“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





11 March 2014


High Sands Grenache, 24th Feb. It's still hanging healthily. Some of those green berries have ripened, and it's edging towards the arrival of the hand-pickers ... photo Philip White

Respite after heat and deluge
Cool quiet and breezy days
It's nowhere near finished yet 

As these beautiful sweet days roll on, those whose grapes survived the sickening roller coaster weather of January seem delighted that in the end, Bacchus and Pan smiled on them. Churlish and remorseful, they nudged Thor and Tyr and Weth aside. (Them be grumpy Norse goddies.)

To recap, we had two heatwaves. I won't gild the lily. But Adelaide seemed almost boastful of being the hottest city in the world on January 16th. Then, to paraphrase myself summarising, the confounding figures you can find at the Bureau of Meteorology show five days in a row above 42°C. From January 13th to the 17th, daily temperatures were 12°C or more above the normal average. It hit 45.1°C on the 14th. That hell ended in the wettest 24-hour period in 44 years, when different vignobles copped from 70mm to 130mm.

Rainy day today, so things are quiet; one of my favourite River red gums dead centre ... that bin's full of stalks ready to go off to the biodynamic mulch heap. Once they've all broken down they'll make lovely fertiliser ... photo Philip White

Now we've had day after day - weeks - of breezy cool with even cooler nights. Indian summer. Smooth early autumn. It smells like autumn. Not just where I live near Kangarilla, but right through the South Mount Lofty Ranges. Which extend from Clare to Cape Jervis.

Vignerons in bad luck patches have had it much worse than others, and some of that luck's probably due in the more mindlessly managed vineyards. Many are mournful about the yields; the grievous who got raisins, raw hen-and-chicken (uneven ripening is rife), split berries, botrytis and lesser-than-lovely results generally, are delighted to make a sale, if indeed they did. Of those poor souls right across the state, many who did haven't made a profit.

Hen-and-chicken early in the season in an unlucky McLaren Vale vineyard ... photo James Hook

Cool Coonawarra hasn't properly started, although some reports are glowing. It needs sunshine and dry. Peter Gago (Penfolds) says that in the South-east in general the slow flowering seems to have hit the Cabernet harder than the Shiraz, giving uneven ripening within the bunches. He says Padthaway looks particularly good. They've hardly started, really. There's a long, long way to go.

But let's go north. In Clare, David O'Leary (O'Leary-Walker) says the district's about 70% done. "We start picking at Auburn," he said of the region's warmest, southern extreme, "and move north. It'll be up to Sevenhill this week."

He spoke of reasonably good vital statistics but lower yields than expected, and acids on the decline. Riesling has bigger berries, but mercifully very little splitting, perhaps because Clare didn't get the ridiculous rain that some places got further south down the Mount Lofty Ranges. Fingers crossed.

O'Leary sounds as if the Riesling will give bigger, more accessible flavours and be better early drinkers, but that's only my interpretation of his measured account.

Michael Waugh (Greenock Creek) says the Barossa is two-and-a-half weeks into it. He reports very black wines of yields that would make a less stoic vigneron shiver. "Half way through and haven't hit a tonne to the acre yet," he said. Michael never took quite as much rain as some bits of the Barossa, so he's counting his blessings. He said the skins were still tough, and his fruit not showing much bother other than scarcity.

The glory vine is showing all the signs of Autumn, but the best grapes are still edging toward something like ideal in the vineyards ... photo Philip White
"Those Shiraz are growing a lot of air this year." Bob McLean (McLean's Farm/Barr-Eden) reports this as a common Barossadeutscher line about the extremely low Shiraz yields in some places. Some blokes expecting 20 tonnes have ended up with three. Up on the Barossa Tops, McLean's vineyard is too early to forecast: his earliest harvest is still at least a week away. Bob seems even a touch more optimistic than usual.

Gago speaks similarly of the Ranges in general, suggesting it's too early to say much other than the crop looks fairly patchy, falling in with O'Leary's guarded report on his family's Oakbank vineyard. Andrew Hardy (Petaluma) says that early damage during flowering has slain many high blocks, but others are of promising quality, if very low on yield.

In the uplands down my way - Onkaparinga Hills/Clarendon/Kuitpo/Willunga Hills - the crop is edging toward ripening, and it looks pretty good, if again, a little patchy. Right through the ranges, those whose fruit was still green and hard through the heatwave and the rain have the least trouble with moulds and splitting.  On his little patch of the piedmont at Willunga, Roger Pike (Marius) is quite cheery about the nick of his fruit, which he's started picking.

Early-picked Shiraz in the bins on a grey damp day at Yangarra ... note the fresh green sward beneath as yet unpicked vines in the background: this is highly unusual for this time of the Summer ... photo Philip White

As for greater McLaren Vale? The best is yet to come, but of what I've seen, a lot of skins are showing the stress of the heat and rain: what looks pretty good, if a little low, on the vine, often has skins that are very thin and slippery in the winery: the berries aren't holding very well. I suspect this is the result of the lignins decaying through heat, stretching, then perhaps a little botrytis that wasn't evident to the eye when it occurred before the breezes dried it out.

As in 2011, the better vignerons will use that to their advantage. A tiny botrytis hit serves mainly to convert a little of the grapes' sugar to glycerol, which can add a more luxurious mouthfeel to the best wines.

As Gago summarises, "I'm not making any predictions about quality til three or four days of ferment are done."

So. Small amounts of good wine seems the most likely outcome across the whole of South Australia. The rest? Well ... 


Gentle rains throughout the ranges this morning, and a sub-tropical muggy day; forecast to clear up tomorrow, after a windy night, especially in the Ranges and the Murraylands. As I said, fingers crossed. Touch wood. Here's some:

photo Philip White ... DISCLAIMER: the author has no financial interest in the business, but lives on Yangarra Estate, where he learns stuff.



Anonymous said...

I havent read anything like your reports coming from Wine Communicators Australia Whtey. I use to enjoy your vintage round up at the Wine Press Club before they took over.WTF Wheres it gone?

KAT said...

Noticed: more blue things, as belatedly observed/reported of the 2012 vintage but not until 13 February this year. Can we expect more blue flavors of the 2014 vintage? What sound will they make, and what key can we expect?