End of the vintage leads one to reflect on the wine of the current and previous seasons. Thinking about winemaking, here’s a little secret …. the best wines make themselves. Yes… that’s right… an excellent wine is one where a winemaker does just the “standard winemaking,” and the result is fantastic. “Great vintages begin in the vineyard”, it’s excellent fruit that makes winemaking easy.
For example, the 2018 vintage was very easy… A long summer, followed by a warm, dry autumn resulted in excellent fruit across the vineyard. And if you’re a lover of Mudgee wines, you’ll be happy to know that the whole region experienced above average levels of quality… but at the cost of a significant drop in yield (which is generally a good thing!). Our favourites wines that year were the Lagrein and the Arneis 2019 was undoubtedly a season of drought, with a dry summer following a dry winter. We took advantage of our very good irrigation setup to replicate a ‘normal’ European winter with weekly waterings through winter, so that during the hot summer the vineyard’s resistance to drought both below ground and in the canopy was higher. Like its predecessor, the 2019 outcome was high fruit quality but with a bigger crop.
Of the 2019 wines, at this stage (bearing in mind not all have been bottled), I particularly like the Sangiovese and the Barbera (including our first ever sparkling Barbera which we call Vivace! The 2019 Nebbiolo sits closely behind. Then along came the 2020 vintage. Were we tested? Yes! Firstly, the third year of drought brought a quite small and inconsistent – and late – flowering and fruit set. So late was fruit-set that the fires that began seriously in September and which brought a pall of smoke that hung over New South Wales for some months from October caused few problems for us. (But the same could not be said for many other growers, particularly those to the east of the town; or for unirrigated organic growers, whose fruit tends to flower earlier). Despite more sampling and tasting than ever before, we could find no fault in either the Arneis or the Vermentino were excellent. Then, a few weeks later, our early-picked Sangiovese (for Vino Rosato) checked out really well.
The 2020 reds required very careful handling. We were very away of the risks attached to ‘standard’ practices of ours. Maceration (that is, the soaking of skins during and after fermentation), oak maturation (we initially only used stainless steel for malolactic fermentation), and very frequent panel-tasting of the red wines before bottling. (None have been bottled yet). So far so good! We’ve not detected any smoke-taint so far in any of our own wines, but continue to be watchful. So, what’s my favourite wine from 2020? At this early stage, I would say the Vino Rosato, followed by Vermentino and Arneis. I’ll reserve my judgement on the reds until just before bottling, but my hopes are high.
Finally, talking about bottling. I aim to have our 2020 Vino Rosato released in June (“due to popular demand”), with the 2020 Vivo! sparkling next – in August. And remember, if you have any questions about the wines, please call or email me. I always look forward to a conversation with wine club members.
My thoughts turned towards this topic earlier this week when receiving some cellar door feedback on our 2017 vintage wines. “A bit weaker than last years”, or “not as much flavour in this one, is there?”
How does one answer this sort of question to a non-farmer…the notion of seasonal diversity?. Particularly in today’s food big city world, when the last thing seemingly allowed is a flavour, texture or colour that is different from the last one?
Two things happen when it rains a lot around vintage. Firstly, there is disease. Downy mildew for sure, but also botrytis (not the nice kind), slip-skin, bunch rot etc. I wish grapes (and olives) could learn from figs in being so disease-resistant!
As the ‘usual’ date for picking draws near, you just know that the flavour and sugar are just not going to ‘get there’ before the canopy collapses. At this point, if you have enough wine in the cellar door, you just leave it on the vines – for the birds.
But we’re nearly always short of enough wine – certainly in 2017 – so the choice before us is between use every trick in the book – different yeasts, reverse osmosis (an expensive method of reducing volatile acidity, adjusting the level of alcohol, concentrating remove sulphides, etc). So the wine tastes just like the vintage before!
…or to do what we do. Enjoy the diversity and unpredictability of the world’s greatest beverage. In fact, it’s more than a beverage…it's a way of life!
Maybe I’m most of the way to being a ‘natural wine producer’? OK, so let’s see what makes them tick?
They would say honesty and transparency are the cornerstones of their craft. For a start, assume minimal chemical use. Maybe a splash of SO2 in the picking bin, that’s all in the vineyard – almost all natural winemakers are also organic, and also often micro-dynamic as well.
No introduced or inoculated yeast is used in natural winemaking– it’s “wild” but and natural, whereas inoculated yeast is still natural in a chemical sense.
The use of wild yeast is another topic altogether. ‘Extreme terrorism’, a common feature among natural winemakers, insists on it as these yeast by definition ‘wild’ (coming from the grapes, the vineyard – ‘from this place’, the definition of terroir.
The di Lusso Estate house view is that there are enough dangers and enough variety in winemaking without risking the disease, uncertain outcomes, and stuck ferments that come with come from wild yeasts!