It seems like forever since I last wrote but with the new financial year upon us it is timely to be sending out our latest irregular update on our activities. I am beginning to write this on a business trip to Brisbane and surrounds and am finding it hard to keep my optimism in check such has been the response to the wines at both public tastings and in the trade. Our Joven came second in sales volume at a recent tasting interestingly the wine that came first was a straight Tempranillo which indicates that amongst that crowd at least the Tempranillo based wines are ticking the boxes.

There has been a fair bit said about the growing season leading up to the 2011 vintage. Our own personal story within the bigger picture is what I would like to talk about here. Good winter rains had our dams overflowing and a full soil profile for the second winter in a row. After the years of drought a body could get used to this! From the beginning the season was always going to be a late one, initial sap flow through woolly bud to budburst all occurred a good 1 – 2 weeks later than “average”. Which coming after a run of years stretching back to 2005 when budburst has been 1 – 2 weeks earlier than average was very noticeable. A nice moist Spring followed, I was kept busy on the tractor putting our fungal protection programme into effect consisting of fortnightly sprays of milk whey and homemade Casuarina tea as well as mowing regularly. Due to the rain we had to mow the whole vineyard twice more than normal. Things got a bit tougher on the 10th of December when we had 4 inches overnight followed by 3 days of moist, overcast weather. Rather inauspiciously I had chosen the 10th of December as the date I would get an annoying little hernia op done which was supposed to lay me up for about two weeks. This on the bright side meant that I had a good cover on the vineyard prior to the big rain event but no fungicide cover chemical or biodynamic can withstand a rain event like that one. Luckily I come from a family of fast healers and 5 days after the op was back on the tractor again to reapply. Needless to say we did sustain some infection mainly restricted to glabarous varieties like Grenache and Pedro but showing up all over the vineyard. This necessitated a resort to the big guns of Copper Hydroxide and Wettable Sulphur. We undertook a bit of cultural control in that we hand trimmed individual infected vines to reduce the extent of disease spread post infection. I believe this really helped us later in the season. Later December and January were relatively dry and sunny but rains in February had me spraying again where normally this would not be required. At this time we placed a lot of faith in biodynamic preparation 501 (horn silica), summer horn clay and our own Casuarina tea. I have to say we had some luck and a bit of wisdom on our side during this time. Luck came in the form of dodging a couple of bullets rain wise, 2 or 3 times during February we watched the satellite imagery of quite heavy rain clouds passing just to the north or south of us while we had less. An example was when Ebenezer copped 3 inches while we had a bit less than an inch. The wisdom came in the form of site selection. The free draining and rather infertile Vine Vale sand is perfectly suited to our version of viticulture and this season demonstrated we have chosen well in our endeavour to find a truly sustainable vineyard site. Eden Valley had a bit more pressure but out permanent sod culture worked wonders in allowing free access after rain events either for spraying or harvesting, an example had us harvesting just hours after a 2 inch downpour that would have caused quite a deal of damage to a 20 tonne parcel of Riesling that had been booked for a couple of days later. Vineyards on heavier soils or managed using tillage for weed control suffered a lot more due to water lying around in puddles restricting access and festering disease. The rain did catch up with us in the end with a final hurrah of 2 inches but thankfully we had the whites off in Vine Vale and the EV Riesling came off straight away as mentioned before. We did hold the fruit for our own EV Riesling for a further 2 weeks to get the flavours we are after and the reds followed another couple of weeks later than they would have been.

Our vintage started 20th of February with Semillon for Verjuice (see later in this newsletter for details) and continued at a steady pace. We outsourced our white crush, drain and press to Damien Tscharke’s winery this year as he allows me freer access to entire process rather than just making the pressings cut as previously. This is the first year I have truly flown solo in our white production, previously I have always bounced my ideas off of the fantastic Colin Forbes as we progressed each wine forward and I would like to acknowledge his input into our whites over previous years. I am confident that the whites this year will stand up amongst the best we have ever produced with our Eden Valley Riesling (going through preparation for bottling at the moment) showing the potential to outshine even the 2006 such is the quality. Red wine processing began as always with our Joven. In an “I can’t believe I haven’t thought of this before” moment I decided to co ferment the Tempranillo with our small parcel of Bastardo fruit. In contrast to the 12 Be˚ sour cherries of the Temp. the Bastardo came in at 14.5 Be˚ and tasting distinctly of Ribena Cordial. The bush Vine Grenache component was co fermented with the Monastrell later and the blend is now together and this year’s Joven is looking more sinuously complex than ever before. Things were travelling quite well when for want of a better description I will call “the great Shiraz disaster” happened. I will pause now for a short viticultural explanation. Way back during our dreamy spring the conditions were quite moist during Shiraz flowering and cap fall. Cap fall is when the remnants of the flower structure are shed from the newly fertilized embryonic grape berry. This causes a microscopic wound that heals quite quickly leaving behind a scar that is still visible on the fully mature berry as a small spot opposite the pedicle (stem). During times of high disease pressure Botrytis can enter the berry via this microscopic wound before it heals and lie dormant as a latent infection like a time bomb waiting for the right conditions to go off. We had picked our first couple of parcels of Shiraz from behind the house the Shiraz Muscadelle and Shiraz Cinsalt co ferments, we had also picked our largest block of Shiraz for delivery to Hewittson Wines and all was looking well. I diverted my attention for 2 days to harvest and process our Eden Valley Riesling and while my back was turned the conditions in the remaining Shiraz sugar and pH came right and the bomb went off. Such was the extent of this disaster that within a couple of days I had a call from the bank manager of all people asking “how are you going”. A neighbour up the road lost 600 tonnes of Shiraz if the rumour mill is to be believed and 300 meters down the road another lost 500 tonnes. The pain of this event is still being felt across the region. For our part 2011 Shiraz will be in short supply. Providence allows that we have a good supply of the excellent 2009 Shiraz in bottle and an even greater supply of the “vying with 2006 for vintage of the decade” 2010 in tank and barrel to cover the lack. After the short holiday caused by little Shiraz the major red wine project of the vintage began. I sometimes wonder if it is possible that people get some concept of the amount of work that goes into our Barossa Valley Blend when they taste it. This year was even more complex as I have included Marsanne and Rousanne in the mix. The Shiraz, Cinsalt, Carignan, Mataro, Marsanne and Rousanne components of this blend are so small the co fermentation is really the only road to success. Once again the blending was done in the vineyard and the resulting wines sit in various barrels and tanks like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle waiting to be put together. Grenache after the lean 2010 vintage was quite fecund giving us the luxury of 3 separate pickings to provide a range of flavours for the blend. Unfortunately for the fans there will be no Eden Valley Red Blend this vintage, they will have to buy up big on the 2009 (out now and looking sooooo smart) and the 2010 lurking larger than life in the barrel. A very tidy parcel of Eden Valley Cabernet harvested on 9th of May rounded out a very long and successful vintage for us.

Where does this all leave us as producers and consumers? The numbers out now indicate that vintage 2011 has delivered greater volume than 2010 which while not peak production was not far short. This in spite of a reduction in total vineyard area and some fearsome disease pressure. Cost of production for most producers will be the highest for quite some time due to the extra sprays required to keep everything in check. Anecdotally there is a reasonable amount of top level wine around but once you get down to the middle price points the pickings are quite thin on the ground. Presumably this would equate to some shortening of the bread and butter $10 – 20 price bracket but as this area is so well supplied at the moment this may not be noticed. If some of the stories floating around about wineries accepting fruit at up to 50% botrytis infection are true then there will be absolute oceans of $2 chuck out there for us all to enjoy. Another factor is the significant increase in enquiry from China and SE Asia for wine at decent price points. They are looking for the wine quality and brands that are being sold domestically not some made for Asia brand with gold leaf, a rooster and the number 8 on the label and balsamic vinegar inside the bottle. This demand is doing something to reduce the bulk wine registers around the place that provided such rich pickings for cleanskin bottlers, I even saw someone on line offering upfront payments for bulk wine something we haven’t seen for quite a while.  Another interesting development was the purchase of Cellarmasters by Woolworths. As well as giving them a serious on line sales presence the purchase has also given them a significant production and packaging capability which is of course fundamental to producing a genuine homebrand range of wines. As an aside they also now own the name of our subregion “Vine Vale” by trademark.  Watch this space!

In 2010 we made 20 cases of verjuice as an experiment using fruit from our seriously old vine Semillon vines that I am hoping to keep in the ground for future generations. Following a couple of successful days selling it at the Barossa Farmers Market and some nice feedback from various early adopters around the traps we have boosted production this year to 140 cases. It is a lovely product, we use it all of the time and we are sure you will too, so as a special introduction for our mailing list customers every case of wine bought in response to this newsletter (see specials below) will receive a complimentary bottle of verjuice for you to try out yourselves. For those who don’t know verjuice is the juice of half ripe grapes which can be used as a mild acidulant in cooking wherever you would use wine or vinegar, we also have it mixed with mineral water as a refreshing spritzer on a hot day. Verjuice production was pioneered by the Barossa’s very own Maggie Beer and she has an excellent little cook book entitled Cooking with Verjuice which is full of creative ideas.

All work and no play makes everyone very grumpy so after a long vintage it was great to take a break in Vietnam, the kid’s first OS trip and a thoroughly agreeable place it turned out to be. While there I undertook a little volunteer work at KOTO I was helped in organising this by our friends at Fermentasian this fantastic wine friendly Vietnamese restaurant in Tanunda is our current fave. We sent some tasting notes ahead for translation and took a box of wine for the students to try and had a great tasting and discussion at both the HCMC and Hanoi campuses. It was great to be able to contribute something to such a worthy NGO.

Following our second audit in January 2011 we have now received our Certificate of Compliance In Conversion Australian Certified Biodynamic. This is for our Vine Vale vineyard and the confidence we gained through the aforementioned growing season has given us the courage to progress to include our Eden Valley property this year. Eden Valley will be more complex as it includes our olive and sheep enterprises as well.

God it’s cold! Even when we were in Darwin on the way back from Vietnam it was cold! Winter warmers must be the order of the day. So let’s keep it simple buy a case of red from our current release range, your choice mixed or straight any combination, delivered to you for $250 that’s 25% off the price AND free delivery this month only PLUS receive a complimentary bottle of verjuice in the top of the box. Just reply to this email with your choice, preferred delivery address and payment details, credit card number and expiry or funds transfer date and customer reference to 015500 4880 59435 and we will do the rest.

Our current release range is as follows;

2011 Semillon Verjuice

2010 Barossa Valley Riesling, Eden Valley Rosé, Barossa Valley Joven, Eden Valley Riesling.

2009 Semillon, SSB, Grenache, Cabernet, Barossa Valley Red Blend and Eden Valley Red Blend.

2008 Barossa Shiraz. Just a few cases left then on to the 2009.


Hope to catch up soon!

Wayne Ahrens

PS. It looks like an impromptu wine dinner in Cairns on Wednesday 27th July is happening, please let me know if you happen to be there on holiday and would like a seat!