I love this time of year, mild Autumn weather sets in and a vigneron’s thoughts turn to getting precious fruit off the vine and into winery. This conjures for many wine drinkers a romantic notion of wine maker or grower walking through the vineyard chewing on a grape or two, a thoughtful look at the sky then a knowing nod to the vineyard manager that ‘it’s time’. The reality is somewhat different as I experienced again this year in McLaren vale as assistant dog’s body at Five Lazy Acres (nee Killibinbin Sandtrap), owned and operated by Liz and Ritchie Smith. It was an early start and we were out in the vineyard at 4am as the harvester started its rounds, the real back breaking work hadn’t started for us yet but I could see the stress levels rising as Ritchie began calculating in his head how much fruit was coming off and what it was going to convert to in real volume and ultimately income. Noel, senior member of the picking crew stood next to us still upright after only seven hours sleep over the past five days and speculated ‘looks like ten ton this year, good looking fruit too’, Ritchie concurred and as it turns out they were only out by 200 kgs. There’s no substitute for experience and you’ll find guys like these everywhere in the industry, brimming with hands on wisdom from long nights fuelled by coffee and/or adrenalin. Much later that day (noon), Ritchie’s shiraz had been processed and was bubbling away in open fermenters we had bucketed in during the morning. Beaumes were ideal with lovely wafts of rich fruit telling us a similar story to others in the district that although yields were down, 2013 vintage was going to deliver some outstanding wines. A few days later I got the low down from Tim Adams up in the Clare Valley and again the story was similar, lower yields but a ‘great’ vintage. In particular their shiraz was described as ‘an absolute monster’, stay tuned… Vintage rating has always been an annoyance to myself and especially wine makers. To blanketly describe an entire vintage as ‘bad’ in this country (of all places) is folly. Australia has led the world in innovation in all stages of the winemaking process and in most cases any ‘difficulties’ can be mitigated either in vineyard, winery or cellar. Not to mention the relatively stable climate most of our wine growing areas enjoy. Early in my career I was counseled to only buy the even vintages and ignore the odd ones which in reality is ridiculous. Mother nature is simply not that well organised, if she was there’d be a lot less stress involved in farming full stop. My point is simple, play the wine not the vintage. The world doesn’t stop turning after a difficult vintage and wine drinkers in turn don’t stop drinking. 2011 is one of those ‘difficult’ years yet already we’ve seen some exciting wines already emerge, Kalleske Greenock Shiraz immediately comes to mind, stunning, generous in fruit and body with silky structure to boot, one for the cellar.