2.12pm, Friday 1st February, The Grape Lab, Yalumba, Angaston, Barossa, SA
Afternoon folks – this vintage, our special project is following Viognier from fruit on the vine right through to the finished wine … ready to bottle. Not sure how many parts there will be, but here we go.
First things first. Once vintage is underway one of the busiest spots on the winery – open 24 hours – is the Grape Lab.
Here’s how it all works.
We have a whole dose of vineyards that we work with right across the Eden Valley high country and the Barossa Valley floor, plus several located in the Riverland and the market garden area of Virginia. Some of these vineyards are owned independently by growers who have been bringing their fruit to Yalumba for generations, and some are owned ‘in house’ by the Hill Smiths, the very same custodians of the whole Yalumba world. Each vineyard has its fruit ripeness tracked over time, and this is achieved by each individual vineyard grape sample being assessed on the basis of their sugar, acid, and fruit flavor and aroma balance. This is all coordinated by our viticultural department, specifically this massive vintage fruit intake effort by our local vineyard Grower Liaison Officer Adam Hall.
When the winemaker looking after a certain vineyard decides that the grapes are in the right place ripeness wise, then the order to pick that block goes out, and that fruit load is scheduled to come in to the winery as soon as physically possible – given that all sorts of vineyards planted to different varieties are all ripening at a rate of knots in much the same 12 week time frame!
The fruit load comes across the Grape Lab weighbridge, a sample is taken to determine its actual ripeness and condition prior to being crushed or whole bunch pressed, and the whole fermentation process is the next link in the winemaking chain.
So, here is the nerve centre … our Grape Lab and weighbridge
Now let me introduce you to the folks who will more or less be living here for Vintage 2013, or roughly the next 12 weeks. Firstly, the man in charge! Adam Hall, who coordinates the whole vineyard sampling and grape intake schedules, working closely with the complete winemaking team and our growers and vineyard managers – Darryl Kruger that would be you!
And yes girls, he is a very nice looking boy!
The two top operators who prepare and test the grape samples are next – Linda McLeod and Ninien Formby. You’ll find these gals at our grapevine nursery either side of vintage, when the grafting and rootling preparation seasons become the focus of attention. That’s Linda on the left, Ninien on the right.
When I was down at the Grape Lab just before lunch, Ninien was about to prepare a juice sample for a Chardonnay vineyard at the top of Penrice Road, in the Angaston foothills. This gives you an idea of the size of the grape sample, so that we get a pretty reasonable cross section of the vineyard involved.
OK. Now that you know how the whole thing will work, time to talk specifically VIOGNIER 2013.
I spoke to Adam 10 days ago about how Viognier was traveling in the Barossa, and we talk about the two distinct subregions that we have: the Eden Valley high country, which has very cool evenings that contribute to a longer ripening season, and the Valley floor, which generally is a bit warmer, so ripens earlier. This year our vintage follows a very dry winter, and this has resulted in yields being down across the whole region, and in some parts of the Barossa, we’re talking 150-200mm down on what is an average annual rainfall of 550mm falling mainly in the winter between April and October. We’ve also had some extended periods of heatwave conditions without terribly much night time relief, so a lot of the vine canopies are working really hard early in the season to keep the fruit in good shape. Of course, the good news about low yield is always much more intense fruit flavors and aromas.
So in particular, the Valley floor has felt the heat more than the Eden Valley, and the fruit is well through veraison – which is when it starts to soften and ripen. Up in the Eden Valley, because the fruit was still quite green and hard when the heatwave was on, it’s held its condition quite well. As long as the canopies can hold on with the lower soil moisture, and if we’re lucky and get a bit of rain without any humidity, we could be in for some nice fruit, even if there’s not a lot of it.
I ducked across the back fence earlier and took some photos of what the Viognier looks like right now in our oldest vineyard – Vaughans – those vines must be all of about 24 years old. As you can see from the odd yellow leaf – the canopies are doing it tough – but the bunches are in pretty good shape.
Here are some bunches on the vine next door which are a bit more exposed, and they’ve got ‘sunspot’ lenticels … and look a bit like Riesling.
And here’s what a sunburnt bunch looks like, where the berries have been scorched, withered, and about to drop off. With any luck, by the time the fruit is ripe enough to harvest – which should be around mid March – all the ‘bits’ will have blown away.
There you have it. The Viognier up here in the Eden Valley is through veraison, and all things being equal, we’ll be looking at picking these grapes mid March.