Hello to all,
We have begun vintage for this year with the picking of the chardonnay last Thursday, a week later than last year’s pick, but still early when we consider that 10 years ago we weren’t picking until March or April.
This year we have had a tricky season with intense heat through December when the vines were still soft and growing, consistent heat over January and then very little rain. All of this following on from a very dry Spring that left us with half full dams and a limited capacity to irrigate all the vines. February has brought a little relief in that it has been relatively cool and we had some very welcome rain a few weeks ago.
Thursday was delightfully cool and overcast, a perfect start to what can be a very long day. Pickers arrived before 7am and we were out on the tractor fetching buckets half an hour later. The fruit was still cool from the low over night temperature which is a good thing.
Ed, Geof and Jonathan
The white wine grapes are crushed as soon as practical after being picked and, unlike the red wine grapes, are usually pressed straight away rather then leaving them to rest on their skins for a period. We have a basket press for this which is the slow stage of the whole process and necessitates a certain amount of manual labour. We had finished picking by 2pm but were still in the winery at 10pm doing the last of the pressing. As I said, it’s a long day! At least we were better organized than last year when the boys finished at 5am the next day.
This season we have spent considerable time in the vineyard through December and January dropping fruit and paying attention to cropping levels. This works out well in the pinot as we can use the unripe fruit to make Verjus, a staple in our kitchen and an extra product that we can offer for sale. This year we have made 400 litres, the first for 3 years and it looks as though it will be of good quality again.
In the end we picked about 3.5 tonnes of chardonnay and have 2,000 litres of juice from that. It refined but full of flavour: we will see what fermentation brings.
In the meanwhile we are getting ready for the next pick: pinot and shiraz together next Friday. Jonathan estimates that we will have 10 tonnes for the day. There are times that I watch the picking machine in the neighbouring vineyard enviously, but it seems such a brutal process that I can’t see how it would be the best thing for the grapes or vines. So, we have a lot of work to do. Luckily Ed is still around and penniless so we can make use of his energy and strength as well as his engineering brain when things start to unravel, which they always do at some point!
Ed at work
Despite the lack of rain, the vines have done well this year.
This is the first year that we haven’t used any herbicides of any sort and we have found that the under vine mower is working well as a substitute.
Mulching all over the farm is becoming essential: under the vines, in the orchard and vegetables, the paddocks and the garden. We use mostly old, spoilt hay but anything will do: garden clippings, sugar cane mulch, and chipped branches from the power company prunings. The mulch protects the soil from the sun, limits water loss via evaporation and eventually breaks down and adds humus and bugs to the soil. We can cut hay here and do so when we need it. The last of the bales have been spread this week so I will plan to make more this summer. Australian soils are old and often very fragile. I find that our soil does best if it has lots of organic matter and isn’t worked too much nor exposed to our harsh summer sun. The Yarra Valley has dry summers when the soils can set like concrete and then wet winters when everything is either under water or a bog. This is a challenge.
Vineyard orchard with mulch
Kale and chard
I have established both an orchard and a new vegetable garden in the vineyard area over the last couple of years to hopefully bring some biodiversity into the site and, so far, they are doing well. We are enjoying eating our produce: there is nothing quite like anything just picked, and the blackberries have been amazing, so there is plenty of jam in the pantry.
We haven't eaten any of the sheep. I'd rather them as lawnmowers than chops.
We will report back after the end of vintage.
Gang Gangs in the hawthorns