2023 Vintage Report from Bruce Tyrrell

Edition 1: Friday 20th January 2023

Today marks the start of the 2023 Vintage, which will be about sixty I can remember much about.

Early November saw the end of almost two and half years of rain and a lot of the soil, in the lower country, was quite waterlogged, however there is nothing like some sun and some serious dry wind.  We were able to get back into most of the vineyard quite quickly at the end of the rain.  We were also helped by having a helicopter available to spray when the tractors were sinking into the vineyard and coming out in Japan.

When I first looked at the crops I thought “this is going to be the average for the last 50 years”, and when we add up the tonnage on the first day of vintage, today, we will start to have an idea what the crop will look like. The last eight weeks or so of dry windy weather is starting to have an impact on the vines and a few 5mm or 10mm showers will not do the vines any harm.  The early testing that we have done shows sugars are rising quite well, the acids are fairly high and the pHs are still low.  Chardonnay will start fairly quickly, with a bit of Pinot Noir in the middle somewhere, then we could easily have a few days break before we start picking Semillon.  At the moment the Semillon are the epitome of greenest grass and just need more time.

The only real problem we faced is that two weeks ago we had a hail storm go through the centre of the home vineyard and we probably lost 5% of the crop, but some blocks in the direct path of the storm could be as high as a 25% loss. The major problem that comes with hail storms is the damage to the leaves and in a couple of places we are hoping we have got enough leaf left to get the fruit properly ripe.  It will mean that we will have to monitor these blocks closely and if they appear to not be able to make the grade we will pick them quickly and make what we can out of that material.

We picked up five new grape growers this vintage and hopefully the little block of Roussanne will avoid the rain, and the birds, and we may actually pick some this year after trying for the last three.  The other good news is that the backpackers are back.  We have around 80 people on our casual picking books, mostly young Europeans, and whilst we have got a few ‘grey nomads,’ their numbers have not come back up to where they were pre-Covid.

Great day to start vintage after a bit of early rain yesterday. Cool, slightly overcast, perfect picking conditions, and a full picking crew, mostly young Europeans and a few older locals returning from last year. The fruit is in perfect condition, fruit flavours coming through and good acid levels perfect for Blanc de Blancs.

The patches I looked at this morning have moved ahead fairly quickly and we will pick more than I originally thought.  Big testing day today, which will give us a draft picking program.  When we start, and what we pick next week, depends on the weather on Sunday and Monday.  When we do start it will be Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Casuarina and HVD blocks for our Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brut.

If we have today’s weather for the rest of vintage life will be easy and the wines top quality.

Edition 2: Friday 27th January 2023

This has been a week of driving around the vineyards, testing fruit, checking its condition, and then reviewing the samples in the Laboratory with one eye on the weather report.  I often say that “today there are so many sources of weather information that you can always choose the one that you want to hear”.  The Casuarina Chardonnay that we picked for Sparkling settled out in the tank at almost exactly the chemistry we wanted, and it has got plenty of flavour and strong acid structure.  It is currently fermenting away in the cool of the fermentation cellar.

All of this week has been about deciding where to start and trying to decide what the weather is going to do now and into next week.  We have had two old fashioned summer storms; lots of lightning, lots of thunder and thankfully not much rain.  We got started picking Chardonnay this morning from NVC, and the Short Flat, as a start to Vat 47.  These two are normally the early blocks, and the rest of the Short Flat is just a day or two away but we have got the worry of rain on Monday and Tuesday.  I would suspect that as soon as we can get on we will go straight to HVD, pick all the Chardonnay there “three quarters by hand and one quarter by machine”.  The hand pickers will then move back to the Short Flat and it should only take two more days to pick all the top Chardonnay. The sugar levels are reasonable and the acids are still a touch high if anything.  The flavours are good and the juice colours are really bright and fresh.

We will be going through the big testing this afternoon to lay out our plans for next week, and unless there is a dramatic change I think we have pretty much already worked it out.  So with a little bit done I could not be happier, and I just hope that the rain stays away for a while, but the weather reports seem to indicate from Wednesday on, for at least 10 days, we should be safe.

Edition 3: Thursday 02 February 2023

We went into last Friday with all the sparkling base picked and the first good bits of Chardonnay in the winery.  On Saturday we picked the Pinot Noir here at the winery; in the best condition we have had it in probably ten years and there is a good chance that we will get a Vat 6 this year.  On Monday night we picked the remaining Pinot Noir at HVD.  Not quite as high in sugar but with terrific colour and flavour and all up it looks like a very good Pinot Noir year.

Through this week we have started seriously into the top Chardonnay and by tomorrow night all the Vat 47 at HVD will be picked.  Pokolbin Hills and Belford will be early next week.  They are bigger crops and are ripening a bit more slowly.  All of our Broke Fordwich Chardonnay, which will go to the Hunter Valley label, will be ready to pick Tuesday through Thursday night next week.  We picked up three new vineyards, as contract growers, and the fruit on the vine looks immaculate.  At this stage, the Chardonnay looks as good as it has for a while, it will average out about 13% alcohol and has some strength, structure and really good flavour.  The Chardonnay crop on the home blocks is down a bit more than we thought, with smaller bunches and smaller berries.

We did the first Semillon samples today, and the early parts of the Stevens vineyard that need to be handpicked we will start harvesting on Saturday morning and machine harvest Saturday night.  So for next week it will be all about Semillon. We will be testing everything on Saturday morning, and will either come back here to the Short Flat or go to HVD.  We only have two or three nights of machine harvesting of our own Semillon, and hand picking, at the rate our crew are going, will be finished Monday-Tuesday the week after next.

The weather forecast looks solid for the next week so that is not going to cause us too many problems.  We are still carrying a big team of pickers; a few more than we need right now but we will want them next week when we get into the bigger lots of Semillon.  We had to stop a little bit early today as the heat caught up to them around 11am.

Everyone is a bit laid back at the moment as everything is going to plan.  The week’s summary; great quality but not quite enough quantity.

Edition 4: Friday 10 February 2023

We started last Friday with all of the top Chardonnay for Vat 47 and flowed through the week picking all of our own Chardonnay.  Last night we picked the last of our Hunter Chardonnay.  It has all been very clean fruit with a few exceptions in the areas hit by hail.  In general though the hail damaged fruit has dried up and will be pretty much all spat out through the crusher.  Most of the Chardonnay will sit between 12.5% and 13.5% alcohol, with very good acids and strong pHs.  The machine harvested fruit has literally fallen off the vine, and the bins are really clean when they hit the winery.  If we don’t make a mess of it this will be one of the really good Chardonnay years.

Our growers’ Chardonnay will all be finished by the weekend so our attention early in the week turned to Semillon, and it seems as if we have tested them every day.  The Semillon was not quite ready at the beginning of the week.  As usual we started with Stevens just over 10.5% alcohol, lovely acid and basically in really clean condition as there was no hail at all at the Glen Oak vineyard.  Stevens always seems to be the best at slightly lower alcohols.  The Belford Chardonnay will be the bigger style with slightly higher alcohol and will receive a higher than normal amount of new oak maturation.

On Tuesday we locked away picking of our Chardonnay growers at Broke/Fordwich and they will all be through the crusher by 10am today so we are going to end up with a good quantity of very high quality Hunter Valley Chardonnay material.  I reckon this is the Chardonnay Vintage.

We picked the Short Flat for Vat 1 all but one block, which has got a larger crop and probably will not be ready until Monday or Tuesday next week.  Weather wise we seemed to have dodged any storms, and it looks like it is going to stay that way.  The temperatures have been fairly high into the low mid 30s and the pickers have appreciated finishing up around midday.  It looks to me as if we will get through the next two weeks, or to the next new moon, with basically dry conditions.  We will do our first test of Shiraz today, and we think by the middle of next week we will probably start to get some red in the winery.  A few I have looked at have got fantastic colour and we have just now got to wait for the flavour.   The two Pinot Noir ferments are just coming off and it looks like Vat 6 will definitely be back.

Next week looks like this one in that we will have a solid steady fruit intake. The fruit is all clean and in good condition.  The picking team is quiet, and happy, and the machines are doing a great job at night.  We have picked about 450 tonnes so far and that is about over half way for the Hunter.

Everyone is relaxed and looking forward to next week.

Edition 5: Thursday 16 February 2023

The weather looks like we have got at least a fortnight of fine weather ahead of us with a string of big high pressure cells across the bottom middle of the country, and all the lows at the top of the country.  There is a little concern about some heat this weekend, and into early next week, with temperatures predicted to get to the high 30s.

We have almost forgotten what 40 degrees is like as it is about five years since the temperatures have gone that high.  However, the vines that have been hail effected are fairly delicate and we are testing all of those blocks today to see what needs to be picked before Saturday lunchtime.  This is exactly the same situation as we had in 2017 except that it got into the mid 40s.  The vines with less leaf have got more concentration and we have already got some very good red in the fermenters.  Flavours look good, the colour is very deep and they have got very good pH acid balance.  We might be back to 2017/2018 type quality.

The Pinot Noir which we picked three weeks ago looks terrific and seems to be getting better every day.

We finished all our growers Chardonnay this week.  All of which was in good condition, good numbers and good flavours, and this will set up the quality for Hunter Valley Chardonnay.  We then set about picking Semillon, which has been a bit up and down as we still have had some green flavours at ideal sugar levels so we had to wait.  There is nothing worse than green tasting Semillon.

We picked Vat 1 in two sessions; one block had a lot heavier crop and took another three to four days to get properly ripe.  We moved to HVD finished the Semillon there, which was later ripening because there was no real hail damage.  Crop levels there are exactly what we expected.  The 1908 vines all being handpicked and the balance coming off easily with a machine.  We cleaned up the end of the Semillon for the year on Tuesday night with DeBeyers, and the younger vines on Johnno’s, picking just under six tonnes when it should have been twenty.  It, of course, got the worst of the hail.

Our attention now has turned one hundred percent to Shiraz.  Anything hail effected is 1% to 1.5% higher in sugar and we really would like to get that fruit off before Saturday afternoon.  We will look at some tests today to see what we have to pick before the weekend as I said, and then the rest of the red vintage will not last much longer than next weekend.

I have got to go to Europe for a couple of weeks so I will do a summary when I get back, but so far vintage has been about better quality fruit than expected but not quite as much as we would have liked.

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