Latest News From Smidge Wines
I was recently asked why we bottle our Houdini Shiraz in a Burgundy bottle, this is the first time we’ve had this question and thought it might be interesting for others.
Unlike the glasses we drink from, or the closure of a bottle, the shape bottle doesn’t really impact the taste or development of our wine. Historically, in particular, looking at "old world" wines, the bottle shape was more influenced from where it came from, for example Bordeaux (the tall high shouldered claret shape) or Burgundy (the low shouldered, more curvy shape). Equally, there is no ‘Shiraz bottle’, although the wines of the Rhone Valley, which is the home of Shiraz (and Grenache) in France, use a Burgundy shaped bottle. This bottle used in Burgundy (Pinot noir, Chardonnay and Aligote) and the Rhone are the same shape, although regularly differ in diameter and height. The rationale for the different shapes is varied, although historically many argued about the size and shape of the bottle and the associated air pocket seen in a bottle when laying on its side resulted in differing contact with and influence on the wine.
Today, it can be argued that the use of the Burgundian bottle for Australian Shiraz can stem from the influence of regions such as the Rhone Valley, where Shiraz is the predominant variety in many subregions. This is the case for Smidge Wines. Equally, some suggest the current use of the Burgundy bottle has been used to demonstrate the move towards a more distinct Australian Shiraz style, and away from Australia’s historical and prevalent use of the Bordeaux shape, which is now mainly reserved for Cabernet sauvignon, blends thereof and other Bordelaise varieties.
The start of winter was true to its name this week, with heavy rain and extensive electrical storms filling the air with nitrogen and the soil with water. The vines unfortunately won't benefit from the nitrogen without their leaves, although will enjoy the soil moisture in spring upon budburst and early growth.
As a micro producer, it means we are hands on at each stage of production and sales. So between some packing and deliveries we found ourselves bottling our La Grenouille Cabernet this week.
Rounding out the weekend was our monthly cellar door opening, where we got to share a few winter warmers with local wine enthusiasts!
Week #22: This week it was time for a new vintage of Cabernet being blended and the last of the 2023 Cabernet batches going to barrel, as such it felt like a game of tetris, juggling tanks and barrels of wine.
At Smidge, the majority of our wines are matured in fine grained French oak (Taransaud and Cabernet sauvignon work well together) and looking after these barrels is a top priority. Not only because they are expensive, but cleanliness is extremely important. To ensure the hygiene of one's barrels is maintained, a couple of main tasks are often employed. At Smidge, we use a specialised barrel washer coupled with a pressure cleaner that delivers 90+ degrees C filtered water at low volume and high pressure.
The temperature and pressure removes tartrates (unstable crystals that precipitate out of wine over time) from the inside surface of the barrel and the temperature/steam also sanitises the barrels, helping to keep unwanted bacteria and yeasts at bay. Cheers! #australianwine #operations #winemaking
It’s not often during the growing season that we see such a distinct line showing 2 varieties. For a very small window, we had a beautiful reminder that the differences between varieties that go well beyond fruit colour and flavour to the different pace that vines go dormant, and the underlying pigments that exist in the vines themselves.
Fun Fact: The autumnal colours in vine leaves are present for the full growing season. It is not until the temperate & light reduces as we approach winter, and the green Chlorophyll used for photosynthesis degrades leaving original pigments (carotenoids (yellow- orange), and Anthocyanins (red – to purple).
We are thrilled to get news that we made The Real Review's 2023 Top Wineries of Australia List for our third consecutive year. A huge thanks to Huon Hooke and his team, we appreciate being in the company of wineries on the list. Cheers! #australianwine #winemaking #mclarenvale
During a week of scorching weather, like many wineries we found ourselves in the uncomfortable position of contacting clients regarding what would become late deliveries of their wine order. Heat and warmth is both a friend & foe of wine and it is certainly important for fruit maturation and even fermentation. However, for transport and storage a small daily range is what we like most, and we will always do our best to avoid excessive heat is critical.
For us, with sometimes years of work that goes into making, packing and storing a single wine it’s best we don’t trip at the finish line, and ship in a heat wave for the wine to become ‘cooked’ in the back of a truck. A result I’m sure that would risk our client’s ultimate enjoyment of the wine.
As we head into another growing season, and with the recent confirmation that a third successive La Nina season is happening, a number of people have asked "what effect is all of this rain having?"
In the short term, if it rains on and off until mid December, and keeps the soil moisture levels at a moderate level, then things will be good, as the vines will be healthy, have good canopies and not be stressed.
In saying that, there are a number of factors that growers need to be aware of that may lead to increased disease pressure, such as the volume and timing of precipitation, along with the associated temperature. If there is sufficient rainfall to actively promote good canopies, although only enough to result in low disease pressure, then canopy management becomes more important than normal.
Excessive foliage will require a trim to maintain good airflow, or else the disease pressure will more than likely increase as the humid air becomes trapped in the canopy. Not only do dense canopies reduce airflow, they become a barrier to spray efficacy. Therefore dense untrimmed canopies would most likely lead to mildew and botrytis infections. Furthermore, timing of the rainfall is critical. If the rainfall occurs during important physiological stages, such as flowering, then the level of fruit set may be greatly reduced.
So, in short, small amounts of regular rainfall this side of Christmas can be beneficial to allow canopies to grow, whereas excessive rainfall and the bad timing of rainfall can lead to "big" canopies and escalate unwanted disease. pressure, while also impacting important physiological stages.
Now that vintage has come to an end, we had the chance to chat with Winemaker Matt Wenk and ask him what he likes to drink at home - it turns out it is a curious question that he's been asked once or twice before.
To kick off, I jumped straight in and asked when he's at home does he ever drink his own wine? As always Matt was generous with his time and answer.
"This is a question I am often asked at the Cellar door, or at nearly any social situation I can think of I am almost always asked these questions. The next question I'm asked is ‘Do you ever get to enjoy wine – or is always work?’.
To start – sometimes I don’t drink wine at all! After a day of barrel trials, or tasting I’ll often have a cold beer or sparkling water – to cleanse the palate, refresh, hydrate and reset.
Then there are the nights I’ll bring home a trial blend to try with dinner, or dust off an old vintage to see how it is faring – testing closures, storage and generally how it is developing relative to my expectations of that vintage.
Equally, I love trying the efforts of someone else’s blood, sweat & tears. Both locally & internationally, I enjoy comparing vintages, varieties & styles and see how we compare. Then there are the times we’ll open a special bottle whether it is a cheeky glass of fizz or something else we’ve collected along the way – it might be for a celebration or just because.
I’m also a fan of trying anything I can get that is a little different no matter where it is from or what variety it is. It’s important to me to understand what is happening and not to restrict my frame of reference to what I make, and like to drink.
And to answer ‘is it always work?’ Absolutely not! How can drinking something delicious with good food and good friends be work? As the saying goes - If you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life!’."
As you expect, at this stage of the year –we talk a lot about vintage – which in some English speaking regions in the northern hemisphere (& sometimes here) is also referred to as harvest.
Some people know exactly what I am referring to, although more often than you may think, I am asked what I mean when I say ‘vintage’? The question is then often followed by – has it got something to do with the year on the bottle or is that the year the grapes were grown or the year the wine was bottled?
So for the many people who have thought about these questions, but never asked I felt it might be helpful to shed some clarity on the subject.
Firstly, the vintage (or year) on the bottle does refer to when the grapes that made the wine in the bottle are picked. When Australian winemakers are referring to vintage – generally they are referring to the sleep deprived 8 or so weeks that it takes to pick and process fruit. Larger wineries will run 24 hours a day – making sure fruit is picked and processed in a timely manner, some wineries will run 12 hour shifts, others somewhere in between – at the end of the day every winemaker has their own plan of attack!
Smaller producers, and in our case, micro wineries are often without the luxury of structured shifts or hours. As purists, we are a slave to picking at the perfect time and getting things done at the perfect time - which is most often balancing fruit readiness, the weather forecast, availability of picking crews, and a free fermenter– At any point it can all come undone in a heartbeat from availability of trucks getting fruit from vineyards to the winery, a harvester breaking down, yields not running to forecast or a grower going away for a long weekend (yes, it does happen!).
The weather forecast is one of the most important elements. Other than the obvious influence on ripeness, it is looking at timing and balancing where a vine and fruit is now, where it will go based on weather expectations. For example, what may seem counter intuitive, sometimes we will irrigate slightly before rain to stop the vines panicking and sucking up every last drop in the soil which may in turn cause berry splitting. Equally we may try and get a pick in before rain or cool weather which may push back the vine and its fruit's ripeness and balance interms of sugar and flavour.
It may seem a challenging task, but I don’t know a winemaker that doesn’t love it. And then once in a lifetime (or at least the first in mine) you get a year like 2021. The Midas of picking seasons, and ones that dreams are made of. Quality was extraordinary by any standard, coupled with even ripening across blocks that was staggered between regions, varieties and sites ensuring we had the luxury of picking exactly how and when we wanted. Here’s crossing everything for another one this year...and by all accounts, it's a pretty good start!
Here's to Vintage '22, cheers!