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!