2017 Vintage Report from Bruce Tyrrell

Edition 1: Friday 20th January 2017

2017 Vintage is well and truly underway, and it is a week earlier than I thought it would be through the growing season.  Everything started off well, good rain over winter but most importantly 75mm of rain during the Christmas/New Year period, which has given enough soil moisture to the dry grown vines to get them through the number of 40 degree plus days we have had in January. The vines look remarkably healthy for the heat they have gone through.

We started last Friday with 8 tonnes of Chardonnay for the yet to be released Super Premium Blanc de Blanc sparkling. The juice came out of the press at 10 baume and 10 acid, which is about as good as it gets. Monday we returned to Penfold Vale for the base of the Chardonnay Pinot Noir Sparkling, and this was a little bit riper and fuller in flavour than Friday, and again just what we wanted. Tuesday we picked two small blocks of top Chardonnay off the home property, which will both go close to Vat 47 quality: lime-green colour and fine fresh flavour out of the press.

Wednesday we picked all the Pinot Noir here for red with a bit over 13 alcohol equivalent, with good colour and the best flavour and chemistry we have had for a few years. It has been great to start Vintage with all clean and perfectly confirmed fruit, and the Pinot Noir took almost exactly half the number of man hours to pick this year against last year, which is mostly because of the quality of the fruit but also we have got a really good team of pickers, less backpackers but a lot more locals which is something I prefer. Thursday we picked all the Chardonnay at Belford and from the 1908 vines on HVD. Both will be between 12.5 and 13 alcohol, fine and elegant, which is perfect for HVD but a little bit lighter in style for the Belford.  Today we picked the three oldest Chardonnay blocks on the Short Flat and all will go direct to Vat 47. I would have liked to have picked the balance tomorrow, but they are just not quite ready so we will wait until Monday to finish it off with a bit more flavour and a little bit higher sugars.

Last night we picked our little bit of Traminer and kicked off the Verdelho, which should be all over in the early hours of Sunday morning. Crop levels on our own vineyards with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are about the same as last year, and on target. The Verdelho from our growers looks like it is going to be down by 20–25%. Some of the grower Chardonnay, which came in last night, is also down considerably in crop. The impact of a few tough years for grape growers is showing, with not enough money for fertiliser and impacting their crop levels. We are going to have a break tomorrow, and just let things get a bit riper. Logistically, I would love to keep picking but the grapes are just not ready so we will wait and see what next week brings. It will however bring our first ever Gamay, which everyone is looking forward to having a play with.

The Semillon tests today have shown that they will be ready to go next week, and we are actually picking the first little bit tonight.

Edition 2: Friday 27th January 2017

On Friday, 20 January we picked Verdelho that night mostly at Broke. We had 17mm of rain here but there was less than 2mm at Broke. Both Saturday and Sunday were perfect days, mid to high 20s and 16 or 17 degrees at night and clear skies. Saturday night we finished picking all of the Verdelho, which is down about 10% overall to budget, but chemically and flavour wise about right where we wanted it. Sunday night we only picked a little bit of Chardonnay from John Tulloch, and sadly this will be the last grapes that we buy from John and Clemence Mary Tulloch. At 85 they have decided that it is time to retire, and so have sold the property where John has lived nearly all of his life and move into retirement in Singleton. John is one of the great viticulturist of the Valley, and one of the true fathers of mechanical harvesting. He would always say to me “you tell me which berries you don’t want in the bin and I will make sure they don’t go there”. We hope to continue to buy the grapes from the property but I will certainly miss working with the Tulloch’s over Vintage.

Saturday night we also picked the first Semillon of the Vintage from Pokolbin Hills, which was up 20% on budget, and it looks like the Semillons are going to have a lot of juice. We spent Sunday morning trying to find what to pick on Monday and Tuesday, but after the rain on Thursday night the sugars dropped, the acids dropped and the pHs remain the same, meaning that the berries had simply taken up the water. The soil is pretty much saturated at the moment so any more rain is simply going to run off.

We cancelled picking until Tuesday night and started then into the balance of the Chardonnay at Penfold Vale, and were going to start with Neil Stevens. It started to rain at Stevens just as he was turning the harvester on, and so we put him back to Thursday night. Wednesday we went across the road to the Short Flat and started to finish off all Chardonnay for Vat 47. We left the three acre block called ‘Andrews’ as it was not quite ready and picked it this morning. It needed the extra time as it had about a tonne an acre heavier crop. Thursday was the first big Semillon pick and with an hours overtime we were able to pick all of the Belford Semillon. Normally Belford is the last of the Semillon picked but it had received a lot less rain than in here. The juice out of the press is just fantastic – lime green, plenty of flavour and enough acid.

Apart from the end of Vat 47 picked this morning, we headed to Johnno’s at lunch time for an hour and a half to two hours picking Johnno’s Semillon, which looks like it is about spot on! It will be quiet during the day on Saturday with just the Gamay and a tonne of Pinot Noir to pick, but come Monday morning we will start Semillon in ernest and keep picking until it is finished. We have got five nights of machine harvesting of white grapes to go and so this time next week the white Vintage will be almost over.

With Australia Day yesterday I can’t help but make a comment. On Monday night I had an operation on my arm in a Newcastle hospital the surgeon was half-English half-Indian, the anaesthetist was Spanish, the theatre sister Vietnamese and the ward sister Scottish. What a wonderful country we live in where people with talented backgrounds from all over the world want to come and live and work here.

Edition 3: Friday 3rd February 2017

Another week down and whites are almost finished, with the week being concentrated on Semillon.

Last Friday morning we finished all of the top Chardonnay, and again we have not got really high sugars but plenty of flavour and good acid. There are only some small lots of Chardonnay left to pick, and the Chardonnay crop is going to be about spot on what we expected. We had a reasonably quiet weekend that consisted mostly of Stevens Semillon and the two tonnes of Gamay, which is just over 12.5 alcohol, really juicy flavours and great acid. We will probably try and get the gas out of it straight after Vintage, and maybe bottle it in time for the Hunter Valley Wine Show in August.

The worry for this week was the temperature on Monday and Tuesday as we were looking at 40 degrees plus by midday on both days. It was not a decision of when to pick but only what order to pick the vineyards in as they were all pretty much ready to go. I wanted to pick HVD Signpost Block (the old vines planted in 1908) in one day but the heat was simply too much for the pickers and so we ran into the second day. Tuesday was probably the worst day of the year, we hit about 42 degrees which was probably more like 46 or 47 up the rows in the vineyard. I had hoped to get into the Short Flat Tuesday afternoon but by 11.30am we had to abandon picking, with HVD just finished.

Wednesday morning back in here to pick the Semillon on the Short Flat and to get Vat 1 secure for this Vintage. Wednesday was a lot cooler and quite pleasant picking conditions, and the crew picked 32 tonnes for the day which is the most we have done in a single shift for a long time. Had to come back this morning to finish. The chemistry is spot on, and the juice a wonderful lime green lemon colour with terrific flavour. We are all starting to talk about a very special Semillon year.

We finished the Short Flat this morning, and across the road to Debeyers vineyard, which we lease, that finished today and hopefully tomorrow we can pick the 10 acres of Pokolbin Hills, and finish hand picking Semillon.

The nights this week have been a little bit mixed. Monday night picking Lost Block Semillon and HVD. Tuesday night some more Semillon from a contract grower, and last night we had just enough rain between 10pm and 11pm to leave the vines too wet to pick. So tonight it will be the rest of HVD Semillon and the rest of Penfold Chardonnay, and a few tonnes of HVD Pinot Noir that we left out to get really ripe. With the help of Neil Stevens’ machine harvester we should get across all that by 6am or 7am tomorrow morning. Despite a couple of delays it has been a very productive and successful week.

We will test the first Shiraz tomorrow to give us an indication of where the reds are, but I do not think we will pick too much until mid-week. The heat they forecast for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday will hold up the ripeness, and we will see where we go after tomorrow’s tests. It is almost eerie that we have finished whites in basically two weeks, and if we keep the handpicking team we have got, and the reds were ripe, we would be finished then by the end of next week but we will see what next week brings.

So far we are all happy!

Edition 4: Thursday 9th February 2017

Last Thursday night, to catch up on the loss of last Wednesday night’s picking, we brought Neil Stevens’ harvester in to pick along-side ours, and picked the balance of Chardonnay on Penfold Vale and Semillon on HVD, which gave a night shift a pick of 90 tonnes. Every Vintage has a “bad hair day” and that was last Friday. After the big night Thursday night the hand picking crews were picking more than expected, and at separate times we blew the door seals on two of the three white presses. One we had working again by 11am, and the other one did not blow until later in the day so had little impact.

Thursday, during the day, we picked the rest of the Vat 1 from the Short Flat and the DeBeyers. The Vat 1 was vibrant green juice with strong flavour and structure. Friday morning we went to Pokolbin Hills to finish the last 10 acres of Semillon there, which we did by 2.30pm just as it started to get hot. Lots of comparisons with this juice to the 1994, which won everything in the wine shows. All the hand picking of white is now finished. Friday night we picked the last batch of Hunter Valley Semillon, and the last few tonnes of HVD Pinot Noir which had lost some juice and has incredible colour and depth. So the white Vintage is over in 15 days with only 11 days of picking. Although the work is over in the vineyard for the whites, the winery has another two weeks of working with the ferments. All in all we are very pleased with the Semillon and Chardonnay right across the board.

Saturday morning we tested about half of the Shiraz. It has deep colours, the acids are falling and the sugar and the flavour is coming but it is not there yet. So a quiet weekend for everyone, and we waited until we tested Shiraz again on Monday. All we had to do is put up with the heat over the weekend. We are in a similar situation to two weeks ago when we wanted to pick the whites but they just were not quite there. The decision to wait with the whites was certainly the right one.

We had a small start with 7 or 8 tonnes of Shiraz from Matthews and Weinkeller (pictured on the left) for insurance as much as anything, and there looks like no reason why these two ferments will not end up in Vat 9.  The Gamay came off skins this morning, and it is going to be so easy to drink there will be lucky to be any left by the time we get to bottling. The only real problem that we have ahead of us is rain over an extended period, but the forecast is not showing us that. With a little bit of rain during the day on Wednesday we dodged the big falls that hit Sydney on Tuesday. We went to Denman on Tuesday to look at 30 tonnes of Shiraz. It is in the best condition it has been in years, having lost the last three vintages; one to smoke taint and two to rot.

We tested again Thursday morning and tomorrow it starts! Apart from Saturday afternoon through to Sunday night to midnight I think we will keep picking Shiraz until it is over. Johnno’s will be picked tomorrow morning, Stevens Old Patch on Saturday morning, plus more of the blocks of Vat 9.

Hopefully the fruit survives the next three days of 40 plus weather. There is still plenty of soil moisture, and plenty of good leaf to keep them going.

Edition 5: Friday 17th February 2017

On Friday, 10 February I woke up at 3am to see the stars, went back to bed till 6am and woke to bloody drizzly rain. We only had about 2 mm, fined up after lunch with the southerly wind which blew the humidity away and dried everything out. We tested again that morning to try and find something to pick before the 40 plus temperatures that eventuated for the weekend. We kept hoping the forecasters had got it wrong but that didn’t happen.

Saturday morning picking started at 3am, with the Old Hut and the balance of the Black Ridge Shiraz. Sugar levels were between 13.5 and 14 baume, and the tonnage was spot on budget. The hand pickers went to Stevens Old Patch, which was all done by 10am before the heat arrived. There was no real wind on the Saturday, and despite the multiple warnings there was no fire danger.

The Shiraz fruit continues to come in, and is in good condition with amazing colours and flavours. We did not pick on Saturday night or Sunday as it was simply too hot. If the temperature is too high when you machine harvest, you have to hit the vines a lot harder, and so you do a lot of damage to the vines and next year’s crop. The forecast was for the temperature to drop to 22 degrees at 2am on Monday, and the plan was to start picking again then.

We sampled Sunday morning and the decisions really were not whether to pick or not, but in what order to pick.The heat of Saturday had dehydrated the berries, but we knew that would happen again on Sunday. Those two days took 15% to 20% of the juice out of the berries, but as the week has gone on about half of that has come back.

The rest of this week has been more logistic than anything else to get us finished before the rain tomorrow. So as I write this our Hunter Vintage is over apart from 3 tonnes of Cabernet, which has got at least a week to go and hopefully it survives the rain this weekend. We finished picking this morning with Pokolbin Hills Shiraz, the end of Stevens Glen Oak and DeBeyers Sangiovese.

It is only 35 days since we started picking Chardonnay for sparkling, and I think we will all remember this Vintage for the joy of picking clean fruit, and no mud. At the end of the day we have some very good wine in the cellar, our tonnages are about spot on budget, and we have a month to wait until we start in Heathcote.

Edition 6: Friday 6th April 2017

“Vintage 2017 is certainly one to remember…picking for #Vintage17 at our Hunter Valley vineyards is now over. All I can say is, ‘sensational’.” – Andrew Pengilly, Tyrrell’s Vineyard Manager

Sit back and hear all about Tyrrell’s Vintage 2017 in Pokolbin from Bruce Tyrrell, Chris Tyrrell, Andrew Pengilly (vineyard manager), Andrew Spinaze (chief winemaker) and Mark Richardson (red winemaker).

Vintage is a wonderful time of year. Lots of amazing people putting in plenty of hard work in all kinds of conditions. #V17 is shaping up to be something special, with the fruit looking amazing across the board. We’re really excited to see what Spin, Richo, Chris and our winemaking teams can achieve with this year’s harvest.

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