The Weekend Winemaker – Blog
Have you ever thought about what goes into the humble glass of wine? If so, then join us on this journey of the 2018 vintage. Over the next year and a half we, the “Weekend Winemakers” will take you through the process required to produce that glass of wine.
The “Weekend Winemakers” participate in a winemaking course run by Peter Mitchell in Red Hill. The course which goes by the name of “The Heartbreak Grape” is named after the book written by Marq de Villiers and is about his search for the origin of the perfect pinot noir. That is what this course is all about, producing the best pinot noir we can. Not being a commercial winery operation we don’t have the constraints of having to produce a wine to make money. Therefore we have the benefit of producing wine for our own enjoyment.
We have been participating in this wine course since 2004 having begun the course at Tucks Ridge. The 2011 vintage was our last at Tucks Ridge due to a change of ownership. Since then we have been located at the picturesque Winbirra vineyard. This vineyard is on a north facing slope and houses four different clones of pinot noir grapes. Having access to all four clones allows us to be experimental in the winery by blending combinations of these clones to produce a better wine.
July 2017 – Pruning
It’s the middle of winter and the vines are dormant. The vines shut down during this colder period and the sap stops flowing. This is the time to prune the vines in readiness for the coming vintage. The vines are trellised in VSP (vertical shoot positioning) which allows for the best method of canopy management and fruit production. This is the preferred trellising system used on the Mornington Peninsula with a small number of vineyards using the lyre trellising system which has twin fruiting wires for each vine.
Pruning day is cold but the sun is out which you can feel the warmth on your back whilst you are working on the vines. We cane prune the vines which involves cutting back the vine so that you are left with two canes from the previous year which are then wrapped along the fruiting wire. From the nodes running along the cane new shoots will grow in an upright position which will be trellised between the wires. It is far more labour intensive than spur pruning which is commonly used however it helps to produce the best fruit.
The challenge on this occasion is that the vines had uneven growth the previous year and some vines have smaller than desirable canes to wrap down. This unevenness is believed to a legacy of a bad spray combination on the vines a couple of years ago. Despite this challenge we manage to complete pruning in record time. Thanks to some intensive lopping a couple of years ago, the crowns of the vines are below the fruiting wire allowing for an easier pruning session.
Now we must wait until spring when the vines come back to life with new shoots of green growth.
September 2017 – Bud Thinning & Blending Trials
Spring has arrived and so have the green buds on the vines, signalling the start of a new vintage. This session in the vineyard is a short one and involves the removal of excess buds from the vines. We are seeking an even growth of shoots along the vine. The removal of excess buds controls the amount of fruit produced by the vine. It also helps with airflow through the vine during fruit ripening season where over congestion can lead to mildew and disease occurring.
We take the opportunity to conduct some blending trials of the 2017 vintage which is currently fermenting in barrels. Generally a winemaker will ferment their fruit in smaller batches, whether that be due to different clones of the grape variety, a variation in picking days, or even fruit from different vineyards. The art of blending it to take two or more components of wine and blend them to produce a wine that is better than any one single component. If a single component is better than a combination, then why tamper with perfection! We are quite satisfied with how the 2017 vintage is coming along and look forward to bottling it in the new calendar year.
October 2017 – Shoot Removal & Wire Adjustment
As you would know from your own garden, plant growth is vigorous in spring and so too in the vineyard. This session follows on from our previously where we were looking to control the level of new growth on the vines. Those buds have developed into shoots and in places there are too many of them. Again we remove the excess shoots as well as any growth appearing on the trunk of the vine. Budburst has occurred and there are small bunches of fruit developing on the vines.
The vines are trellised in VSP (vertical shoot positioning) which is achieved by having the shoots grow in an upwards direction between several rows of wires. These wires need to be adjusted during the growing season to ensure this upright growth. If the shoots start to grow outside of these wires, the vines will develop a sloppy canopy which can be damaged by strong winds and tractors moving up and down the rows.
There is sufficient growth to allow us to tuck in the shoots into the lowest of the wires. To provide additional control we are using clips to control the space between the two wires located on either side of the posts. This should give us a more upright growth pattern in the early stages and will help later on when the upper wires come into play.
December 2017 – Shoot Maintenance and Final Wire Lift
The combination of consecutive warm days and late spring rains has resulted in vigorous vine growth. This has necessitated an additional session in the vineyard during November to raise wires and tuck in shoots. Leaving this until our next scheduled session in early December would see the vines with long untrained shoots creating a floppy canopy. If left unaddressed it would have created a more demanding session lifting the canopy then raising the wires into position.
Our final session of the calendar year happens to fall on a weekend when the weather bureau is forecasting torrential rains. Fortunately the rain band avoids Red Hill and wet weather holds off for our day in the vineyard. Whilst overcast the temperature is in the high teens and ideal for working amongst the vines.
Due to our previous session in the vineyard, work today is a lot easier and quicker to complete. Mainly requiring the tops of the shoots to be tucked into the top wires. There is also the need to remove some shoots, particularly around the crown where it has become congested on some vines. This allows airflow through the vines which helps to avoid fungal diseases developing on the fruit.
After our session in the vineyard, it is time for our annual Christmas BBQ. Everyone brings a bottle or two of wine, some with interesting background stories. One by one we sample each of the wines, sharing comments on the style and quality of each wine. Despite the terrible weather forecast, it ends up being a pleasant afternoon, sharing stories, enjoying each other’s company, and sampling a diverse range of wines.
January 2018 – Leaf plucking and bunch removal
Bunches of grapes are now fully formed and have started veraison (the onset of ripening where the grapes change in colour from green to red). To help with the ripening of bunches and to help eliminate disease on the fruit, we open up the canopy to allow sun and airflow to get into the vines along the fruiting wire. This requires the right amount of leaf removal as too little will prevent ripening and risk disease whereas too much removal may cause the fruit to be over exposed to the sun and burn it. Our vines are situated in a north-south direction which allows us to open up the canopy on the eastern side of the vines. This allows the gentle morning sun from the east to reach the fruit but blocks the harsh afternoon sun on the western side.
During this session we also remove excess bunches. No more than two bunches per shoot and with some of the smaller shoots this may be reduced to one bunch. We remove any green bunches that are growing further up the shoot as these are unlikely to ripen and we would prefer the vines to put their energy into the fruit we are going to use in our wine.