Best’s winemaker Justin Purser gives us an update on how the Great Western vineyards are faring with harvest looming in the coming weeks.
It has been an ideal start to Vintage 2017 in Great Western. So far, we’ve picked nearly all the Riesling, all the Chardonnay and some Pinot Noir. It’s been a slow but steady maturation of the grapes. Compared to the fast pace of vintages in recent years, 2017 has been a bit of a waiting game for the fruit to ripen. The advantage of this is two fold.
The first benefit is that the flavours in the grapes have had plenty of time to mature before the sugar level becomes too excessive. Too much sugar means too much alcohol, which we do not want.
The second bonus is that the slow ripening allows us to plan and pinpoint the right time to pick, which is not easy in warmer years. Most of our blocks that we’ve picked so far are four or five weeks later than last year.
The frustrating thing about this waiting game is that the staff (myself included) in the winery and the vineyard are anxious to get their hands on the fruit, so we don’t have to process any more grape maturity samples or do any more cleaning.
We did see plenty of nervous energy in the winery this week, with an impending rainstorm threatening our Riesling crop. Never fear though, the team rallied and we spent a long night and day picking and pressing five different blocks of Riesling plus one of Orange Muscat and some Gewürztraminer for our Gentle Blend. The result of these picks is fantastic – I’m really excited about the potential for high-quality wines this year. The flavours coming through the juice and the early fermentation are very encouraging.
The rain seems to have fizzled out now and has resulted in giving the vines a freshen-up and allowed the dust to settle. We need to wait a couple more days for the grape’s flavours to return to their previous state – which leaves us with the perfect opportunity to clean and write a vintage blog. We’re also putting together our 2016 Bin 1 blend at the moment, a task normally reserved until after vintage, but it is ready to go now, so carpe diem.
This year, our winery vintage staff includes stalwarts Leanne, Jamie, Hadyn and Justin Burns (the other Justin), Glenn (in the vineyard), plus celebrity guests Viv and Hamish Thomson, and our new recruits of Claudio from Bologna in Italy and Manon and Jeremy from Champagne in France. We all went out to the Pigsty Vineyard last week and picked the small amount of old-vine Pinot Noir that’s mingled with the Pinot Meunier. We intend to recreate the wine we made from these vines (the oldest Pinot Noir vines in the world) in 2014 and released in 2016 to celebrate our 150th anniversary. The Pinot looks great, with fruitful and balanced crops and delicious flavours in the berries. We’ll pick all of this fruit as soon as it dries out. (As I am writing this, it seems we’ve been lucky as only a small amount of rain fell and we have some drying winds to follow.)
This week we should also start to pick our Shiraz, but next week will be the true onset of the “Shiraz-alanche”.
Yours, until the next update.
8th February 2017
The good news is that overall the vineyards are looking great. The above average spring rains have made a hugely positive impact on the vineyards – we’ve not seen above average rainfall for 20 years! The canopies are lush and healthy and they’re providing good shading to the vines and the bunches. What’s also exciting from a grape grower’s perspective is that the crop levels are up on average. So after three seasons of low yields or none at all, it’s very uplifting to see lots of green bunches on the vines.
However, the most exciting news about the vineyards is that they are on the whole in balance. After a few difficult seasons where the vines have been stressed, it’s been very difficult to achieve balance. This season, the ample soil moisture and favourable temperatures have allowed the vines to find their own balance. What that means is that the amount of leaf and shoot growth is in check with the fruit, and the bunches of grapes are evenly distributed throughout the vine canopy. This results in the fruit ripening up evenly and ultimately makes better wine, which is the goal!
The only downside is that there have been cases of hen and chicken (a term to describe grape bunches containing berries differing greatly in size and, most importantly, maturity) in the Cabernet Sauvignon and some isolated areas of Shiraz.
These shot berries (chickens) will not develop into full-size grapes. This is mainly due to the high winds and some cooler weather we had during the pollination of the flowers in these vines. Viticulturists can control a lot of things, but they’re yet to work out how to control the wind and temperature in the vineyard.
Apart from this issue, we’re shaping up for a good vintage. Then again, it could rain for the next two months and turn to pot (or bot), so cross your fingers, toast the weather gods with a nice wine and I’ll join you in looking forward to tasting the new vintage.