It is hot in Australia, more so than usual. Not a drop of rain in January. There have been bushfires in Tasmania (Australia’s Southern Island, a bit like beautiful Hainan Province) and there are floods in Northern Queensland.These events will soon pass, and we will learn that from danger, comes opportunity.
With the weather conditions in mind, Viticulturists and Winemakers across the Barossa Valley are discussing potential outcomes for what may be a complicated vintage.
Mother Nature shows some mercy and the vines look great with beautiful shiny canopy growth, then Mother Nature turns up the heat, which forces vines to shut down (or stop growing for a while). The vines must then preserve their energy, just to survive, which means putting little or no energy into grape production. With each one of these cycles, the date predicted for picking becomes later and later.
We have had some days where the temperature was well over 40 degrees, however with good vineyard management and healthy vine canopies, there is much needed shade created, which is a blessing for the bunches of grapes hiding from the sun.
Many people live by “Late Easter, Late Harvest” and this year will no doubt prove to be correct. Of course, Easter is celebrated in time with the Moon cycle so this is where westerners tune into a more harmonious understanding of nature and her beautiful energies.
To fight against this would be unproductive. Much better to be patient and work with what you have.
After all, I don’t like to rush drinking a bottle of wine, so why rush the making of it? Things made in a hurry seem to fall apart quickly too. Wine is no different.
There is no reason to worry about a season being of bad quality. Grape growing is like glorified farming and there is no escaping the many possibilities that come from growing fruit outside in the rugged elements of Australia.
Far from being a bad vintage, we will find that due to less or no rain, berries will be smaller, but this will only intensify colour and flavours, still leading to great quality, just less fruit.
We must work with what we are given in life, and wine making is no different.
My Grandfather would say, “the fruit that is hardest to reach, will taste the best”. Perhaps your family has a similar saying?
It is said that you cannot make great wine from poor grapes, but if you do not pay attention to Mother Nature and what she is telling you, it is entirely possible to make poor wine from great grapes.
Around the Barossa, (and many other wine regions) a later harvest simply means having more time to prepare everything in your winery. Make sure that every barrel is clean and ready, and every piece of equipment needed is in top working order.
It would be too easy to get complacent when the harvest is late, which would lead to problems later.
For winemakers, a late harvest can also mean more time to focus on preparing last year’s red wines for bottling. A time to look at blending your favourite barrel portions together, in order to create the best balance of flavours, tannins, spice and warmth that you are looking for. If you are clever, you can have last season’s wines ready for bottling, meaning your barrels can be emptied and cleaned, in time for the new harvest.
Later vintages also have a flow on effect for the vines, in their next life cycle once all the fruit is picked. Delayed picking can result in delayed pruning. It is important when pruning, to have a clear picture in mind, of how you want your vines to behave for next year. Pruning too hard may not be a good idea. Not pruning enough could cause too much fruit and not as much flavour next year, or too little fruit. Pruning too late can also mean that precious sap is rising from the trunk of the vine, and you do not want this to bleed from where you are cutting the canes.
This may sound serious and I agree. Each year there is only one chance to get everything correct. However, can you imagine yourself in the middle of a lush green vineyard, surrounded by mother nature? Each year, you will become more and more in tune with what your vines are saying to you.
And each year you will all be one year older and wiser together.
Famous Wine Maker James Irvine told me “You cannot make great wine from your office”.
He was absolutely correct. You must walk into your vineyard, look at your vines and hear what they are saying to you. Especially in the lead up to harvest.
One thing is for sure: by the time you are pruning your vines, the heat of summer is well and truly over and the refreshing cold rains will almost make the vines start singing after all their hard work is done.
Interestingly, each year I look forward to the special differences that each season will bring, from each variety, or from each region. To mass produce wines to the point of being unrecognisable is almost a sin. Better to let Mother Nature guide you into creating a wine that truly captures the history of what occurred in nature that year, rather than waste the opportunity.
We will see unoaked white wines from 2019 start to appear within a few months, so we don’t have long to wait. Many red wines from this year may not be released until the year 2021, so we can all look forward to enjoying them in the future…….
Just remember, the wines from Barossa Valley 2019 Vintage will be excellent quality, but with harvest predicted to be at least 30% down on tonnage, there won’t be as much around to enjoy…