It’s been some time since I updated the Wombat Crossing Vineyard diary, so here is the Vintage 2017 update.
I’m sitting in the office in Pokolbin with the air conditioning on – its been so hot during the day up here that both the head Wombat and the remaining Shiraz grapes have become a bit heat stressed! Anyway today’s temperature has finally stopped at around 30oC – after a record breaking 43.5oC yesterday – and I’m looking forward to a small fall of rain tonight to freshen things up. There has been no disease or botrytis this year – so the grapes are in great shape all around, although the heat has reduced the acid levels a bit.
We harvested all the whites on February 1 – later than the norm as the vines ‘close down’ when the temperature exceeds about 36oC and stop producing sugar – with 4.5T of beautiful Semillon and 8.5T of ripe Chardonnay taken off the vines by a new Braud selective picking machine. We had a lean picking crew, and managed to harvest both vineyards on the same day, starting in the cool under lights at 3.50am and finishing in the cool by 6am. We picked the vineyards into 21x 500L bins. The final bin was loaded on the truck and off to the winery by 8.30am – before the day warmed up. Over to Jeff Byrne and his winemaking team now – the whites are currently fermenting at the Agnew Winery. There are a few shots of our harvesting taken by Pup, Mark and Simon on our Facebook.
I am spending my time now getting the Shiraz vineyard ready for picking on Saturday at 5am. While the new Braud harvesting machine is selective of the grapes picked, discarding most imperfect berries and MOG (material other than grapes), in order to get the best quality result using this tool at Wombat, we make sure that the vineyard is properly prepared. Neal, Drew and I go through each vineyard removing any bunches that are sunburnt or have suffered bird pick that we can identify. This was more of a challenge this year in the Chardonnay than the Semillon – perhaps birds prefer chardonnay? Anyway it’s now the turn of the Hermit’s Block Shiraz, and we will start dropping any damaged bunches tomorrow. In the interim I try to discourage the birds by gas gun and shotgun.
There is a lot of work to grow the best grapes. Generally we make a pass through each vineyard in early December, to trim canes and to drop any undeveloped bunches or reduce crowding of bunches around the crown of the vine. In January we passed through the Chardonnay and Shiraz again, reducing the number of bunches by about 20% in order to ensure earlier ripening of the vineyards. Any bunches that haven’t gone through version are dropped as well.
We made a second pass through the Chardonnay this year due to eliminate any bunches affected by bird pick and the sunburn. Just before picking we made a third pass to make sure any suspect bunches were dropped – to prevent them from being harvested and influencing the flavour. Sunburnt grapes give a slight caramel taste to the wine, and grapes that have been picked by a birds beak can develop volatile acidity and impact taste in our wine. so we get rid of these!
The last 2 months have involved scheduling watering, checking that the drippers are working correctly (I think I must have replaced at least 500 of my 8500 dripper this year), and making sure the grapes get just enough water to continue to develop and for the vines to hold on to their leaves so that photosynthesis can work properly to produce the flavours, sugar and ripeness we need in the grapes.
Each Monday and Thursday during January and February I go through each vineyard and take a dispersed sample of the grapes. I sample the grapes as I go, looking at the taste development and the hardness of the grape seeds as I drive through the vineyard on the quad. I also check for diseases and bugs (none noted this year apart from the feathery bird and kangaroos that like a grape aperitif kind). Back to the lab, where we hand crush the bag of grapes, do the chemical analysis, and then look at the result – taste development, baume (sugar levels) pH and TA are catalogued and charted. The winemaker (Jeff Byrne) and the winegrower (me) then discuss the result and assess revised picking dates. These dates then need to be advised to the harvester (Jan O’Connor) so she can plan for a harvester to be allocated to Wombat on the morning or night we decide to pick. Many telephone calls!
Prior to January I have been spraying fertiliser, additives and protectants on a 10-14 day cycle, adjusted to the weather conditions and my expectations of rain. Checking the Porosity web site (that shows the moisture level at 20,40, 60 and 80cm of depth in each vineyard, data sent by radio every 2 minutes to a web server, allowing me to check how the vines are taking up water by iPhone or Mac twice a day, checking weather forecasts and Newcastle radar, scheduling additional fertigation and watering, slashing between rows and spraying herbicide under rows took up a fair bit of time from bud burst (early September this year) through the XMAS spray. No sprays are applied during January and February to ensure that there are no chemical leftovers on the grapes when we pick and ferment them.
I looked back over rainfall records – January 2016 we had 227 mL, this yer 56 mL. To date in February we have had only 1mL of rainfall. We did, though, have adequate rain in June through mid December.
We have recently bottled our 2016 The Creek Semillon, the second (and final) disgorge of our 2009 Sparkling Shiraz after lying in the bottle since 2010, and our new Fuzzy Headed Wombat Sparkling Chardonnay.
I’m looking forward to chatting to our members and showing some great Wombat wines at our next member’s lunch at Botanica on March 4. Please come and enjoy the food and wine, as well as the friendship of our wine club members who attend.
Ian, Head Wombat.