Frost. Hail. Cold. Dry. Hot. Fire.
Dear me. The romanticism of grape growing and wine making is being tested continually at every stage of this gruelling season. Yes, of course, we are well versed in the various ways the weather can affect the crop quality and quantity and we are always prepared for some of these challenges to occur during any season. However this season has been quite breathtaking in its audacity to throw down challenges, to both vine and grower, month on month. We press on!
We began in September with some unseasonal warm weather which pushed the buds out earlier than usual. Our usual diligent attention to our frost protecting fan saw it serviced by the installer just prior to the first frost of the season. Unfortunately, the fan was rendered useless by a basic servicing error and it failed to run during a -2.7 degree frost event. We are still assessing the extent of the fruit loss, but it was certainly significant. Perhaps even more troubling was the weather in December when the vines began to flower and set their crop. The ideal is calm, warm, even weather. We had windy, cold, erratic weather highlighted, in the most perverse way, by hail. The result has been a poor fruit set. On the positive side, the good rains through October and November have seen the canopy grow very well and regardless of what occurs crop wise this season, the vines will be set up for winter pruning and a likely strong start to the 2015 season. Yes, we do think in long timeframes with these vines!
The start of December saw the rain clouds turned off and it has been unremittingly dry for two months now. We have had 25mm and a startlingly long run of hot weather, peaking with five days of 40 degrees or above in January. And on it goes. The day after the five year anniversary of the catastrophic Black Saturday bushfires we experienced a high wind, 41 degree day and a fire exploded into life just over the hill from us, thankfully to the east. This fire, three days later, is no longer threatening towns but continues to cause anxiety and the risk of burning stumps and trees reigniting another front remains. So, we do have some smoke haze around us however the grapes are yet to begin ripening and the expectation, like in 2007 and 2009, is that we will mercifully be unaffected in a qualitatve sense.
Some good news; this season we have moved to under vine cultivation, as opposed to previous regimes of straw mulching (loved by wildfires) and undervine mowing (vineyard looks like a park however weeds push their roots deeper to compete with the vines’ roots). This move has been a wonderful success. As well as turning the undervine competition over and having the weeds die off and break down back into the soil it also opens up the soil (reducing any hard layer/compaction), to air and moisture, and it also has the ability to work compost into the soil. Like all things vineyard related, timing is the key and when this activity is done correctly the result is really excellent.
So, here we stand in February and wonder where the season is going. Hot and dry, a small crop. Where earlier in the season the expectation was for a mid April harvest this is being revised to an earlier start. Maybe early April, depending on the twists and turns of the Autumn. The Heathcote Shiraz vineyard is looking healthy and strong and the fruit will be ready in another couple of weeks. We have a bottling in mid March to begin to ready the 2013 wines for release later in the year.
For sure, it’s a testing cycle that makes up vineyard and winery work, but contemplating new wines beginning their evolution in bottle and another harvest, regardless how small, is very exciting.