Wine, olives, figs, food and functions... there's a lot happening at di Lusso Estate!
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!
The start of the growing season is always exciting.
As the dormant vines wake from their winter slumber, they start to mobilise reserves of carbohydrates, sending a sweet sap up from their roots and trunks, and into their cordons and spurs.
Sometimes you’ll see an entire vineyard sparkling with tiny drips of sap; the sap collects on the tips of the spurs before they drop… and in a quiet morning, with the sun still rising, all you can hear is the gentle pitter-patter of thousands of little droplets… and if you catch one, you can taste a lovely infusion of sugar, wood and earth.
Sap rise marks the beginning of the beginning: where the dormant buds start to swell, utilising the sweet sap for growth, before they burst with little woolly buds that splay out rapidly with leaves.
At di Lusso, bud burst happens in mid to late September, with Nebbiolo and Aleatico being the first vines to burst. A heavy winter rainfall gives the vines a great boost, and they will quickly become overly vegetative if left untended.
And so the Spring and Summer work begins: going from vine to vine, removing excess shoots to ensure that the summer growth can be maintained within a healthy canopy architecture.
Whew! Mudgee drew a collective sigh of relief as we approach the end of November 2014 with vineyards building canopy well … no frost damage anywhere, and apart from the odd caterpillar, no lurking problems out there.
What a difference from late spring last year, where by now we (at least di Lusso Estate) had lost 80% of our crop.
It’s dry and dry however – right now we’re 25% off our average rainfall for the year. Well and truly el nino territory. But to look on the bright side, we’ve been practically organic so far this season … no downy mildew, no botrytis, consistent fruit set so far, and our underground water remains sweet.
So for a few of us, it’s about being out early, going from vine to vine plucking unwanted shoots and suckers throughout the vineyard, inter-planting baby vines where needed, preparing for a grafting program later this month. Then we escape into the winery to escape the heat of a very fierce spring to ‘do admin’ before heading back into the fields towards sunset. No peace for the wicked in what is a seven day, twelve hour week this time of year!
Although olives are not a major part of our business, at this early stage it looks like we’ll be getting our biggest crop for more than five years (but I hasten to add that fruit set has only just begun).
And my friends the figs – which suffered cruelly last year from frost – are showing much better form following a harder than usual pruning.
In summary…so far so good for vintage 2015.