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Earliest harvest on record; Social picking and grape stomping (Mar '07)
The earliest harvest on record.
We had barely finished getting the nets onto the vines (to protect the fruit from birds) in late February, when our first sampling for ripeness revealed that this was going to be a very early vintage. Last vintage (2006) was the earliest on record – fully 5 weeks earlier than the historical average date for our locality. This year, it was one week earlier again. Another feature was that grape varieties that normally ripen a couple of weeks apart, instead ripened together – putting pressure on our small winery space. We picked Chardonnay on Monday 5th of March, Riesling on Tuesday 6th and the ripest Shiraz block on Friday 9th of March. It was an unbelievable - and busy - start to vintage.
Social picking and grape stomping
On the 11th of March we had our annual social picking and grape stomping day at Amietta. A select group of mailing list members came along to help our friends and family pick the second block of Shiraz. After a fabulous lunch of Nicholas’ French-inspired herbed chicken casserole matched with Amietta wines, the team climbed into the vats of grapes for ‘pigeage’ or grape stomping. The consensus was that the texture/sensation of the stomped grape mush was unlike anything ever encountered before, that it was fun and that it left the skin on your legs glowing (after the very sticky juice was washed off). Apart from the recreational and beauty enhancing benefits, the pigeage speeds up the release of colour and flavour compounds from the grapes before the fermentation begins. Ultimately it’ll produce a richer, darker, more complex and fully flavoured wine.
Farewell Milty; a long hot summer for vines & vignerons (Dec '06-Feb '07)
In early December one of our greatest supporters, Milton Clark (Nicholas' dad) died from mesothelioma (asbestos related cancer) just short of his 86th birthday. He was an enthusiastic and knowlegable consumer of quality wine of all kinds, but Amietta wines held a special place in his big heart. He shared them proudly with everyone he came into contact with. This was not for any business-promotional reasons, but simply because he felt he was doing them a favour by introducing them to what he called "a hidden gem of the wine world".
A long hot summer for vines and vignerons
The severe water restrictions across the southern part of Australia have caused most people to realise that climate change is really here. This is not a drought, it's climate change. The weather is hotter, there is less rainfall, more evaporation and greater severity of extreme events. In our region, many vineyards were hit by a number of severe frosts in late Spring, and then had little or no water to help the vines recover. Fortunately our Amietta vineyard is on a steep slope, so was unaffected by frost, and we've had just enough water to keep the vines growing healthily. The yields are likely to be lower (due to reduced soil-water availability) but if we can avoid water-stress during ripening, the fruit quality should be good. On the positive side, the hot, dry weather has meant that the risk of mildew has been very low. The vines have only had one spray (an organic mix of seaweed powder, sulphur and canola oil) for the entire growing season.
Secret Variety #2 unveiled; New wine releases; (Oct-Nov '06)
Secret Variety #2 unveiled/New wine releases
On the last weekend of October we released our new wines and a couple of them turned out to be show-stoppers. Secret Variety # 2 has now been revealed as Lagrein - a rare Italian red grape variety originating from NE Italy (near the Swiss border). Although we felt that our 2005 Shiraz-Lagrein (70% Shiraz-30% Lagrien) still needed a bit more time to recover from the trauma of bottling, it was our top selling wine on the regional Toast to the Coast wine promotion weekend (see below). The wine has very rich/dense dark berry fruit flavours with interesting extra leather, tobacco and earthy complexity. The other two new additions to our range were also very popular: the 2005 Amietta White Limestone Chardonnay and our non-estate 2006 Amietta Sauvignon Blanc. The Chardonnay has rich minerally fruits and beautiful French oak ($27), while our Sauvignon Blanc is made in the French style. That means it's a richer, more complex, barrel-fermented wine ($16) in contrast to the more common green grassy/fruit-salad, New Zealand style of Sauvignon Blanc. Details of these and all other currently available wines (2005 and 2006 Riesling, 2005 Shiraz and 2005 Angels' Share Shiraz-Cabernet) are on the downloadable order form. Just go to the Buy Wine page.
Cellar door for a day (Oct '06)
On the last weekend of October we had our first 'proper' cellar-door at Amietta, as part of the regional Toast to the Coast wine promotion. Our normal 'cellar-door' arrangement is that visitors find a space in the winery to lean on a barrel and chat about wines. On the Saturday our big open kitchen/family room with views across the magnificant (and dry) Moorabool Valley was converted for the day into the cellar door. It was terrific. Then on the Sunday we had a stall at the Toast to the Coast wine fair on the Geelong Waterfront. Over the weekend we were glad to see some of our established mailing list customers, as well as people who'd never tried Amietta wines before. Quite a few of the 'first-timers' were really startled by the quality and intensity of the wines and we were really flattered by the feedback from everyone.
Budburst (Sept '06)
The extremely dry, warm winter resulted in the vines bursting into leaf by early September, so work in the vines started early this season. As usual, we're nervous about the possibility of damaging storms, hail and frost at this time of year. But the bigger concern is the drought and the security of our irrigation supply to keep the vines alive during the hot dry summer ahead. Ahh... the idyllic life of the vigneron!
Bottling and the new baby (June ’06)
It was touch and go. The mobile bottling truck was booked for the 3rd of June, and Janet was heavily pregnant with our our second baby, due on the 9th of June. What if the baby was early? As the picture of Janet on bottling day shows, the baby - who at that stage was called 'Bump' - decided to wait until bottling was finished. Ultimately, the baby was born 11 days overdue by planned caesarean. Our newest winemaker, Liam Patrick Clark was born on the 20th of June and weighed in at a whopping 5053 grams or 11 pounds 1 ounce!
Vintage (March to May ’06)
Looking back, vintage seems to have been a bit of blur. It was extraordinary season where all the grape varieties suddenly ripened within a couple of weeks of each other, with the Shiraz setting the record - being harvested 6 weeks earlier than usual. This isn't 'normal' weather variation, this is climate change. So apart from the fact that this very early vintage is yet another indication that the Earth is accelerating into catastrophic climate change, it was a wonderful vintage. The weather was warm and dry, the yield levels were right where we want them (1 to 2 tonnes per acre) the fruit was excellent, the ferments went smoothly etc. etc.
There were a couple of winemaking variations/changes this vintage:
Riesling - we choose the harvest date for the Riesling on the basis of grape flavours and acid levels. This vintage - being much hotter than usual - we found the fruit had beautiful flavours at grape-sugar levels of 11.4 degrees Baume. Rather than risk losing the acid, we decided to pick earier than usual and made the Riesling with final alcohol level of 11.3%. It has beautiful purity, with floral-honeysuckle characters on top of the normal minerally-lemon-lime-spice that we normally see in the Amietta Riesling.
Rosé - We decided not to make a Rosé‚ this vintage, as the quality of our Shiraz fruit that forms the basis of that wine was just too good to justify bleeding off free-run juice to make Rosé. Apologies in advance to our Rosé fans, but it does mean we have a bit more Shiraz.
Sauvignon Blanc - Our friends at the Mount Duneed vineyard (between Geelong and Torquay, Victoria) found they had some spare fruit from their old vines so we decided to make a French style Sauvignon Blanc. This involves wild yeast, aerative juice handling, barrel fermentation, lees stirring, etc. which gives a richer, multi-layered wine with personality and class. This is a wine for those who are tired of those 'look at me! look at me!' over-the-top tropical fruit and cats' pee Sauvys from NZ and their various imitators. The wine will be released in October '06.
The other wines we made this year (in harvest order) were:
Chardonnay - 1 tonne/acre: whole bunch pressed, wild yeast, barrel fermented.
Riesling - 1.5 tonnes/acre: (picked early to retain acid and floral aromas) cultured yeast, cold ferment.
Shiraz - 1.3 tonnes/acre: different wild ferments (perhaps each block has it's own wild yeasts) pressed early to barrels to finish primary and secondary ferments.
Cabernet Sauvignon (Coonawarra 44 clone) - 1.5 tonnes/acre: 10 days pre-ferment maceration and 20 days post ferment maceration.
Lagrein (formerly called Secret Variety 2) - 1 tonne/acre. In Australia this is a relatively rare grape variety which originated in the cool northern part of Italy near the Austrian border. The primary fruit flavours are of raspberries and ripe dark cherries, as well as having those trademark Italian red wine flavours of leather and tobacco leaf. It also has plenty of tannin.
Secret Variety 1 - 1 tonne/acre: vinified in the same manner as Shiraz. Young wine shows great colour and body. Very promising.
Although the final decision is made in the month prior to bottling, at least some of the Lagrein and Secret Variety 1 will probably be included in our 2006 Angels' Share blend.
Autumn in the vineyard (Early Mar. ’06)
Veraison (where the berries change colour and begin to soften) arrived about 2 weeks earlier than in previous years, so the grapes became more visible and attractive to the birds a bit earlier than expected. But now the nets are on and the birds can only pick the few grapes that protrude through the net. Apart from netting the vines, we’ve been collecting grape samples from each variety to track the progress of ripening and estimate the likely yield. Ripeness is assessed by measurement of sugars and acids, but mainly by taste. Full flavour development is still a few weeks away on most varieties, but all are showing excellent levels of natural grape acids which are so important for wine structure and ageing potential. Likely crop levels are almost precisely at our ideal level of 1.5 – 2 tonnes per acre which gives our wines their intensity and palate length. Overall it looks like being an early harvest, which is a good sign. The years where the grapes ripen early are generally considered to produce the best wines.
Autumn in the winery (Early Mar. ’06)
Mainly we’ve been ‘clearing the decks’ to get ready for vintage. We continue racking barrels (giving the wines the air they need to develop and mature) checking, tasting and doing blending trials. The new barrels have arrived, and we are waiting on delivery of our new wine press. Soon it will be all go!
Mid-summer in the vineyard (Jan. '06)
What a summer! It’s been exceptionally hot and very dry, so we’ve been irrigating the vines more frequently than usual to keep them ‘ticking-over’. In this type of weather it’s important to ensure the vines don’t get too stressed – otherwise they drop leaves (resulting in sunburned fruit, harsh tannins and jammy flavours) and stop producing flavour-precursors in the developing berries. These flavour-precursors are important for the development of wine bouquet during fermentation and they continue to open up during bottle-ageing. The heat and the dry weather have resulted in bushfires across Victoria, with the closest being to the north of us, near Anakie. Although there’s been smoke on the horizon, we haven’t had any of the smoke blowing our way, so don’t have any concerns at this stage (touch wood!) about smoke-damage to the fruit. At this stage most of our berries are still hard and green and about the size of green peas, so we’re about 4-6 weeks from harvesting our earliest variety Chardonnay (we like to pick early in a Chablis style). Riesling follows about 2-4 weeks later, then Shiraz is about 2-4 weeks after that, and finally Cabernet and the other reds come off a couple of weeks later. Between now and harvest we will be doing yield estimates, ensuring the vines are in optimal health (seaweed extract, sulphur, and vegetable oil sprays to prevent mildew) and putting nets onto the vines to prevent bird attack.
Mid-summer in the winery (Jan. '06)
In the winery we’ve been tasting all the wines in barrels and doing blending trials in preparation for our next bottling in June. This is an on-going process, where we continually monitor the development of the wines from each block (where the soils and terroir are different) and assess how they go together. For example, currently the 2005 Shiraz from the River Block has racy acid, red berry fruits and spicy characters, while the 2005 Shiraz from the Gum Tree Block has plush – almost voluptuous red and black berry fruits, with earthy, mushroomy, and gamey characters. Should they be blended or should they be bottled as separate wines? In what ratio? For the Angels’ Share Shiraz-Cabernet, which of the Shiraz blocks/barrels would be the most harmonious match for the tannins and acids of the Cabernet? Time will tell.
Other than blending trials, we are starting to get ready for the next vintage. This means ordering new barrels, checking and cleaning equipment, ordering consumables and generally tidying up.
Late spring / early summer in the vineyard (Oct./Nov. '05)
This is a time of year when we're constantly watching the sky. The weather is highly variable, so there's the risk of hail and storms, late frosts, heatwaves and humidity. After the dry winter we still need rain to fully saturate the soil down to root depth, but if the rain comes with warm humid weather, there's the risk of mildew. We normally try to apply protective treatments (seaweed extract, sulphur and eucalypt+canola oil) to the vines by early November but is often too windy to spray the vines. Wet and windy weather can also interefere with flowering and fruit-set. So not surprisingly, we're hoping for generally calm warm weather with good weekly falls of spring rain.
Late spring / early summer in the winery (Oct./Nov. '05)
In the winery, things are much less stressful than in the vineyard - aided somewhat by the great feedback we've received from customers and wine writers who've tried the newly released wines. The 2005 wines in barrels have all had their end-of-winter sulphur additions (to maintain microbial hygene) and will have their first racking in December. They all look very promising .
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