Monthly Archives: February 2011

Who Knew Planting Vines Was So Complex?

9.27am, Thursday 24nd February, Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, Eden Valley, The Barossa
Here’s a look behind the scenes at planting a new vineyard. It comes from James Freckleton, our vineyard manager down Limestone Coast way. We recently purchased new vineyard land. Half of it had great vines that we are excited to keep. The other half had a mix of vines that just weren’t working, so we are replanting it. You might think you just dig a hole, drop in a vine, give it a little water, and watch it grow. Ah, if only it were that easy.

The trick is to break up the soil, not mush it down.

The first thing you do is “rip” the soil in rows where you will plant. That’s a nasty sounding word, but if done right it helps the soil. We’ve had to wait quite a bit longer to do this because of the rain over the past year. The danger with ripping before the soil dries out is that you can damage the soil by cutting (like a butter knife) and smearing it rather than the ideal scenario of the soil crumbling and improving the profile.

The ripping is done specifically to a depth of 1 metre for a couple of reasons.

First, the soil doesn’t have a great structure so we need to break it up.

Second, two out of every three posts will be steel. The steel posts are 9 feet long and will go into the ground 3 feet. (Posts are usually 8 feet long and go in 2 feet.)  As steel posts are a lot thinner than traditional pine posts, they can lift with small undulations so the extra foot in the ground should ensure this won’t happen. The move to steel posts is a conscious decision to help the environment and move away from the waste that pine posts can create.

From here we will begin levelling the block and knocking in the posts. After this we will install the irrigation.

How we have come to choose our irrigation design is another story entirely, a bit of science combined with local knowledge of the soil and rock formations underneath. In short we drilled holes every 10m x 10m using a GPS to ascertain where the rock is throughout the block. We then generated a map that highlights the rock. That map correlates very closely to what other data – and what experience – told us about where the healthiest vines were. This gave us an excellent idea of how to configure our irrigation, reducing the variability that different soil depths and types can create. Basically we will have an irrigation design with one of the blocks being as small as 1 acre (this being in the middle of the block). We don’t think there are too many vineyards doing this type of work to this extent.

After the irrigation is installed the vineyard will be ready to plant around late August early September.

So much for just digging holes, but that extra effort will pay off in healthier vines, reduced water use and, best of all, good grapes for the winemaker.

Tony B

Spider Webs and Healthy Shiraz

Love those spiders - good for the vineywrd

3.04pm, Tuesday 22nd February, Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, Eden Valley, The Barossa
Vintage here creeps forward ever so slowly. We have started – as we wrote before, some Pinot Grigio grapes have come in, and a bit of Chardonnay is showing up now. But we’re all still waiting for the rush to kick in. Fortunately, despite the late start, the vineyards still look good. Really good when the rain highlights a spider web in a Vementino vineyard. Winemaker Sam Wigan says there were many orb spider webs, always a good sign of a healthy vineyard.

Winemaker Kevin Glastonbury is happy with the Shiraz vineyards he’s seeing, even if picking is still a few weeks away. It’s a bit of a paradox in one sense. The thin-skinned Shiraz grapes could be susceptible to splitting if a sudden big rain soaked the ground as they were ripening. But even with the recent downpour, KG has seen very little splitting. He reckons the steady supply of rain this vintage has kept the ground good and wet, and the vines have helped themselves to little bits of water whenever they needed it. So they didn’t have to take a huge, skin-splitting slurp when a big rain falls.

Sam likens it to having a pitcher of water on your desk and taking a sip whenever you want, as opposed to a parched march through a desert and then feeling sick after skolling a gallon of water at the end. Nothing like anthropomorphising those vines. (Just wait until I tell Jane we used that word in her blog!)

The Grapes Are Coming! The Grapes Are Coming!

7.38pm, Wednesday 16th February, Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, Eden Valley, The Barossa
I reckon this is the closest we’ve come to a “news alert” here, but this year it’s definitely big news. After days of watching winemakers read the paper, check their mail, play Solitaire (ssh, don’t tell the boss), just waiting for the grapes to ripen and the crush to begin, it’s here! We just got word from chief winemaker Louisa Rose that we will be crushing a load of Pinot Grigio grapes late tonight destined for our Y Series. Weather permitting.

Let’s hope the calm before the storm is finally breaking (metaphorically speaking only).

Tony B

Hanging Out for the Vermentino

Looking good but taking its time

9.59am, Wednesday 16th February, Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, Eden Valley, The Barossa
Tony B here with just a quick note as we pass an anniversary of sorts. Last year on 15 February we picked the last of our Vermentino from the Riverland. This year we haven’t even started.

Winemaker Sam “The Sideburns” Wigan and viti man Ashley Ratcliff headed up to Renmark a few days ago to check out the Vermentino on the Reichsteins’ block. Sam says it looks really good, with big healthy bunches (just look at that photo; good indeed) and a balanced canopy and starting to get some really nice flavours.

And yet, in this cool summer, we’re still probably two weeks away from
picking. They also had a look at some Barossa Vermentino, which is about a
week and a half behind the Renmark fruit in regards to ripeness. Sam likes
to pick when the Vermentino is around 11.5 to 12.5 Baume. (That’s how we
measure sugar levels in grapes; other countries use other scales, likes
Brix in the USA.) Right now it’s sitting at about 8.5. A few warm, sunny
days in a row, though, and the ripeness should come pretty quickly, Sam

So despite the late season this year, Sam is happy because the vines are looking healthy and the grapes have lots of flavour.

Easy Living in the Barossa Summer

Barossa peaches and apricots - this is the life

9.51am, Wednesday 9nd February, Yalumba Clocktower, Angaston, Eden Valley, The Barossa
Tony B here, plugging in for Jane. As vintage slowly builds, we’re enjoying a string of glorious weather: warm, sunny days, light breezes, cools nights. This is the calm, relaxed bit before the full rush of grapes and crushers and barrels. It reminds me of a post I recently wrote over at about Barossa in the summer:

I am just back from a month in the USA. I truly enjoy the Napa Valley, and the week we spent in Boston was a fresh taste of one of the great cities in the world. But …

Napa Valley is drop dead gorgeous, and the cabernets are impressive. People are friendly, and restaurants are top notch. (So are the taco trucks, by the way.)  But the valley has grown crowded, by Barossa standards, and right now it sits in winter, which means rainy days and early nights.

Boston … what can I say. I lived there a long time ago, and I loved it. There is always something happening: culture, sport, food, drink. A big city that cherishes its distinctive neighborhoods and its history. But like any city Boston is crowded and noisy. And right now it lies under a blanket of winter, which means not just short days but cold, short days.

So the sigh of relief escaped from me unconsciously as we turned our car onto Gomersal Road and saw the gorgeous entry into the Barossa. The hills still show
a tinge of green – a sign of all the rain this spring – and the sun is warm (OK, maybe hot recently). The long days start early as the sun rises, and for those of us who aren’t monitoring the vineyards as grapes ripen, they take on a casual summer pace.

The Barossa Farmers Market is chock full of the peaches and apricots for which the valley was once most famous. The tomatoes are ripe. And the rockmelons at the market are ready to plunge into.

Love ya, USA, but this … this is the life.

Vermentino and Sideburns

11.38am, Friday 4th February, The Barossa

Look at those sideburns - oh, and the grapes, too.

Just a few days ago I was able to grab the winemaker in charge of the Yalumba Vermentino  project  – Sam  “The Sideburns” Wigan –  to go and have a look at  the first  crop vines out at Kalimna on  the Barossa floor that will be earmarked to go into the 2011 wine. Did I lie about those sideys? Sam has a different look each vintage, and I like this one a lot – very Elvis!

Now up until this vintage, most of the fruit for the Yalumba Vermentino has come from Bob & Fay Reichstein’s block up in the Riverland at Renmark. Currently we’re working with them on a trial that evaluates the effect of shoot and bunch thinning on ripening and flavour and aroma development with this variety.

Bear in mind that it’s a warm place to grow grapes, and this particular variety thrives in these conditions. The good news is that by trimming the canopy and bunch thinning, it’s been possible to have the fruit ripen well, but a bit quicker – which means that essentially you can use less water to produce top fruit. That’s excellent news in a water strapped state like South Australia, where we still want to produce wines with a bit of dash about them. And with the Riverland – the whole story is about water and producing wines with freshness.

“Hot nights zap the acid, and wines can look broad,” explains Sam. “With Vermentino,  it holds its acid in the hot weather, and if we can pull stuff that’s not overcropped, then it’s worth all the work that growers put into it, because it will give the region the identity that they’re looking for with fresh and crisp wines.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself Sam. Everybody wins.

So right now, we’re heading into a vintage when, for the first time, we’ll also have Barossa floor Vermentino to work with.  First crop fruit is really still classed as ‘immature’, but at least it will give us an idea of what might be to come. Up at Renmark, the fruit is just going through veraison, and harvest will be three to four weeks from here – depending on what the weather does. And here’s more good news. Sam is going to take us right through Vermentino vintage on the blog, so get used to seeing those sideburns!

Thanks Sam.

Why Two Shiraz Vineyards Make Two Different Wines

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.