My study window looks straight out onto our vineyard so that when I get bored with paperwork I can look up and see the controlled anarchy that is in progress.
There is every available green on show. I once read a book on anthropology and discovered that, because of his mainly jungle/forest early environment, man had evolved the ability to distinguish between super-fine shades of green because he had to know exactly where different predators were likely to be hiding.
Look at the top of a vine canopy and you’ll see pale, almost luminous lime green of the new shoots; a bit lower, the avocado green of the main working leaves, and lower still the deep blue green of the oldest leaves, with scores of shades in between.
The winter rains of late 2020 and bursts of heat in November and December gave us early bud burst and the heaviest fruit set we’ve had since the vineyard was planted.
Now the task is to keep disease out of the vines, and to manage the canopy to prevent too much crowding of the fruit-bearing shoots, and allow an airway through the fruiting zone to allow humidity to be blown away quickly after rain, and also to allow the right amount of sun exposure on the bunches. If we do that successfully, and if (the big if) we have plenty of sunny days between now and the end of March, the crop should be our best ever.
So, when I look out of my window, I check for weather changes, and also colour changes to the vine canopy that could signal the onset of mildew, an infestation of bugs, water stress or viral attack.
In December and January, the vines explode, sometimes growing 4-5 cm a day. Leave that for ten days and you’re starting to have a problem! So, once a week, we spend at least a day leading new shoots through their wires, removing unwanted shoots from the vine bases, clipping lateral shoots much as you would with tomato pruning, and cutting back the canopy tops to prevent them drooping between rows.
We also have to spray around every seven to ten days from December to the beginning of February. We try to be as organic as we can and only use sulphur and copper. This works almost all the time, but there are some weather patterns in elevated mountain areas like ours where drizzle and humidity set in for several days, and we have to use what are known as “systemic” sprays without which the vineyard would be quickly overwhelmed by mildews.
So, spring is our hardest working time, and the time where we have to be super-vigilant and patrol the vineyard constantly.
We also have to decide when to bottle our white wines from the 2020 vintage. These are usually ready by November/December depending on the variety and whether or not oak storage has been used, and what form of oak. If the percentage of new oak is low, it isn’t as critical but even rich Chardonnays should be in bottle within twelve months to ensure freshness is maintained because casks do admit some oxygen over time.
In addition to all that, we now have to begin the process of planning the oncoming vintage: how much fruit will we have and how much do we need to buy? Are all our fermenters and storage vessels ready and clean? Have we ordered all the reagents and yeasts we need? Is our instrumentation in good order with fresh battery sets? Is our transportation organised? Do we have enough fruit bins? Is our winery disinfected and tidy? Are our nets ready for spreading? Is our cooling apparatus serviced? There is always work to be done.
And, because we are a farm as well as a vineyard, we have to see our ewes and their Alpaca guardians through their January lambing, maintain our herb and vegetable beds and orchard, service our vehicles and preserve all our produce, as it ripens, into jams, soups, preserves and dried goods.
As if all that weren’t enough, we’re just getting on top of what we hope will be the final launch of Taste (Yarra Valley), our cheese and wine bar and cellar door in the town of Warburton, which has been blasted by COVID restrictions and is just now getting in its feet. We’d love you to visit Taste - look for us on Facebook and Instagram.
We haven’t had a beach holiday for many years, and while we own the property, we probably won’t!
But when we sit back on the terrace in the evenings to watch the sunset with a glass of something beautiful, it’s all worth it: there’s no better combination of calm, enjoyment and satisfaction.
More to come on Summer and vintage.John.