It’s a great moment in a winemaker’s year when the last of his wines is finally pressed and is in storage for its winter slumber. He feels relieved that most of the work is done and that the wine is secure. He feels a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction that the struggle of the summer is over: that he has defeated disease, marauding mites and other vineyard pests and drought; that the deer haven’t jumped the fence and that there are enough canes at the turn of the vine to ensure a strong shooting structure for the spring. Most of all he feels excitement as the new wine starts to reveal itself and as he begins to contemplate how it might develop in cask.
Pinot Noir is the great trickster of the vineyard. Pinot grapes develop their aromas and flavours late in the ripening cycle, so the last few weeks finds the winemaker trudging the vines regularly to taste the bunches and to try to assess when the magic moment of picking should occur. A week too early and your wine can be muted and tart; a week too late and it can be jammy and lacklustre. Even when you feel you have the timing on the button, Pinot’s classic aromas will hide for sometimes months in the finished wine, and winemakers lapse into despair and rage. But one day you go down to taste the casks again and Abracadabra! There they are, and you sit down on the winery bench to thank Bacchus that you’ve been saved again. It’s the same with Pinot colour: straight out of the fermenter, it can look pink and weak; but six or nine months later, colour depth increases and suddenly you have transparency and jewel-like fire.
Our 2018 pinot has just taken its clothes off and is tempting us to believe that there is something exceptional happening. The weather leading up to picking was unusually dry and warm. In the fermenters, we could see that there was less free juice than we usually get, meaning that there was a greater ratio of skin to juice, always an encouraging sign. This was partly because of the drying effect of low rainfall, but also because of the small berry size we experienced.
We have several different clonal ferments which in time will be blended to achieve the best texture, balance and elegance we can generate. Monoclonal Pinots are rarely as complex and interesting as combinations.
At least now we can watch the footy at the weekends with a clear conscience until the magnificent cycle begins again in October!