11.38am, Thursday 3rd February, The Barossa
It’s Barossa Shiraz time folks, and I’ve asked our resident expert on that variety – Kevin Glastonbury – to take me out for a look at how two of the old timer Shiraz vineyards are travelling.
Yes, that would be the KG who makes the Octavius Old Vine Shiraz; the whole Cabernet Shiraz blend family of Scribbler, Signature, FDR 1A and The Reserve; and the Single Site Shirazes. Oh and the Shiraz Viognier blends, and all the Grenache So I’m with the right bloke as we’re going to check out:
- the Grope block – 3 acres planted in 1919 – on the Barossa floor at Vine Vale
- the Bartholomaeus block – 7 acres planted in 1920 – just outside the Eden Valley township up in the hills.
KG with the fruit-thinned Grope Shiraz at Light Pass
It’s about this time of the year that we lose the winemakers on a daily basis to the vineyards. They’re constantly monitoring how each block is travelling, working with the vignerons or our vineyard folk to make whatever adjustments are required ongoing to ensure that we get the best possible fruit block by block – with respect to aroma, flavour and texture. You can see in this photo that there’s some fruit on the ground around Kev’s feet. The vines have had the best winter rainfall in 2010 for ages, so they’ve pushed out massive canopies and set heavy crops – because they’re having a great old time! So Kev’s arranged for 30 – 50% of the bunches to be pulled off now. This is a simple relationship – the more bunches on a vine, the less intense the flavours and aromas are that develop. This will make sure we get some red hot fruit from this block, especially seeing as the decision has been made early. Kev’s also made sure that a lot of the canopy has been trimmed. This will allow the light in to ripen the smaller number of bunches that have been left on.
One of the landmark points in fruit ripening is ‘veraison’, when the berries actually stop growing and the whole ripening phase begins. It’s when the grapes literally change colour, the skins start to soften, acid starts to decrease, sugar starts to accumulate, and the flavours and aromas start to develop. This is when the temperature starts to play a big part, as the warmer it is during the day, the faster this occurs. The warmer it is at night – same thing. Best possible result at this time is reasonably warm days, cooler nights, and a longer even ripening season. This gives you good flavour and aroma with solid acids and enough sugar to give you a balanced situation with respect to alcohol. With the weather we’ve just had – the hot burst followed by a week in the mid 30s – this will give everything a bit of a kick start after what’s been a pretty mild season so far.
Grope Shiraz – not yet fully through veraison
So here are the shiraz bunches at the Grope block on the Barossa floor, and veraison is just occurring, but not complete.
Compare this to the bunches of Shiraz at the Bartholomaeus block up in Eden Valley, which has much cooler evenings and therefore is usually about three weeks behind the ripening on the Barossa floor. They are still completely green and like bullets.
Bartholomaeus Shiraz – nowhere near veraison yet
As a general rule of thumb, it’s about six weeks from veraison before you harvest, and Kev reckons we’ll be toward the end of March before we pick at the Grope block, and maybe even around Easter for the Bartholomaeus block. It’s not just the climate that is different for these two blocks of Shiraz. If you have a look in the pictures, you’ll see that the Grope block is on lovely red Barossa dirt, and the Bartholomeus block is on sand – at the bottom end where we’re standing anyway. It changes through the rows up the hill to loam and on to gravel. Put all this variation together, and you get quite different expression of fruit – still both Shiraz – from the two blocks, and this is what’s referred to as ‘terroir’. The two blocks both produce stunning Shiraz, but the resultant ‘single site’ wines exhibit very different characteristics. Here’s how the two end up:
- The Grope block has consistently been one of our best performers and has always gone to Octavius or The Reserve. It is outstanding for its richness, its solid colour and depth, and its concentration without being really gluggy with its sweetness. In KG’s own words: “It’s the concentration of layers of pure dark fruits with the finer longer tannins that really make it suit The Reserve, where it doesn’t have any big fat sweetness to clash with the Cabernet … its consistency is its strength because it’s on terrific Barossa red dirt. … In richer years it makes Octavius, and some years even gives up lifted aromas.” That would make it very nice stuff indeed.
- The Bartholomaeus block’s major claim to fame has been as the backbone of the Hand Picked Shiraz Viognier because it has the structure and florals of a cooler Shiraz, without the lush ripeness that you find on the warmer Barossa floor. However, it has made Octavius on occasion – as a big aromatic lift and a lean tone through the palate.
Both of these blocks can make excellent single site wines, as the Bartholomaeus vineyard has with the 2006 wine and the Grope vineyard has in the yet-to-be-released 2009 wine. They illustrate the huge difference in fruit expression – completely depending on the soil it sits in and the climate immediately around it. Not to mention the fact that they have age well on their side, and this – in our opinion – is that ‘X factor’ that just makes things just that bit special.
Thanks for a nice day out KG – and Happy Birthday yesterday!
PS We’ll be following the Grope block right through vintage with KG. Stay tuned.