9.01am, Wednesday 20th October, The Clocktower, Yalumba, Angaston, Eden Valley, The Barossa, South Australia
It’s bright as a button out there in the Barossa today, none of the cloud or drizzle of the last couple of days, and there’s a bit of warmth in that sun. Good day to put the washing out – it’s like the first proper day of Spring has landed. So I thought a quick trip ‘around the grounds ‘ – or vineyards in our case – was in order, just to see where we’re at.
Fred at Oxford Landing (during winter pruning)
First stop – OXFORD LANDING up in the Riverland and a chat with Freddy the vineyard manager. “The vineyards look good – best it’s looked in years. Crops are small, which is not a bad thing, but we’ve had excellent rains, decent rains, rain that we can actually do something with” How’s that for starters. What the ‘decent rains’ means in real terms is that this year instead of having the run of winter ‘showers’ of 2-3mm at a time, this year we’ve seen steady downpours of 30mm each month – but in one solid drop. This loads up the subsoil and means that the vines are actually getting irrigated, unlike with the showers, where the topsoil barely gets wet. The crops that set are probably going to remain low for one or two seasons, as the vines will take at least 18 months to ‘recover’ from being in drought mode, now that these rains have ‘broken’ the cycle. In real terms, this sort of rainfall means that Oxford Landing has not had to irrigate at all as yet – which is five ‘waters’ that haven’t had to be done. This means that for this stage of the season, we’re well ahead of the game.
Chardonnay and Cabernet have burst fully and are away – looking the best they have in years, with Sauvignon Blanc about to go. So it’s very early days, but everything is moving in the best way that it can.
**The Murray River is 6 feet up on its normal level due to rains in Victoria, so the water’s moving very quickly – and whilst that means that the fishing is rubbish – in about two months it will be time to shake out the yabby nets and get amongst what should be a bumper season. I will be up there late November for the fig harvest and mid December for the yabby run – and let you know how we go.
Second stop – THE LIMESTONE COAST – WRATTONBULLY & COONAWARRA – and a catch up with our tech officer down there where it’s a good deal cooler all year – Daniel. “I’m looking out of the office window at a beautiful day down here in Wrattonbully, and it’s the evenness that’s outstanding right now. Most things are through budburst, but everything is growing really evenly at the moment which is unusual. Normally there’s a block or variety that’s up and down, but this year it’s a better start to the season than we’ve seen for years.” That’s pretty good too, even though again it’s very early days. The even growth at Wrattonbully has come about because there was a warm start early that got things going, a cold spell that stalled things, then another warm spell to open everything else – hence now the vines are all moving pretty well together. Evenness is a bonus across a vineyard, because if all things stay equal – even budburst leads to even flowering and fruit set, which leads to an even ripening crop – it gives the winemaker every chance to do well with that block of fruit.
COONAWARRA is also moving well, and unusually it is ahead of Wrattonbully. This early budburst for Coonawarra is a result of higher-than-normal soil and night time temperatures and could lead to an extended season – which means every chance for increased flavour and aromatic development. However it’s early days, and the big drama with Coonawarra is always the frosts. These will knock the vines out if they’re severe, so everyone lives with their fingers and toes crossed for luck until late November – sometimes early December – until the spectre of late season frosts is gone. (Bear in mind, as Daniel said, the nasty frosts of the 2006-07 season happened at Christmas, so nothing is impossible). But we couldn’t have asked for more as far as winter rainfall is concerned’ there’s been 15-20mm each week of late as ‘top up’ rains which just keep everything moving nicely. Without putting a hex on anything, there’s a good feeling about the start to this season down south, with the days around 20 degrees, and the nights down to around 10 degrees – or when it gets really cold around 3 degrees, not 0.
The Eden Valley dams are full!
Third stop : THE BAROSSA – EDEN VALLEY & BAROSSA FLOOR – this is where I get to chat with Darrell, our vineyard manager who’s based up at Heggies in the EDEN VALLEY. “This is the first year in 10 years that all three of our dams up in Eden Valley have overflowed, and Pewsey and Heggies are still trickling over after last weekend’s rain. With budburst, we’re about two week’s behind where we’ve been the last few years, but with the cold weather and really wet soils, we’re back to where ‘normal’ would have been – pre the drought years.”
The good news continues.
So folks, we’ve had great winter rainfall, the ground is really wet – the soil profile and dams are full. The Cahrdonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are burst, and even though it’s very early yet, the crops look small – which is good for quality. With the cold spell we’ve just had – last Friday it only reached 9 degrees up at Heggies – we now need sunshine to move things along. That means today and the next couple – sitting at 20-24 degrees – are just what the doctor ordered. Between the rows up in our Eden Valley vineyards, – the stands of grasses are high, but we’re waiting till they go well to seed for next year before we start to mow. The gullies up behind Heggies are lush and should hold until Christmas – which is what things were like in the ‘old days’ – something we haven’t seen up that way for 10 years. So NO FROSTS is the order of the day, and we won’t be out of the woods until late November early December. But looking good so far.
**In the off season, during Autumn, the vineyard folk have been busy and planted 2500 native trees up at Pewsey and Heggies, and that is just going to keep things going in the right direction with respect to improving the health of those vineyards and surrounding areas.
Down on the BAROSSA FLOOR, pretty much everything has burst, and is moving along nicely. We have a heap of Grenache along that central line of the Barossa, from Vine Vale to the Moppa, and we’ve just finished planting about 6 acres of bush vines (ie free standing with no trellis) out on that hard biscay ground of the Moppa block itself. The wood for these rootlings was taken from the 1889 planted heritage vines at The Nursery, so should give us some stunning fruit starting about 4 or 5 years from now. Nothing good happens in a hurry, so we’ll just be patient and wait!
So folks, after that quick ‘around the grounds’ – without inviting disaster – there’s a bit of confidence about the start to our season. It’s very early days yet – and frost is our big drama to watch out for – but the winter rains have delivered, and things are moving well. So keep your fingers crossed, and I’ll give you another update once we’re through flowering.
***It might be worthwhile having a look at what’s happening in our local general farming community as well. There’s a fair bit of confidence out there, on the land, and with respect to fat lambs, wool and cereal crops, a lot of people are saying “best for 20 years”. According to one of our local agricultural machinery businesses that works from the Barossa through the Mid North to Burra and across the Yorke pPninsula to Ardrossan – a lot of folk reckon they’re the best grain crops they’ve seen in living memory. All they have to do now is avoid the massive number of locusts that are on the move in the northern parts of South Australia. So keep your fingers crossed for them as well folks, it’s about time the tide turned a bit our way.