- Well we’ve come through our first full season of biodynamic viticulture in one piece. It was a challenging season for grape growing: extremely hot, dry conditions early, followed by rain, then a patch of mild weather, then more rain followed by prolonged periods of humidity, then moderate, dry conditions and slow ripening. Throughout the season we weren’t sure whether it was going to be a ‘vintage’ vintage or a complete disaster. Long slow ripening can sometimes produce very good fruit, but then again, the fruit may all go mouldy or never ripen, or both!
A ‘vintage’ vintage and biodynamic viticulture; great coffee in Geelong; Libertine wine dinner (May 2010).
A ‘vintage’ vintage
And what exactly is biodynamic viticulture?
The answer to that question depends who you ask and whether they lean toward the cult-ish or toward the practical version of biodynamics, or somewhere in between. The non-cultist answer from Amietta is that biodynamics is a system of harmonious agriculture developed after the First World War by Rudolf Steiner and others; that it involves using ‘natural’ preparations containing starter cultures of beneficial microbes (e.g. horn manure) in conjunction with nutrient and enzyme preparations (based on dandelion, stinging nettle, yarrow etc.) to produce healthy, microbe-rich soils which in turn produce healthy, disease-resistant plants and high quality fruit; the activities in the vineyard and winery (pruning, spraying, harvesting, pressing wine, racking barrels etc.) are timed to coincide with various astronomical phases – which may or may not make a real difference, but hey …… you have to schedule to do these activities sometime!
So for us, the move to biodynamics has meant that under-vine weeds are controlled by hand-hoeing and whipper-snipper, and that we’ve been spending more time on the tractor spraying the biodynamic preparations to supplement our normal regime of natural anti-fungal products (mainly seaweed and sulphur). And the results? Well, this season has produced the best fruit we’ve ever grown. It could be due to the biodynamic practices, but then again it could be just a product of the seasonal conditions.
Great coffee in Geelong - Post-vintage we’ve had some time to get out and about and are pleased to announce that the previously tragic state of coffee in Geelong has been rectified. The café/winebar Mr Hyde in Mercer Street undoubtedly has the best coffee south of Fitzroy, coupled with a delicious tapas-small meal menu and a good range of wines by the glass. If Mark (the owner) is on the coffee machine, it’s worth a trip from Fitzroy or anywhere else to try one of the ‘single origin’ (as opposed to blended) coffees he uses.
Dinner at Libertine
Tuesday May 18th Amietta is hosting a wine dinner at the marvellous French restaurant Libertine in North Melbourne. Apart from the chance to try all of the current Amietta wine range with perfectly matched food, we’ll also serve a special batch of wine that we’ve made just for this dinner.
The wine is a semi-sweet version of our 2010 Biodynamic Riesling (where we’ve stopped the fermentation early to retain some of the natural grape sugars) which will be served with baked apple pavé, calvados crème and orange blossom sorbet. Phwoahh!
Contact Libertine on 03- 9329 5228 to book or check the
Where did the winter go? James Halliday loves us! Amietta goes biodynamic (Sept 2009)
Where did the winter go? - When you are involved in a vineyard and winery, winter is supposed to be the time to catch up. Catch up with friends and family who you’ve barely seen since the start of last vintage, go to the footy, sort out paperwork, tidy up the winery etc. It’s also the time to prune the vines, visit the accountant (never pleasant) and do some thinking about grapegrowing, winemaking and the meaning of life.
But the dramatic thing about this winter was that we didn’t have one! Or at least, an old fashioned, cold, wet and miserable one. Now that would have been fine if you’d been planning a picnic or an outdoor wedding anytime in August, but we weren’t. What we were hoping for was some quality rain to penetrate into the subsoil. In the absence of moisture, the soil warms up earlier than usual, the vines sprout leaves earlier than usual (in fact the earliest we've ever seen) and the weeds grow with wild enthusiasm. This is a problem because
a) the footy season’s not over yet
b) the weeds are consuming what little soil moisture is available
c) those tender leaves and beginnings of vine flowers are terribly vulnerable to a late winter frost or hail or winter gale force winds.
So as we approach the last weekend in September, it’s an anxious time. Will the Geelong Cats bring home the AFL premiership cup? What if the Bureau of Meteorology is right about hail on Grand Final day? What will that mean for the grape-growing season to come if the shoots are shredded by hail and more importantly what will it mean for our footy team’s chance for glory?
James Halliday loves us! - James Halliday’s 2010 Australian Wine Companion was published in August and we were very flattered by what he had to say about Amietta and our wines. He awarded all of our wines gold or silver medal scores, but reserved particular praise for our 2008 Riesling for which he awarded 95/100 (equal second-top score) and included in his ‘best of the best’ listing of the best Australian Rieslings. Ours was one of only four Rieslings produced in Victoria and the only Riesling grown and made in the Geelong region to make it to the 'best of the best' list. There’s a long story associated with this wine involving a chance visit from a German winemaker and what happens when you take a leap of faith. Email us for the detailed tasting notes if you’d like the full story.
Amietta goes biodynamic- Janet and I have been convinced about the benefits of biodynamic grape growing since we worked a vintage with Michel Chapoutier in France in 2001. Biodynamic viticulture produces high quality, fully flavoured fruit and is an environmentally sustainable way of farming, but it dramatically raises costs because it is labour intensive. We have always farmed semi-organically, which means we’ve used organically approved products on the vines, but used herbicide to control under-vine weeds just prior to the growing season.
However, this season we’ve decided to go biodynamic. The various biodynamic preparations - if you look beyond the hocus-pocus - are essentially starter-cultures of beneficial soil microbes and/or nutrient or enzyme preparations. So biodynamically treated soils have high levels of soil microflora, organic materials and good nutrient balance. All the things you need if you want to grow exceptional fruit. Watch this space ……
Counting our blessings; Is there a better wine than Riesling? March cellar door day (March 2009)
Counting our blessings - After the driest summer ever recorded in southern Victoria, February brought two spells of blistering heat, with temperatures reaching levels not previously recorded at this time of the year (45°C). Can anyone seriously doubt that the climate has changed?
To survive extreme heat when there's insufficient soil moisture, the vines reduce their water loss by dropping leaves and fruit. As a result, we've lost up to 80% of the fruit in some varieties - probably about a 50% loss across the whole vineyard. However, because the vines have sacrificed both leaves and fruit, the ratio of leaf area to fruit-weight remains unchanged and the quality of the fruit that remains won't be diminished. We'll have a smaller harvest than we might have expected, but the fruit we pick should still be of high quality.
Overall, we realise how fortunate we are to have come through this February with only some fruit loss. To the north and east of Melbourne, people have suffered catastrophic losses. In the wine industry, wine distributor Rob Davey and his family perished in the Kinglake fires, vineyards and wineries have been burnt to the ground, the fruit in many vineyards has been rendered useless by smoke damage and there have been complete crop losses from the heat and the drought. So we're not complaining - just counting our blessings.
Is there a better wine than Riesling? - It's a fantastic wine 365 days of the year, but in summer, the crisp lemony refreshing zing of a glass of Riesling is just the best thing. Have it as an pre-dinner drink, have it with seafood, have it with Asian dishes. If you want a crisp, refreshing, aromatic wine, have a glass of good Riesling (low cropped, hand picked, whole-bunch pressed). After all, life's too short to drink Sauvignon Blanc - and waaaay too short to drink Pinot Gris!
March cellar door day- Sunday the 1st of March is our one-day-of-the-month cellar door day. It's probably the last chance to snare a couple of bottles of the beautifully elegant 2005 Amietta Shiraz, as we're down to the last few cases. The 2006 Angels' Share Cabernet-Carmenere is running low, as is the 2006 Shiraz-Lagrein. The irony is that typically, when the wines have matured to the point where they are starting to show their full potential, we run out of stock. Avoid disappointment - get in early!
And then it rained; Cellar Door & Ring Road open (Dec 08-Feb 09)
And then it rained - In November the weather was hot and extremely dry, and all the indicators were that we wouldn’t have enough water for all the vines for the entire growing season. So with gritted teeth, we went into the vineyard and cut back half of our Shiraz vines and half of our Riesling vines. This involved removing most of the leaves, shoots and fruit so that those vines could survive the season without further water. Then, in early December we had 100mm (1 inch) of rain, and the weather has been cool ever since. In retrospect, we could have managed without cutting back our vines! Sigh ……. is it any wonder that farmers complain about the weather?
Cellar Door – as part of the Moorabool Valley wine group, Amietta will now be having a regular cellar door day on the first Sunday of each Month. January 4th was our first day, the weather was warm and the wines found many new admirers – especially the Amietta Riesling. Mark your diaries for Sunday the 1st of February.
Geelong Ring Road – The western part of the Geelong Ring Road is now open, so the trip from Melbourne to Amietta and other Moorabool Valley wineries is faster and smoother. From Melbourne, as you come to the north side of Geelong on the freeway, veer right on the Ring Road; Take the Midland Highway (Ballarat) exit and drive north to find us at Lethbridge. Driving time from the Westgate Bridge to Amietta is now 65 minutes.
Budburst, drought & lunch at Sunnybrae (November 2008)
After a very mild and very dry winter, the first green buds opened on the vines in late September, just a few days after we’d moved our ‘lawn-mowing’ sheep out of the vineyard. Unfortunately, the Spring has been very dry - according to the Bureau of Meterology, the driest Spring ever recorded in southern Victoria. It’s pretty bloody grim! Faced with a severe drought, we’re now taking steps to reduce the amount of water we'll need for the season ahead. As well as mulching the vines and weed control, we’ve also had to make the difficult decision to not take a crop off one of our Shiraz blocks. We’ve started re-pruning that block, leaving just a couple of canes per vine. This will allow the vines to continue growing healthily with minimal water, without the stress of growing and ripening fruit. It’s a pretty drastic step, but it will reduce our water use by about 20%.
On the brighter side, for the next season (vintage 2010) there’s a proposal to construct a pipeline to bring desalinated waste-water from a large quarry on our side of Geelong, to supply irrigators along the Moorabool Valley. If it goes ahead, we’ll effectively be drought-proofed for the future.
In a drought, one needs to find an oasis. There’s one at Birregurra, about 45 minutes drive (west) of Geelong and it’s called Sunnybrae. Sunnybrae is George and Dianne Biron’s marvellous restaurant. But the word restaurant doesn’t begin to describe the generous, friendly, slow-food, home-grown, local produce, gastronomic experience that one has over a long lunch at Sunnybrae. On a Sunday in October, we ate there with Janet’s parents and it was bliss. The winelist is a small one which focusses on quality local producers. Flatteringly, there are three older vintages of Amietta wines on the list: Amietta 2005 Shiraz-Lagrein, Amietta 2005 Angels’ Share (a Cabernet-Shiraz-Carmenère blend) and Amietta 2005 Riesling. We did our best to order wines from other producers on the winelist, but as the main course was wood oven slow-roasted baby lamb, it just cried out for the Amietta Angels’ Share. It was a food-wine match in heaven. Better than good. It was sensational. If you only go to one restaurant this summer, make sure you go to Sunnybrae. It is a truely beautiful thing. And Sunnybrae provides a rare opportunity to see how brilliant the Amietta wines become with a little extra bottle age. How many more reasons do you need to go there?
Pruning, bottling & new releases (May to October 2008)
Vintage is finished, the raw young wines are safely in barrels to begin their maturation and it’s pruning time again. We like pruning. It’s repetitive, meditative, and vine by vine and row by row, there’s a satisfying sense of achievement. At pruning time, the vines are bare and the clouds are scudding across the sky. You’re rugged up against the cold, and the only sounds are the repetitive snip snip snip of the secateurs, the scrunch of boots on the frosty ground and the occasional yelp of pain (followed by a loud curse) when a recalcitrant vine-cane whips back and swats someone across the face. While pruning is going on, we also have a bottling to organise. Sounds simple enough. Put wine in bottles. But there’s blending, filtering of the wines, getting the SO2 levels right, not to mention label printing and delivery of all the consumables. Bottling day arrives and the mobile bottling unit comes to Amietta. It’s an open-sided semitrailer that has integrated equipment for bottle washing, wine filtering, bottle filling, headspace gassing, screw cap application, label application and carton taping. We load the bottles at one end, then pack the finished bottles into cartons and stack the cartons onto pallets at the other end. It’s an exhausting but satisfying day. After bottling, the red wines go into storage for 12 month prior to release, but the demand of our customers is such that we release the whites (Chardonnay and Riesling) a few months after bottling. This year we released the wines to our trade customers in early October and have had great responses. The Amietta 2008 Riesling (made using a range of German-Riesling techniques) has probably been the wine which has made the biggest impression – in part because it has shocked people in the trade to ‘discover’ an excellent Riesling from the Geelong region.
Vintage – the hottest March on record (Mar-April 08); The best Shiraz from Geelong
Although vintage started out as a somewhat ‘normal’ harvest - with the different varieties ripening 7-10 days apart – we ended up having the hottest March ever recorded in the Geelong region, which dramatically shortened the ripening time for the later varieties. We picked Chardonnay on the 3rd of March, Riesling on the 13th, Shiraz on the 19th, Lagrein on the 20th and Cabernet on the 22nd. The last variety to come off will be the Carmenère, which needs plenty of ‘hang time’ to develop full flavour. With the good rains in November and December, the vines had good canopies to protect the fruit from excessive heat and plenty of leaves to allow even ripening and full flavour development. The yields were right in our preferred zone of 1.5 to 2 tonnes per acre and the fruit was perhaps the best quality we’ve seen. All the varieties show intense flavour, good acid retention and (for the reds) great colour. The Gods have been kind.
The best Shiraz from the Geelong region?
In late March we had dinner with our trade distributor (Sarah Andrew of Selador Wines) and two of the directors of a fine wine retail group in Melbourne, both of whom have very sophisticated and very selective palates. One of these gentlemen expressed the view that the Amietta 2005 Shiraz is by far the best Shiraz that he’s tasted from the Geelong region. Needless to say, they are stocking the wine in their stores! We were very flattered by such a big call, but can take little of the credit. Our Shiraz, and in fact, all of our wines are what they are because we have a world class vineyard site that produces grapes of extraordinary character and depth. Our task as winemakers is to allow the vineyard characters (or terroir) to show through in the wines. If you would like to try (or re-try) the Amietta 2005 Shiraz the wine is still available at selected restaurants and retail outlets and of course, can be obtained directly from the winery. See the Buy Wine page for details.
Summer planting; German approaches to Riesling (Nov 07- February 08)
As we’ve seen over recent years, budburst arrived a couple of weeks earlier than the historical average, further reinforcing the reality of climate change and warmer, drier winters in our part of the world. By the time The Mighty Cats (Geelong Footy Club) had won the long-hoped-for AFL Premiership in September 2007, there was significant shoot growth on the vines and a long list of jobs in the vineyard. Despite the forecast for a hot dry summer, we decided to go ahead with a somewhat optimistic plan to grub out and replace about 1500 under-performing vines (about 2 acres). Oh and fix some trellises. And upgrade the irrigation in those areas. In early November when we were sweating in the vineyard on 36° days and the ground was rock-hard and dry, the phrase “seemed like a good idea at the time” did keep coming to mind. Fortunately, the weather Gods were kind and we received unseasonal rain – 3 inches (75 mm) in November and another 3 inches in December. The new plantings survived and have since thrived. And what did we plant? Well, ¾ of an acre of Lagrein, as it grows very well on our Amietta soils and the wine (our Shiraz-Lagrein blend) is a beauty. We planted another acre of Chardonnay (Bernard Clone 95) on the white limestone soil section of the Terrace Block because our tiny supply of White Limestone Chardonnay (1 or 2 barrels each year) sells out almost as soon as it’s released. And we’ve planted a handful of Geisenheim clone Riesling vines in a little patch that was spare – because we are trying to produce enough Riesling so we can put some aside in future years for a ‘mature release’ of 2 or 3 year old wine. Young Amietta Riesling is alluring, but with a bit of age ……. that’s when you really see what the wine has to offer!
German approaches to Riesling
In January, we had a brief holiday in Western Australia and found ourselves in Margaret River tasting and talking wine at Cullens (benchmark Cabernet). There we bumped into a travelling German grapegrower and winemaker, Joachim Mayer who later came to visit Amietta. We spent many days in the vineyard and many late nights (yes, glass in hand) in discussion about whether we might make Amietta Riesling even more delicious by marrying some of the German techniques with what we already do. As a result, we’ve adopted the German technique of late season shoot-tipping, which involves removing the growing tips of the grapevine shoots so that the vine energy is directed into the fruit rather than into the growing tips. Hopefully the result will be more intensely flavoured fruit. During vintage we will also trial some different winemaking techniques which should increase the complexity of the wine.
Secret variety #1 revealed (Sept 07)
As the followers of the Amietta story would know, Amietta is the only vineyard south of the Dividing Range to grow Lagrein, the red grape variety from the Alto Aldige region of northeast Italy, close to the Austrian border. Our Amietta Shiraz-Lagrein is a rich, intense wine that combines earthy/tobacco/mushroom/forest floor characters with the violets, spice and red/black berry characters of Amietta Shiraz. Already, the wine has attracted the attention of influential wine writers and is now only available in limited quantities to our resturant customers. Don't panic - we are still holding stock for our mailing list customers! It's a perfect match with for rich, hearty dishes such as osso bucco, onion and anchovy tart or mushroom risotto.
For quite a while, we've also been working with Secret Variety #1. Now that we feel we understand how produce optimum quality fruit from the variety and also how best to make the wine, we've 'fessed-up'. We were the first in Victoria to plant the 'lost' Bordeaux/Medoc red grape variety Carmenère (sometimes spelled Carmenere). In the 19th Century, the unifying feature of the top Medoc producers was that they had significant plantings of this rather capricious variety (it doesn't set fruit very reliably). Ever wondered what that special and distinctive character in the Amietta Angels' Share blend was? Yes, we confess ...... we've been putting small quantities from the best of our trial batches of Carmenère into the Angels' Share for the last couple of years. With the newly bottled 2006 Angels' Share (for release in winter 2008) we have dropped the Shiraz out of the blend entirely and labeled the wine Amietta 2006 Angels' Share Cabernet-Carmenère. Of course we would say this ....... but ...... it's a cracker! You know how there's a natural synergy between Cabernet and Shiraz in a blend? Well it's nothing compared with the way Cabernet and Carmenère go together. It has a wonderfully intense, taut blackcurrent and violets, with hints of briar, leather and leaf. Very Bordeaux. Very yum!
When will the new releases be available? (August 07)
We often get asked when the new releases will be available. The somewhat Zen answer is always "when the wines are ready". Time is one of the most important ingredients in a quality wine, so we prefer to leave our red wines for about 12 months post-bottling before we release them. Sometimes the wines taste ready before the 12 months are up, and sometimes they need longer. Although we'd released the Amietta 2005 Shiraz-Lagrein after only 8 months in the bottle, we had been waiting for the Amietta 2005 Shiraz and the Amietta 2005 Angels' Share Cabernet-Shiraz to finish "growing up". Now the wait is over. The current releases (2006 Riesling, 2005 Shiraz-Lagrein, 2005 Angels' Share Cabernet-Shiraz and 2005 Shiraz) are all looking absolutely marvellous. They all combine elegance and power; they have beautiful balance and poise. The reds wines show the characteristic vineyard-derived floral/violets; red/black berries; earthy/mineral suite of flavours, while the Riesling is just a crystal clear floral/jasmine/lime/tangy mineral explosion in the mouth. And the Amietta 2005 White Limestone Chardonnay turned a lot of heads on release and sold out in a flash. Apologies if you missed it. To order these wines, just fill and return the order form on the Buy Wine page or email or phone (03-5281-7427). We deliver case lots (12 bottles) free of charge anywhere in Victoria; Sydney delivery is $10/case. For other delivery locations, check the order form or contact us.
Vintage (March-June 07)
Apart from the very low yeilds, which resulted in us processing about 50% less than our average grape volumes, it was a fantastic vintage. The fruit was beautiful, and all the wines pretty much made themselves. Because the weather stayed relatively warm well into June, the wines in barrels finished malolactic fermentation very quickly. This meant that they were microbially stable and secure very early and we could relax and get on with other jobs, such as preparing wines for bottling in late June and starting on the pruning. The wines all show very good varietal character and are very intense. These may be our best batch of wines yet, and tragically, the volumes that will be available for sale will be even more microscopic than usual!
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