretch into next week. All the weather reports say 10 – 14 days of fine weather. So, I am not too worried about what we have left.
To date, we have picked just over 500 tonnes……..180 tonnes of Chardonnay, 150 tonnes of Semillon, 127 tonnes of Verdelho and 56 tonnes of Pinot Noir.
Edition 4: Monday 4th February 2013
We had no picking last Friday as we couldn’t find anything that we believe was ripe enough to pick. All of the whites on the vine still tasted green. On Saturday morning we finished picking Pinot Noir on the Hill. It would have perhaps been a little higher in sugar but had plenty of flavour and would have been ruined by the rain. Saturday morning we re-tested all of the whites and decided to not pick even though there was heavy rain coming. It’s not good picking them if they don’t have any flavour.
I didn’t believe we would get a lot of rain but 48 hours and 175mm later, my job as Company weatherman was declared vacant. We started hand picking again on Tuesday and by this morning we finished picking all of the top Semillon with Vat 1 and HVD Sign-Post now in the cellar. The tonnages on these two blocks were the same as normal where everything else has been down by at least one third. It may be seen as unsustainable agriculture to deep rip and cultivate our vineyards, but this is why we have held onto our crop levels. I remember Andrew Spinaze saying on Wednesday that the Short Flat Semillon was “straight to Vat 1.”
The pickers, and especially the bucket boys, earned their money the first two days of this week carrying them out half way up to their knees in mud. Most of them will sleep well tonight. This week will make the best Semillons of the vintage, and has vindicated our decision to wait for flavour.
Today, we finished hand picking all of this year’s white but have got about three shifts of machine harvesting left to do. In the last 24 hours we have got the harvester back in the vineyard and are now starting to handle some quantity of fruit. Also today, we have finished the Howard chardonnay and picked about two thirds of the Shee-Oak chardonnay. After Nick Looby got bogged on the harvester, he decided to retire for the day.
We are just finishing putting through the first 30 tonnes of Shiraz for the year. This came from the Upper Hunter and is specifically for Marks and Spencer in the UK. Yesterday, and today, we were able to get on and spray all of our reds. We are currently sitting in the middle of reasonably heavy rain but this will stop quickly……and hopefully, with getting some sun and wind over the next few days, and hold our nerve (Richo’s fingernails are getting shorter by the minute), we will still have some very good red. Next week, hopefully, we are talking about a week of fine weather with two more to go.
Edition 5: Wednesday 6th February 2013
There seems to be a bit of chat about whether the Hunter red vintage will be any good or not after the rain. We picked our first Shiraz on Tuesday between 13.2 and 14.1 Baume – the colours are almost black purple with plenty of flavour. All of our fruit, at this stage, is in good condition and if the weather stays right for the next two weeks, this year’s reds from the Hunter should be as good as the 2009’s. Semillon’s will be a bit bigger and softer, like 1995 and 2005. We made our best Semillons of the vintage last week after the 7 inches of rain, but when they got fully flavour ripe.
Edition 6: Friday 8th February 2013
Late last Friday afternoon down came the rain with a heavy storm again about 3.00 am the next morning. All up we had 28 mm. This meant a quiet day on Saturday with that horrible feeling the rain was going to stay around for a few more days. However, the weather God smiled on us and it cleared up by lunch time with quite strong southerly winds. Broke-Fordwich had less rain than us so on Saturday night we picked the first 32 tonnes of John Tulloch’s Semillon – cropped at 3 tonne/acre and will be about 11% alcohol and really very nice fruit.
On Sunday morning we woke up with a freezing 11 degrees and wind. The ground had dried up a lot more than I expected. We checked all of the remaining whites with only the Weinkeller Semillon starting to get some rot. Monday morning dawned bright and clear and hand pickers got into the Semillon on Weinkeller and two other small patches that we would normally machine harvest but it was too wet.
We did our first major red testing again and we were surprised on how high the sugar levels had become. One small block tested at 15.12 alcohol. Everything had brilliant dark purple colour on the riper blocks and had very good flavours. So, the decision was made to start picking Shiraz on Tuesday. We got the mechanical harvester back on HVD and picked all but 5 tonnes of the remaining semillon before we got bogged again. Monday night, we finished the rest of John Tulloch’s semillon and chardonnay and the last of the contract grower’s chardonnay from the Upper Hunter. Tuesday, the reds started to come in and like the whites, they are down in crop by about 30%. Mark Richardson and I had a good look over Stevens’, which is in good condition and will start to pick it today. Wednesday was another absolutely perfect morning – clear skies, touch of chill in the air and a nice breeze. Almost the first signs of Autumn. Today, we are hand picking 10 tonnes of chardonnay that was left on Shee-Oak when Nick got bogged last week and this is in a lot better condition than I expected. Machine harvested Pokolbin Hills shiraz and then started on the Black Ridge.
We did more red testing today and I am starting to have concerns about wet weather next Monday night. Whilst the shiraz is currently in very good condition a couple of rain events can see it all go rotten very quickly.
No picking Wednesday night so we had dinner at the winery with the vintage crew and the star wine of the night was 1986 Futures Semillon – still green in colour, wine of amazing complexity and youth for 27 years old.
Thursday was another brilliant morning. We picked the balance of the Black Ridge shiraz – high sugars and colour but not much over a tonne per acre. I think the 44 – 45 degree days have dehydrated the grapes and pushed up the sugars. It will make great Brokenback. During the day we had to write off one grower’s vineyard as the shiraz was already 50% rotten.
Friday (today) another perfect morning, but the signs are there it will get into the 30 degrees before the day is out. We did no picking last night but the hand pickers and the harvester have been going all day. We harvested the last few tonnes of white left on HVD and then the machine went to the Orlando vineyard to pick half of our contracted fruit. Hand pickers have pretty much picked Vat 9 all day plus Neil Stevens has hand picked half of his Hillside vineyard, which included 3.5 tonnes of the 1867 Old Patch – the colour of it is amazing vibrant purple. The crop again, continues to be down by about 30% but the flavours and colours are very good.
By this time next week our Hunter vintage will be over, but this week has really been one of picking very, very good shiraz.
Edition 7: Friday 15th February 2013
Saturday morning – the beautiful mornings just kept coming but there was quite a bit of dew on the ground. We finished all of John Tulloch’s white last night with 10 tonnes of Trebbiano and Sauvignon Blanc with an odd Muscat vine planted through it that will add a bit more flavour. We picked another 30 tonnes of Shiraz from Stevens’, Johnno’s and NVC. Richo has stopped biting his nails and starting to look relieved. The reds we picked this week look very good. The weather forecast for early next week is starting to look better and we may slow down a bit and try and get some extra ripeness. 35 degrees today and similar forecast for tomorrow, which should push the red sugars up a bit further. Tasted through the Semillon and Verdelho tanks last night – Vat 1 is head and shoulders above everything else; Belford and HVD are very good as is the Fordwich Verdelho, which we will have ready to bottle in about six weeks times. All of the whites are showing plenty of flavour and softness with just enough acid to keep them fresh.
Sunday – yet another beautiful morning with a heavy dew. Earlier on it looked like Autumn. We finished picking Stevens’ Glen Oak Shiraz and Neil Stevens is starting to look relieved. Re-tested all of the remaining red. Would like to leave them for another 3 – 4 days. Sunday night we had 50 ml of rain in about 45 minutes. A number of berries were actually split by the force of the rain. The plans to wait for another 3 – 4 days went down the creek.
Monday – wet morning with a small hand picking team starting on NVC Shiraz. We built the team up over the day and finished all NVC and 8 Acres. No chance of getting a machine anywhere for the moment. The rain last night dropped sugars around 0.3%. Neil Stevens also finished picking his Old Hillside.
Tuesday – over cast morning, some drizzly, misty rain and we kept picking with a big team. We finished 4 Acres, Old Hut and the Baulkham. There was mud everywhere and the pickers really earned their money. The fruit is still in good condition but we needed to do some hand sorting. The red fermentation vats are all full and so we were taking ferments off to find a spot for the grapes that were already picked.
Wednesday – finished picking all of our Shiraz for 2013. Bit of a shower in the morning but we were actually able to get a harvester on DeBeyer’s and pick that by machine.
Thursday – The day after we finished our Shiraz, the sun comes out and the wind is blowing. We are taking 10 tonnes of Fiano this morning, which is a contract winemaking job and all we have left in the Hunter is about 5 tonnes of Cabernet from John Tulloch, and Pokolbin Hills.
It looks like we are about 30% down on average right across the board. So, like Goodman Fielder and their cheap red, we are going to have to take a price rise.
Edition 8: Thursday 7th March 2013
In McLaren Vale we have found some new growers; one has vineyard on the red sand ridges on the north western end of the Vale. This vineyard should supply us our Rufus Stone Shiraz and some potentially ‘red hot’ cabernet. The Shiraz is fermenting here now and the cabernet is being picked this weekend.
Heathcote finally got a bit of rain two weeks ago as they have had virtually nothing through the whole growing season. Thankfully, in the last 18 months, we built a new water storage dam at the vineyard and Adam has not had to scratch for irrigated water and has been able to irrigate as needed. Mark Richardson and I were there yesterday and our vineyard looks the best of anything we saw in the area. Reportedly, a 17 acre unirrigated vineyard picked only five tonnes, which to make a profit means the wine has to retail for about $300 a bottle. On our vineyard there is a good crop just over three tonnes to the acre; the bunches are all open and the berries are a little smaller than normal. So we should get plenty of colour and the blocks to be picked on Friday night has already developed terrific flavour. We should be finished our own vineyard towards the end of next week and the Hamilton’s (our grower from next door), will be about 10 days after that. There should be plenty of fruit of both Lunatiq and Rufus Stone quality. Adam Currie has got a pretty big smile on his face – he reckons this is as good as 2002 when we also had a fairly big crop.
St Mary’s is still some time away.