It keeps raining. This photo was taken in my backyard earlier this week after yet another torrential, sub-tropical downpour. This lovely silver birch could no longer support itself in such sodden ground. It seems that the weight of water on the leaves and branches caused it to topple over. There may be more to come.
I have been visiting vineyards in Central Victoria during the week. Everywhere, it's the same story--floods, crop damage, ground too wet to get tractors on and more rain coming. Mildew, both powdery and downy, threaten every vineyard. We have already seen some growers abandon their grapes--unable to sell their fruit, they are not willing to pay for the sprays needed to combat disease. It looks like being the toughest season for many, many years. One grower, who planted his vines more than 20 years ago, told me it was the worst he had ever seen.
So far, the Squitchy Lane vineyard has coped well. There are some very isolated outbreaks of mildew but they have not spread and will dry up once we get some sunny, warm weather. The vines have been thinned to increase air flow and it's working.
But it isn't just a matter of keeping the mildew under control. Poor weather at flowering can have a significant effect on final crop load. Flowering is just about complete in most varieties so next week we will be able to see what damage the weatehr has caused. I expect that crops will be smaller than anticipated because of the rainy weather--the grape berries do not form properly and many are aborted from the bunch in such conditions.
I will post some photos early next week after we have a close look through the vines. In the meantime, let's hope we have seen the end of the rain.
I have been meaning to write something about oak flavours for a while now but couldn't quite decide how to start. While having an early morning coffee with a friend, discussing the shock election result in Victoria, it came to me, as the unmistakeable aroma of fresh coffee filled the room.
This fresh roasted coffee aroma is a wonderful thing and even attracts those who don't drink coffee. It's gloriously evocative, seductive and lives in the memory. The connection with wine comes in the form of oak barrels, which are heated over a fire as part of the manufacturing process. This heat eventually caramelises the oak sugars and forms compounds that add coffee, mocha characters to the wine stored in the barrels. At Squitchy Lane, we don't think these characters are suitable for our wines so we ask our coopers to heat the barrels gently. This more subtle heat provides aromas and flavours in the vanilla spectrum (another most attractive substance). The more roasted flavours are likely to suit fuller-bodied wines such as Barossa or McLaren Vale Shiraz.
We use exclusively French oak, looking for more support and structure from the oak rather than overt oaky flavour, such as American oak can provide.
Most, if not all, barrels used for wine will have some degree of heat treatment. If they don't, you run the risk of raw, sappy wood characters in the finished wine. This is also the case if the oak is not seasoned properly before use.
A winemaking colleague claims that we all love the roasted, toasted flavours seen in oak (and also of course in barbequed meats) because we have an atavistic memory of our caveman days grilling woolly mammoths over open fires. He may be right because I have yet to meet a person who doesn't like these aromas and flavours. The trick in winemaking is to get the balance right and not have them dominate the fruit.
As for the politics, I will leave that for you to judge.
Squitchy Lane cellar door will open this weekend. We have often been asked why we don't have a cellar door for people to visit. The answer (and believe me there was one, it wasn't just that we were lazy and liked the idea of weekends to ourselves) is complicated but the main reason was that we simply didn't have enough wine. Now after a couple of successful vintages we have sufficient stocks from 2008, 2009 and 2010 to justify opening up.
Here's a link to provide more details:
The vineyard is looking extraordinarily healthy and even a little unruly in some parts where we haven't been able to mow due to the wet weather but the overall effect is one that shows the bounty of nature in all its glory.
Why not come out for a visit and tasting?
We have just released the 2010 Fume Blanc. It's 100% Sauvignon Blanc, from our estate vineyard and we have called it Fume Blanc because it's not like your usual every day "Savvy".
It's all barrel-fermented, using a mix of wild and inoculated yeasts, then left in barrel on lees for six months prior to bottling. We want to add texture to the exuberant fruit so that the wine will have layers of flavour, rather than just a straightforward fruitiness.
The palate has stacks of gooseberry and passionfruit richness and on the finish you can see the creamy, slightly cheesey, character added by the wild yeast ferment and the extended lees contact. Don't be put off by my comments on cheesey flavours--they add interest and give a more sophisticated profile to the wine. I think they help the wine match with food also.
We drank this bottle with a mild chicken curry, in spite of all the expert warning that curry kills wine flavour. It didn't, because the wine had a strong personality, the curry was delicately spiced and we were thirsty.
I am fascinated by the colour of red wine. It's an enormously complex and mysterious subject. The compounds responsible are called anthocyanins and they also give many other fruits, not to mention roses, their colour. Anthocyanins in wine are quite unstable, prone to change hue according to wine pH and associated factors but when you see the vivid colour of a young red wine, you never forget it. The only colours I know that are more striking are found in roses.
The photo above was taken in the "Weary" Dunlop Memorial gardens in Benalla, Victoria just 48 hours after Remembrance Day. On an overcast spring day, the gardens were alive with colour and while the rose purists may say that the blooms were slightly past their best, they astonished me with their vibrancy and depth.
We pay great attention to colour in our red wine-making. While big colours are not necessarily what we are looking for, we do want stability and brightness. How we set about achieving that is an essay in itself. Perhaps a subject for a blog at vintage time.....
Halfway through the cheese course at home
The only decent quotations I could find about cheese were (of course) from
"Fromage et pain est medecin au sain."
(Bread and cheese is medicine for the well.)
"S'il qui mange du fromage, s'il ne le fait, il enrage."
(He who does not eat cheese will go mad.)
I particularly like the first one. While I would like to agree with the second, I do know
people who prefer not to eat cheese. It's a mystery to me, but
that's how it is.
Who wouldn't like free wine and cheese for a year? Maybe my cardiologist would have something to say about it but it sounds like an opportunity not to be missed.
In conjunction with our good friends at the Yarra Valley Dairy, we are offering one lucky customer the chance to enjoy the best of the Yarra Valley. Follow this link for more details:
You have to reside in Victoria but if you do, it's a great prize.
The Yarra Valley Dairy is making a name for its artisan cheeses and on weekends it features tastings of Squitchy Lane wines.
I agree with Chesterton who says that "the poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese." I can't understand why, since cheese is milk's leap towards immortality and such heroic effort is usually celebrated by poets somewhere. If you know of any literary references to cheese, please let me know. In the meantime, get yourself a nice chunk of Gorgonzola and settle down for the afternoon. Oh, and don't forget the wine.
The 2009 Red Square blend has been finalised and will be bottled on 29th November.
It is a different composition to the 2008 and that's because of the very small crop from the heat and bushfire-affected season. Apart from a small amount of Pinot Noir, this represents the sum total of our red wine from 2009. We didn't have enough to make a straight Cabernet Sauvignon even though the success of the 2008 made it just about imperative that we come up with one. As for the other reds, let's just say that with a few friends around for an evening, we could have polished off the miniscule amounts available.
Anyway, the blend composition is as follows:
70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 8% Shiraz and 7% Merlot.
The hot season has given a wine with more ripe berry characters than the 2008. In common with many of the reds from 2009, at first glance it doesn't really look like a Yarra Valley wine. Look more closely however and you will see the trademark elegance and restraint. Release date will be around June 2011.
My winner for the day
Melbourne, first Tuesday in November can only mean one thing....a barbeque on the back verandah because it's a public holiday. The weather wasn't inviting (as those of you who watched the running of the Cup will have noticed) but I opened a bottle of the 2008 Red Square and suddenly things looked better.
This is an intriguing wine, being a blend of four varieties. It's relatively low in alcohol (13.0%) as is our custom and it reminds me very much of the wines I grew up drinking. This isn't to say it's old-fashioned, rather that the aromas and flavours are reminiscent of the Yarra Valley wines of the 80's, along with a passing nod to Coonawarra. It's medium-bodied, sleek and charming and very easy to enjoy with some char-grilled chicken fillets and spicy sausages.
The 2009 will be bottled in a few weeks and released in about 6-8 months time. Once the blend is ready to bottle, I'll update this post with a few comments. In the meantime, track down a bottle of the 2008. If you are having trouble finding it, contact the vineyard via the website www.squitchylane.com.au or call us.
For a long time now, there has been talk of alterative varieties being the only interesting thing happening in Australian wine. As someone who has, over many years, grown and made wine with these so-called "alternatives", I disagree with this sentiment and yet I want these varieties to succeed, to increase in importance and to add their unique textures to our drinking experience.If you have a quiet moment with nothing to do except try to figure out how many different wines made from different varieties you have tasted in your life (well, no-one said wine people had to be interesting, did they?) here's a website you might like: www.winecentury.com
Vermentino, an Italian variety now making some exciting wines in AustraliaThis site is essentially a scoreboard to help you tally up these different varieties. There is an astonishing number of varieties listed here and trying all of them should keep even the most committed oenophile busy for a good stretch. My personal tally is over 100 and I am still as keen as ever. My newest one is not even on the lists--it's Yapincak (pronounced yapinjak) and it is grown in a small area in western Turkey. In truth, its real worth is as a table grape since the wine is mediocre and oxidises easily but the grapes taste pretty good. What will be next?