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A year to rival 2013 and even 2009
The 2015 vintage was as close to perfection as can be imagined: enough rain to keep the vines in rude health; warm, dry and windy in between, keeping the moulds away. We had great help in the winery and vineyard with Sara d'Ambra from Italy spending her second season in our winery and continuing her trials with funky yeasts. In the vineyard we had 3 hardworking backpackers from northern Germany with us for most of the vintage. They knew nothing about grapes and wine, but were quick learners and tireless, meticulous shoot thinners and leaf pluckers. As a result, in combination with Malcolm and Michael, they kept the vineyard in picture-book condition. Every single variety yielded masses of near perfect fruit. The only issue was that with warm sunny weather during the growing season, everything ripened at once leading to some very long days and nights in the winery managing multiple simultaneous ferments. Somehow Malcolm and Sara coped to produce wines that impeccably reflected the amazing quality of the fruit.
Was there an eyebrow raised at "masses"? The 2013 and 2015 vintages provide examples which explode the myth that lower yields equate to higher quality. 2013 and 2015 were high-yielding vintages. Both have produced trophy-winning wines. The fact is that on a productive site, a vine without a good fruit load puts too much energy into the canopy which shades and starves the berries. 2011 was a case in point; low yields, ordinary quality . Since then we have following the advice (tentatively at first) of Dr Peter Dry from the AWRI managing our high vigour site by leaving more buds to produce more bunches and higher grape yields. The results speak for themselves. Of course, since we depend largely on natural rainfall, our yields are still quite low (10 t/ha tops) relative to the irrigation districts where growers pile on water to produce mega-tonnes of quite dilute fruit and can crop at more than 30 t/ha.
The first bottlings from 2015 reinforce the point very well. The Pinot Noir Rosé yielded 30% more than its long-term average, and won a gold medal (very rare for a Rosé). Our 2015 Amara (blend of Viognier, Pinot Gris & Chardonnay) won silver medal and we are confidently waiting on the performance of the Pinot Grigio as soon as it recovers from bottle shock. The reds and the Chardonnay won't be bottled until February 2016 or later, but barrel samples are showing immense promise. What a joy! Quantity, even more than the 102 tonnes in 2013, and quality, likely to be better than the 2013, were that possible.
Would it be too much to hope for to have the 2016 vintage approach this. The signs are promising. Good rain at the moment with a forecast El Nino to give us a warm dry finish. The vines look beautiful right now. But remember, it only takes one hail storm to spoil all that. Oh the joys of primary production.
A Vintage of Contrasts
Summer 2013/14 at Lake George was very warm and dry and was promising to be another great vintage. It allowed our wonderful deep soil to demonstrate again the resilience that it provides for our vines, which showed no signs of stress. We stared harvesting in February - very early for us - as the weather had been so warm. But then, at the end of February 2014, it started to rain. And cool down.
The whites, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, had ripened well and came off early in excellent condition. The earliest red, our mainstay, Pinot Noir, also ripened with minimal rain damage. And what damage there was we were able to easily eliminate on the sorting table. This was not the case with the later reds. Over the next 2 weeks the Merlot and Cabernet Franc suffered. We had to remove about one third of the crop to get rid of the rain damage. The result was unexpected: the fruit produced barrels of deliciously perfumed, elegant wine. We can only wait hopefully to see how it ends up in the bottle, but we are hopeful.
The latest wine of all, the Shiraz, did not fare so well. Almost all of the crop was still unripe when the worst of the rain hit. We lost most of the crop. It was a really sad outcome in what had been looking like a record vintage. We managed to retrieve a barrel or 2 from the highest and ripest part of the vineyard which we blended with some fruit from an excellent vineyard in Murrumbateman. The wine certainly won't be up to the standard of the great years, 2008, 2009 and 2013, but with some delicate handling and careful winemaking - we will have a very drinkable wine.
That's primary production for you.
This vintage report, written in August 2014, was pretty accurate - good early fruit, but lots of losses from late rain. What it didn't say was that the Shiraz Viognier (the tiny amount left after we discarded all the damaged fruit) is turning out to be quite exceptional. With only 40 dozen, there are not many shows a wine can enter, but this has already won two trophies - not bad for a crop that we very nearly wrote off completely. It might be noted that despite some losses due to rain, the 2014 Pinots have done pretty well too, winning top and second top gold in the Canberra Wine Show. With this background, you might understand why we are so very joyful about the 2015 vintage (see above).
It rained at all the right times during the 2013 harvest, except for one awkward weekend when the Chardonnay was nearly ready to pick. So a 5% loss there, but thanks to hand picking and sorting, quality maintained. Then everything dried out and we had days and days of sunshine with only morning mists to kick the noble rot on in the Pinot Gris. The winery team worked brilliantly under great pressure to process our biggest crush ever: 102 tonnes.
As for quality? It is very early, but we are impressed. After the stresses of 2011 and 2012, it is a great relief to see good coloured, healthy reds taking up every millilitre of space. Will it equal or exceed the great year of 2009 where we topped both the Australian National and the London International wine shows for Shiraz/Syrah? We will see.
2012 has been a unique vintage - among the wettest (along with 2011 and 1989) and the coolest (since 1996). The 2012 vintage concluded with the Shiraz, and then the Botrytis Pinot Gris in May.
As with the 2011 vintage, the fruit developed excellent flavours and colours at lower than usual Baumes, creating opportunities for interesting, complex and elegant wines at lower alcohol levels.
Unfortunately, two factors combined to limit quantities. The first was a spell of cold weather in October/November which reduced pollination and so, fruit set. The second was widespread, severe rain in February, which took a toll on many (but not all) varieties on the Lerida Estate vineyard, with disease risk and subsequent fruit loss.
An extraordinary effort by both contract and volunteer pickers minimized the impact on the whites and Rosé. One team of volunteers stood in ankle deep water snatching Pinot Noir for Rosé from the most low-lying part of the vineyard. A similar effort was required for half the Chardonnay.
Timing of the rain events was particularly debilitating for later ripening red varieties as they were followed by a succession of cool misty mornings, which slowed ripening and heightened the disease pressure. Careful hand picking and intensive use of the sorting table eliminated all defective fruit, and in the end, losses were relatively light compared to 2011, although the poor fruit set meant that the total crop was down.
Unsurprisingly, the conditions were ideal for Botrytis Pinot Gris, with April and May’s misty mornings and sunny days transforming the grey mould in Noble Rot quite dramatically.
It is hard to tell at this stage, but we are quietly confident that the whites, especially the Pinot Gris, and the Rosé will be outstanding, along with the Botrytis Pinot Gris and possibly the Pinot Noir.
25 May 2012
Challenging. Damp. Pleasantly surprising.
The 2011 vintage has been all of these and more. As the wettest growing season on record for the district, we have discovered that a sturdy raincoat, tenacity, sharing advice with other local growers, and a commitment to making the best possible wine has all contributed to a positive outcome for a potentially difficult year.
The first fruit off the vine was Pinot Noir for the Lake George Rosé. Picked in early March to reduce the risk of early disease onset, a recent tasting of the young wine demonstrated a light, elegant palate with distinctive strawberry aromas. Lovely.
A week later the Pinot Gris started coming in. We decided to pick the fruit at two different ripening points: the first batch was picked early to maintain freshness, acidity and ensure minimum botrytis influence, whilst the second had riper flavours, a higher sugar level and around 5% botrytis to add complexity and depth to the palate. Both batches were hand sorted to ensure that only desirable botrytis and sound fruit was processed.
We had a busy two weeks in the barrel room at the end of March as the Chardonnay started coming in. 50% of the juice was fermented in French oak for the wooded Chardonnay, and the remainder has been set aside for our fresh, lively unwooded Chardonnay. The barrel ferments went through smoothly and will be routinely hand-stirred over the next 11 months to add richness, depth and palate weight to the elegant base wine.
During late April the main focus was on fermenting and pressing our reds. We were very happy with the Merlot and Cabernet Franc that were scrupulously picked and sorted to ensure that no diseased fruit was processed. Both varieties have just finished fermenting and will be moved to barriques to mature for the rest of the year until they are blended by our tasting panel to produce a structured, complex, full-bodied red wine.
At the moment, we are pressing Pinot Noir, filling barrels and keeping a close eye on the Shiraz Viognier that has just started ferment. Even at this early stage, red fruit aromas and are prominent and the distinctive viognier lift is coming through. A very promising start for one of our flagship wines.
We pick the botrytis Pinot Gris in the week beginning 2 May. That will signal the end of the vintage. Now for the hard work in the winery…
Jim, Anne, Malcolm (winemaker) & Faye (assistant winemaker)
1 May 2011
We tasted the 2010 whites : Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Viognier, two days ago and what a relief. The vintage has been so challenging with early warm weather in November accelerating ripening, and then heavy rain in early February bringing on bunch rots. We were forced to be extremely selective in picking only the cleaner bunches, and them working hard on the sorting table to see that everything that got into the press was 100% free of mould. The only exception was in the Pinot Gris, where a tiny bit of botrytis can add a little complexity. However, even here, we discarded about 5% of the crop. Because of the discards and because we are tending to sell out earlier than we would like, we 'looked over the fence' so to speak and brought in some lovely fruit from our next door neighbour at Lake George, some from 40 year-old vines.
The results prove that adversity can sometimes be the ally of excellence. The wines are lovely, with levels of varietal aromatics that we have not seen before. We cannot wait to get them into the bottle and let them settle down. Except of course for the Chardonnay which is looking forward to an 11 month sojourn in oak interrupted by fortnightly lees stirring. When it emerges , it should be at least the equal of the 2006, our multi-award winner that has beaten almost all of Australia's top Chardonnays in different shows.
There is also rather a lot of botrytis Pinot Gris, but since this required extensive settling and racking to clean up the slightly excessive botrytis character, it is still fermenting and won't be ready for evaluation for a few months - around the time of the Fireside Festival master class we hope. See the full Fireside program here...
The reds are less straightforward. Quantities are down slightly due to the need for rigorous culling to eliminate every last vestige of bunch rot. However, once again we obtained some very promising fruit from our next door neighbour's vineyard. Overall the vintage was very early , with picking almost done by mid-April - still later than most of Australia, but much earlier than in the past when we have been picking in May, and in 2005, in June. What effect this acceleration in ripening will have on wine quality is hard to tell at this stage. We should have a better idea by July. Our guess is that the wines will be a little lighter than 2008/09, and certainly lower in alcohol than the 2005 and 2006 vintages. None of this is necessarily a bad thing and it could be quite good. Certainly, there is no evidence of premature ageing due to the problems caused by the rain , which is testimony to the unwavering attention to detail of the sorting table crews, braving bee stings and bad backs to keep the fruit clean.
I will keep you posted!