The annual cycle of a winemaker is certainly a curious one. There's no denying though, that vintage is one of the most exciting times of the year. Organisation of machinery, pickers, transport, staff, barrels, storage, tanks, meals, sleep is key but nothing comes close to the final hours of checking Baumé levels and waiting for the final breath from Mother Nature signalling removal of the wonderful juicy fruit from the vines, often under the cover of darkness. There are those who irrigate and those who don't; those who spray and those who won't, old oak, new oak, French oak, American oak, timing and terroir - and for all of these exciting reasons, each glorious bottle of wine you encounter is different to the one even 100 metres down the road.
Where years ago growers would leave the grapes on the vines as long as possible as to yield maximum alcohol and natural sugars from our Australian sun, winemakers are leaning towards fresher, more aromatic blends meaning grapes are lifted sooner as to keep a steady alcohol concentration (13.5-14.5%) and deliver less of those 'jam' like tendencies that Aussies used to love so much (and still do, never fear..)
Rain is also a key decider as our winelovers may already know and can be to the detriment of the vintage, leaving fruit low in sugar and not 'ready' although as the months plough on, the vines are ready to shake them off. In these cases, winemakers may choose to make something lighter such as rosé or blend the lesser grapes into another wine. Sometimes its turned into port..
In McLaren Vale, things are looking good. Mother Nature has lined things up quite well, albeit picking times shifting later in the year ever so slightly. When these photos were taken (9th March) Chalk Hill had picked their Barbera that morning, were harvesting Cabernet Sauvignon for Angove Estate and Curtis Family Vineyards had Grenache and Shiraz in their tanks in various stages with some old vines still waiting for the pick - and hopefully avoiding a bit of tropical moisture in the west of Oz. It hasn't been overly hot, it hasn't been drastically wet (thankfully!) We should expect some pretty good things from the McLaren Vale region.