It has been a cold, wet and very winter-like winter so far. Misty mornings, poor visibility until the sun breaks through around noon on the good days while the bad days are gloomy and continually overcast.
This photo was taken near Yarra Glen this morning. The rather spooky graveyard feel seemed somehow appropriate for the chilly morning and the continuing bad news in the wine sector. Wineries and vineyards for sale, far too much cheap wine on the market and a decline in consumption in Australia mean a pretty dismal outlook.
But over in Bordeaux, the 2010 en-primeur campaign look set to reach record price heights. $1200 a bottle? No problem, can't get enough of it. Meanwhile, Chateau Lascombes, a second growth property, has sold for 200 million euros. If we take the 50 million euros worth of stock out of the equation, that works out at about $A 1.7 million per hectare. I guess the chateau and grounds is worth a bit too so let's call it $1.5 million per hectare. Here in Australia, real estate agents will tell you that having a vineyard on land for sale actually reduces its value!
2011 Fume Blanc will be bottled next week. I am always excited by and about wine but it's not very often that I am genuinely thrilled, in the way that I am by this wine.
It's the result of experimentation, hard work, experience and luck.
The experimental part was the fermenting of the entire batch in small oak barrels with one new French barrel included. We have done this before (2010 Fume Blanc) but not with the new oak.
70% of the barrels were not inoculated--they fermented with the natural indigenous yeast on the grapes. The remainder were fermented with a relatively neutral yeast chosen for its simplicity. We didn't want anything in the way of the fruit.
The hard work came with monitoring each individual barrel. Just about all Sauvignon Blancs are fermented in tank so you have one fermentation to look after, not a multitude. We also stirred the barrels, just as in Chardonnay production.
The experience was knowing what outcome we wanted, from tasting other wines, tasting our grapes and knowing what was possible.
The luck allowed us to harvest these grapes in very good condition in the difficult 2011 vintage (the second-wettest on record apparently). Disease was all around us but the Sauvignon Blanc survived.
The wine itself is pure class--it has more style than Karl Lagerfeld and Coco Chanel combined. More detailed tasting notes will follow once we have it bottled and settled down.
It's widely believed that the first impression is most likely to be the correct one, especially when tasting wine. That may help to explain my spice metaphor in the photo here. I sat down to review this wine on Wednesday, not quite sure how I wanted to describe it for the blog.
The first thing that struck me was the exotic spiciness, something I haven't seen so prominently before. In an instant, I was transported to the spice market on the shore of the Bosphorus in Istanbul.
The more I tasted the wine, the more the spice became a fixed part of the profile--never quite as remarkable as on my first acquaintance but there nevertheless. Other features revealed themselves as the wine opened up--silkiness, the jube-like fruit characters of the MV6 clone, the smoky waft of new French barrels for example--but the spice remained.
Go with the first impression is the message I have learned from too many embarrasing blind tasting experiences. Waiting and trying to analyse too deeply can get you into trouble. So spiciness is the word on this one.
It's released now and available on the website. The really good news is that we have made a reasonable volume, thanks to the weather gods of 2010.
We are getting an early start to pruning this year. The vines are ready and I have a suspicion that, despite the cold weather, we will see an early spring. That means the vines will be translocating the sap early as they come out of dormancy and it's not a good idea to be cutting into the canes at this time.
You can see from the photos that we use the cane pruning method.
This means that we select two or three healhy canes and the remainder of the summer's growth is pruned away. It's there in the vine row behind this pruned vine (it's a Cabernet Franc). These retained canes provide the framework for next year's growth. Each bud on the cane will grow into a shoot and each of these shoots will have one or two bunches of grapes. This is the way we control the crop level--on this vine for example, we have left 6-8 buds per cane. Once the vine is growing, we will come through and remove any shoots we think are weak or poorly positioned to further reduce the crop.
But we haven't finished yet--these canes need to be tied down along the trellis wire to spread the new growth and allow sunlight and air to penetrate, avoiding a dense, compacted canopy.
We have completed this procedure in the Pinot Noir as you can see here:
Now we are ready for spring. That's if it stops raining.
Continuing the metaphorical approach to wine description, here's my take on the 2011 Pinot Noir. The thing you need to remember about 2011 is that it could have all gone badly wrong at any moment as the photograph above illustrates. We did survive but it was a wild ride.
There were times when I thought we were about to be hammered, and I am sure the gentleman in the photo felt the same way as he was riding this monster.
But in the end, there was beauty and truth. Those of you who surf may understand exactly what I mean and those who don't may prefer to wait until they can taste the wine. It's turning out better than we might have hoped as we stared at another rainy, cold day in February. In fact, it's turning out like a respectable Burgundy. It's got the forest-floor characters, it's got the slightly funky and leafy notes and it's got the very-difficult-to describe-accurately dusty/earthy thing. We will follow its progress with great interest, given how much of ourselves we invested in it.
By the way, the 2010 is about to be released. It will be available on the website from July 1st.
I have been tasting the 2011 Chardonnay from barrels. It's been difficult to pin down accurate tasting comments on this elusive wine so I thought I would do it in pictorial form--with a piece of Strathbogie Ranges granite.
If you could imagine tasting this rock, you would have some idea of how the wine tastes. It's flinty and full of minerality but that's only half the story. There is a lively thread of citrus running through the wine.
This adds a freshness and fruit definition. It's important not to be frightened of the rocky nature of the wine at this point in its development. Barrel maturation will add its own characters over the next six months and the result will be an excellent Chardonnay in the Squitchy Lane tradition--low alcohol, refreshing and complex.
I am continuing my campaign against the idiocy and trivialisation the of cork vs other closures debate. Have a look at this new video from the "100% cork" group:
Can they be serious?
Cork is a technically inferior closure. That is the end of the debate, as far as I am concerned. If environmental issues matter to you, there are far more effective ways of making a difference. Cut down on your air travel--stop taking those overseas holidays for example.
Convince me that corks are superior and I'll send you a free case of wine (sealed with a screw-cap).
As you can see, autumn is here. All the grapes have been harvested and we are waiting for the leaves to fall from the vines before we begin pruning.
It has been a challenging season, to say the least. The lush growth in the vine rows that you can see in the picture here gives some idea of the rainfall we have experienced. In a "normal" year, this grass wouldn't exist. Instead, we would have a brown, dried-up sward and in some parts of the vineyard, there would be no cover at all on the soil. So while we have battled the rain, the overall vineyard health has never been better. This should lead to a great season next year....
In the meantime, here's an update on the 2011 wines:
Fume Blanc--quietly maturing in barrel, looking very crisp, passionfruity and long. We plan to bottle in July, a little earlier than in 2010 to give the wine time to settle down in the bottle.
Chardonnay--there is a lot of talk amongst winemakers about the high acidity this year and in some wines (chiefly reds) that may cause a problem but in the Chardonnay it just lifts and drives the wine, rather like Adam Gilchrist lofting the ball straight down the ground over the bowler's head for six. This is going to be a classic Chardonnay year, although the wines may need some time before they show their best. Our 2008 has taken three years to blossom and the 2011 wines will certainly need just as long. We are determined to hold it in our cellars until we see it starting to show its true form.
Pinot Noir--a nice contrast to the juicy, succulent 2010, this is more structured and tight at this stage. It will open up with time in barrel and looks more in line with our 2008 which had a bright, savoury thread through the middle palate. We have it settling down in small French oak casks, one-third of which are new and it will remain there for another 6-7 months.
Merlot--this is a leafy, spicy style with a degree of elegance. It will also need time to show its best.
Cabernet Sauvignon--enigmatic as only this variety can be. One day it looks solid and structured, another day it looks rather restrained and shy. I haven't made up my mind on this one yet. I have a feeling that it will look great in ten years but in the intervening period, who knows? There is some work to be done on making sure this wine goes into the most appropriate barrel. We don't want to add too much oak tannin but neither do we want to add smoky, toasty characters. A barrel that preserves, supports and integrates with the fruit is required.
Budget night tomorrow--not the winery's but the nation's. No rumours about wine and taxation so let's hope that the Government don't have any surprises for us.