Springtime in the Yarra Valley

Spring has finally arrived and brought with it the usual chaotic weather conditions. 25 degrees one day: hail and thunderstorms the next.

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Wind has to be the defining feature of this time of the year. We seem to have had weeks of ferocious northerlies that threaten to blow us off the ridge and then the equally westerly squalls that catch the trees unawares, blowing them over or scattering broken limbs about the paddocks. On my morning walks with the dogs I note the damage from the previous day and then give Jonathan his chainsaw tasks for the day. Sadly, our beautiful river gum in the centre of the vineyard was caught by one of these westerlies and has been irreparably damaged when it fell. The big trunk was quite hollow inside and used extensively by the birds for nesting sites. These old trees are so precious. It was our only significantly mature tree. Everything else has been planted by us over the last 25 years and won't mature in our lifetime. It takes 150 years for eucalypts to mature to the point that they develop hollows useful as nesting sites for native animals. (don't get me started on clear fell logging old growth forests!!)

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The plus about the windy and warmer weather is that there has been no further frosts. The frost affected vines are recovering well and we are seeing strong shoots from the bases of the spurs that will take over next year without major changes to the established structure of the cordon. This is positive.

Flower shoots are forming.

Hail continues to be a lurking threat. When the sky darkens and the temperature drops and we hear the tinkling patter of ice on the tin roof, we hold our breath and pray that it is brief and fine. No golf balls please!! Some years ago a number of vineyards in the valley were completely defoliated by hail.

The young vines are growing well but need daily attention so that they can make the most of the warmer temperatures. Unfortunately, the snails have discovered the new shoots in their protective guards, so we have had to declare war on these pesky mollusks. What a pity we can't eat them! A little garlic and some French butter......!

We have the 2011 chardonnay in the winery now and have been tasting the different barrels. The question is always: to blend, or not to blend. Good fun.

Summer heat in the vines 2014

Hi All,

Welcome back after what I hope was an enjoyable holiday break for everyone. What a hot spell we had in January! Our guests from the UK got a good taste of an Aussie summer this time but it created problems for the vineyard and the farm in general. The potential for fire is never far from our minds at this time and we had our fire plan ready from the first heat wave.

The garden is very dry ,though the deciduous trees around the house seem to be doing well. We water only pots and vegetables usually but I have put some water onto the lawn immediately in front of the house in the hope that it would slow a grass fire and buy us some extra time.
Even the indestructible agapanthus haven't enjoyed the intensity of the late afternoon sun.

The vineyard has dried out considerably and the heat has hastened veraison, the time when the grapes begin to colour and the bunches to fill out. These pinot bunches are part the way through veraison.

 Similarly the cabernet, though not as advanced. All the varieties develop in their own time.!

Evidence of some of the problems in the vineyard this season remain visible.
A hail storm in late November caused vine, leaf and berry damage.

Sunburn on the west-facing leaves of the chardonnay. Any exposed fruit can be similarly burned.

The young vines, our hopes for a Bordeaux blend, are doing well with a bit of extra water when it is very hot.

Last week the girls and I went to Daylesford for the day and really enjoyed some Medlar jelly as an accompaniment to cold meats, so we are treasuring our baby medlar trees and look forward to their fruits!

The meadow seed mix that I broadcast in autumn has resulted in a selection of herbs coming up in the vineyard inter rows which we hope will seed and spread further and continue to attract beneficial insects.

Our views have changed from the lush green of spring to the golden yellows of summer. Dried grasses that catch the light and lend a stark contrast to the greens of the vine canopy and the surrounding trees.

As the grapes ripen the birds decide that they would like some of the action, so it is time for netting. The nets aren't foolproof but keep most critters out. They have to be checked daily in case birds become trapped inadvertently and need rescuing. Occasionally a snake gets tangled and that presents an interesting challenge!

Our new mowers for the vineyard arrived just before Christmas and have settled in well. They are enjoying their new home and the shade of the oaks in the heat of the day. I have tried in vain to make friends which is very vexing. Not even a bucket of oats will tempt them yet: too much grass!

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So we are rolling rapidly towards vintage 2014. More nets on this evening: the main block chardonnay.

Tomorrow we pick part ripe pinot to make verjus the delicious liquid that comes from crushed, unripe grapes and used as an alternative to vinegar, lemon juice or white wine in many dishes and sauces. Every winter we bake quinces in verjus, adding only raw sugar and a vanilla pod. After 6 hours in the oven, the quinces are dark red and have an amazingly intense flavour. 

A Happy New Year to everyone and stay cool!

best wishes
Andrea 

Frosty mornings

I love frosty mornings: the days when I have to don endless layers before venturing outside. The dogs love these mornings as well.

They seems to be able to follow a scent, despite the freezing conditions. We make tracks wherever we go.

Roger loves to run with the grass crackling underfoot.   

Maggie stays close to me. She is my guardian and always on the lookout for problems ahead!

The vines are content on the frosty days, dormant and well insulated against the ice and cold.
The wintery weather almost feels cleansing, allowing, or even requiring, a period of quiescence where plants and animals alike gather strength for the busyness of the months to come.

BUT, and this is a big but, there is also the Spring frost.

Last week, Friday morning to be exact, the temperatures dropped below zero in the early hours of the morning and the valley awoke to frost again. We are about 2 weeks into budburst. The chardonnay first, then the pinot. followed by the shiraz and finally the cabernet.

Budburst looks like this:

Then some days later the first shoots:

But then comes the first frost, burning the new, tender leaves.

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The damage is mainly in the southern sections of the chardonnay and pinot. It looks as though the cold air has bounced its way down the vineyard, completely missing some sections and landing with a resounding thump on others. We can only hope that the vines have enough energy to re-shoot and then flower.

Meanwhile spring has really sprung and most of the animals and plants don't seem to have noticed the cold snap at all.

The geese don't care about the weather it seems.

And the oaks relish all weathers putting on a beautiful lime-green display for all to see. 
still love my frosty mornings, but it is all in the timing!!!!!!