2024 Vintage Report from Bruce Tyrrell

Edition 1: Wednesday 17th January 2024

This year we turned around after New Year’s Eve and suddenly vintage was upon us.

We picked the first grapes on 8 January, which was the earliest since 1981; when we started on 4 January.  We had two wet years where the soil was almost saturated, followed by the last twelve months, which was much hotter and drier.  There were no days over 40 degrees.  Luckily, we had half an inch a week for the four weeks coming into Christmas, which certainly kicked the vines along.  Between Christmas and New Year there were some storms and a little bit of hail.  Boxing Day afternoon we had four separate hailstorms, but there was no wind so there was no damage.

The early part of January was hot and dry and then at the end of the week of 8 January we had a few small storms with 2mm to 3mm of rain each, but they only served to freshen up the vines.  The vineyard is basically disease free, but the grass is growing up the rows a bit too quickly for me.  However, the slashers are going flat out to keep the grass under control.

We started picking the Sparkling base, and the Blanc de Blancs were the first picked and came in exactly as we wanted it.  It has been a bit of a mixture in picking Semillon and Chardonnay.  Up until this morning the crop here, and from what I hear around the district, is down between 30% to 40%.  The last three years’ weather has left us with small bunches and small berries.

One thing we can smile about though is the great quality of the juice coming out of the presses.  More flavour than we have had for a few years. Good acid and good pH, however in the last day or two the acid has started to drop away.  This is not too much of a worry as we will probably be finished whites by Monday.  My father used to say, “you never pick anything before my birthday; 10 February”.  Then he changed it to “you never picked anything before Australia Day”.    The early vintage really goes back to spring.  Spring started in the middle of August and not on 1 September, so vintage was always going to be early.

We have been able to get enough handpickers and Lisa and Tammy had their first go at running the picking team and have done a very good job.  The teams are a mixture of backpackers and locals (even old Jack is back).   We look like we are going to be short of Hunter Valley Semillon but have been able to pick up two extra blocks of top-quality Semillon, which will fill up that shortage.  We have been lucky with the handpicking as most days there has been cloud cover to help keep the pickers cool.

Overall, quantity is down but quality is right at the top.  We normally get a bit of a break between the whites and reds, but I think this year we will go straight into the red next week when we finish the white.  We are wondering what you do with a February because we are normally picking grapes but will finish very early in the month.

There has also been a lot of rain at Heathcote, but they are two odd months behind us so there is nothing really to worry about down there.

Edition 2: Tuesday 23 January 2024

Thursday last week through to now has been pretty busy until we finished our own whites on Sunday morning.  We have still got a bit of grower Chardonnay to pick from Broke, and that should be finished on Friday night.  Nothing really changed from last week except we got a little bit more sugar in the Chardonnays. The crop level continues to be down across the board, with only the 1908 planted Semillon on HVD coming in anywhere near a normal vintage.  Interestingly, it had had a heavy fertilser program and half of it has been re-staked, and I would suggest that our fertiliser bill will be fairly large this year coming.

Everyone is pleased with the quality of the whites, including the fruit salad of varieties from odd little blocks that we will pick tonight.  I tasted the first couple of Semillons out of ferment yesterday and they certainly will not be short of flavour.  The Semillons to drink young or put them away as long as you like.  We have had to purchase a couple of extra lots of Semillon and Chardonnay to get close to what we need from this vintage.

We tested and tasted the first lot of reds today.  Alcohol levels are coming up, acid is still reasonably high, and the flavour is starting to come.  We will machine harvest a little bit at the end of the week, and then bring the handpickers back in on Monday and hopefully move through the red vintage fairly quickly.

There is a scary thought that we could finish in the Hunter in January, and that is something we have never done before.  It has been a quiet and so far uneventful vintage, and the smaller crop has meant no hold ups and we have literally cruised through picking when we wanted to.

Edition 3: Tuesday 6 February 2024

It seems hard to believe that we crushed the last of the Hunter Valley vintage yesterday.  Our own fruit finished Thursday last week giving us a three and a half week vintage. Much shorter than anything I can remember.

Both the machines, and the handpickers, got over the reds very quickly.  Firstly, they were ripe and easy to pick,  and secondly there was not as much fruit as we would have liked.  The weather of the last two and a half years has caused most of the problem, but it is not often we say “too much rain during the growing season is our enemy”.

The reds were all done in a week, and it is now time to get everything cleaned and ready to go in Heathcote in probably six to seven weeks’ time. Thankfully, there looks to be a slightly better than average crop down there.  The crop level for the reds is pretty much similar to the whites; down by 35% to 40%.  There is certainly no shortage of colour and flavour, and they are all mostly in the 14% to 14.5% alcohol range, which is similar to 2014.  I had a 4 Acres 2014 last week and if this year’s end up as good as that we will all be very happy.

This is the most relaxed vintage I have ever seen when right from the start we could pick when we wanted to, and make the wines specifically to their desired end product.  One thing for sure is that we will have plenty of spare new oak for next year, and the extra twelve months seasoning will do the wood a lot more good than harm.

So the end of the 2024 vintage in the Hunter has been an easy high quality vintage.  This morning it started to rain however, we need three or four inches over the next couple of months to give the vines, and the rest of the country, a kick along.  I would not be surprised if we have a wet Easter.

Thanks to our picking team who have stuck with us all the way through vintage and did a very good job.  After a couple of early hiccups both of our harvesters were running at optimal level, and with ripe grapes they do an even better job.  So next year we look forward to 2025 giving us some volume that we have missed since 2020.

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