It is mid May and we have finally finished placing all the new wines into barrel to finish the malo-lactic fermentation (MLF). Looking back on vintage 2009, it is apparent that it was an unusual vintage but one which offered opportunities to make really fine wine.
The winter of 2008 was wetter and longer than normal with a record rainfall of 196 mm in July and 167mm in September. This was good for getting moisture in the soil, but it delayed budbreak until late September. The bud break was even and once it got going the vineyards became green very quickly.
Early summer was comparatively cool, with average temperatures rarely going above 21 degrees, which delayed ripening but fruit integrity was preserved and phenolic ripeness happened slowly but steadily. In early February all the varieties showed slower ripening which was great, but there was a concern about tannin ripeness. This is where our crop control really helped, by limiting the crop load on the vines they managed to show steady and progressive ripening. The Pinot Noir was harvested in the first and second weeks of February, before the really warm weather and the pH, acidity and fruit purity were amazing, benefiting from the cooler weather and plentiful soil moisture. The Pinot is now finished with MLF and we are particularly excited about these wines.
Chris Williams - Cellar Master
In late February the weather warmed up and became dry, accelerating ripeness but there was a concern about lack of soil moisture to ensure proper ripening. We monitored our neutron ground probes and played a waiting game. We are fortunate to have a significant amount of clay in most of our soils so ripening was slow, but steady and the vines showed little or no stress, so we bit the bullet and waited. It paid off.
Unusually, some of our new Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards ripened earlier than Merlot and Cabernet Franc, but I think this is because the crop was naturally decreased by strong winds during flowering. The quality was lovely, with high natural acidity and just-ripe tannins and fruit flavours-we expect these wines to be vivacious and charming.
Amid beautiful Indian-summer days the Merlot started showing signs of being ready and we systematically began bringing in perfectly formed, healthy and evenly ripe bunches. The skins were thick and packed with flavour and the fermentations proceeded at a steady pace. We pressed and got them into barrel as quickly as possible where they are now busy with MLF, although they are taking their time! Could this finally be the Merlot vintage we have been waiting for?
As mentioned, the various Cabernet vineyards ripened in their own time, with the younger vineyards coming in early and the more established blocks taking their own time. The Cabernet Franc was picked on exactly the same day as last year and we were impressed with the low pH's and uniform ripeness. Again, the tall, green canopies showed no sign of stress on account of the moisture- rich clay subsoil and I predict linear, poised wines with dark fruit flavours from our Cabernet Franc this year.
Our Chardonnay was late and we picked 3 different lots from our 2 vineyards. We had to be selective as there was a little uneven ripeness, but this is not so critical with white wines. Nevertheless, all the Chardonnay was in by the 16th of March and was in the barrels by the 18th. Again, the modest alcohols, high acidity and lovely citrus flavours are very promising.
The picking was all over by the 24th of March with the older Cabernet vineyards coming in showing small berries, thick skins concentrated musts and wonderfully ripe, structured tannins. These wines are now finishing MLF in barrel and we will do our formal assessment of the wines in July, but I am very pleased with the preliminary results.
We brought in all our grapes to our totally re-vamped winery and despite still having workmen and welders in the winery during harvest, we didn't have any major technical glitches. It took us a day or two to get used to the quirks of the new process flow, but our assistant winemaker Altus Treurnicht quickly figured out how to get the best out of the equipment and by the end of harvest things were going very smoothly. We actually got to bed relatively early most nights!