A fiery afternoon at the Watervale Hotel Political Roast
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Imagine one of the harder and more unpleasant physical task you’ve ever done, and now picture yourself doing it outside in the winter chill, whilst standing in mud, and even in the rain.
Welcome to pruning.
Pruning is much more than giving the vines a bit of a winter tidy up and trim. In fact, it is just about the most important task in the vineyard, which is a good thing as we’d otherwise be tempted to put it off until spring, and it would never get done.
Good pruning sets up the grapevine vines to produce high quality fruit with the right level of acid, sugars, and flavours required to make our terrific Clare Valley wines, for both the coming season and beyond. It is all about balance; balancing fruit load, the spacing of bunches, and the size of the leaf canopy the vine produces during the growing season.
Leaves are the powerhouse of a vine, feeding the plant through photosynthesis, and turning sunlight, water and minerals into energy to sustain the plant. If the does not grow an appropriate sized canopy for its fruit load, it will not be able to produce sufficient energy to support the ripening of its fruit. On the other hand, too much canopy is not good either. We need to prune for a canopy that will give good airflow (to control diseases such as powdery mildew) and allow the right amount of sunlight exposure for ripening.
Timing of pruning is also important in planning our winter work schedule. Growers with large holdings must start pruning early, often just as the last autumn leaves have dropped from the vines, so they can complete the task before spring growth appears. Our block is small enough that we can commence pruning later in winter and have the job finished before bud burst. This has a number of benefits. Later pruning can help delay bud burst by up to about two weeks. This ensures the new spring growth will not be damaged by a late visit from Jack Frost. Later pruning also reduces the risk of disease. Cuts are open wounds on vines and provide a site for infection to take hold. Pruning the vine just as sap is starting to move through the canes helps the vine to seal these cuts. Of course if we wait too long to start pruning we won’t finish the task before the commencement of spring growth.
By the end of summer grapevines are a tangle of long canes, supported by the trellis system. These canes are great at finding unprotected eyes, so we usually have our vineyard manager, Michael Smyth, drive through the vineyard with a machine pruner to trim back the longest canes before we go in and finish the job by hand. However the wetter than average winter has meant our vineyard soil is too muddy to take the weight of heavy tractors. We don’t want to damage our soil structure so this year the vineyard will be entirely pruned by hand.
Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are pruned differently to adjust for the different crop level requirements and vine vigour. We also modify our pruning technique as we move from north to south to allow for the different soils and terroir through the block.
Pruning is not the only job on my to do list. Many of you will know I was successful in my bid for election to the Senate in the recent Federal election. Fortunately Nimfa with our daughters Tess and Emily will take on the day to day running of Farrell Wines to ensure your quick receipt of orders.
On that note, our Election Special has been extended again, but for a limited time only. Order two half dozen cases of Farrell Wines 2015 Shiraz and pay only $199, including delivery to anywhere in Australia. Click here to order.
Until next time,
The recent Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend provided the perfect opportunity to show off wonders of this region. Whilst we did not have a stand offering tastings, Nimfa and I ensured Farrell Wines was well represented, attending the events of other wineries in the area and promoting the valley to many of our friends who visited.
The Farrell family’s love of the Clare Valley goes back many years, back to the 1860s in fact, when five brothers and a sister (known then as O’Farrell) travelled from Kilfeacle in Ireland, presumably to escape the Irish famine.
After arriving in Adelaide they travelled to the Mid North region of South Australia. My great, great uncle Edmund settled in Clare, his brother Nicholas in Balaklava, and my great grandfather David (O’)Farrell settled in Jamestown, where he married Johanna Silverthorn in September 27, 1883. They had three children but only the youngest, Edward John, survived.
Johanna passed away soon after Edward was born, and my grandfather was brought up by his aunt. We know he finished his schooling at Christian Brothers in Wakefield Street Adelaide, worked as a accountant and volunteered for World War I, returning safely in 1919. His letters sent home to his fiancé (later to be my Grandmother, Emily) from France and Germany are being read at the On Flanders Fields Poppy Trail at Elder Hall this Friday (for more information see https://flandersfieldspoppytrail.com/)
My grandson Edward’s links to the region go back even further. A Malycha, he is descended from Laurence Malycha, a Polish immigrant who came to Polish Hill River in the 1850s with his two brothers, Lucas and Stanislaw. Lucas’s grave is in the Sevenhill cemetery.
I might joke that Farrell Flat was named after one of my ancestors, but there may also be some truth in the claim. I have spoken to historians in Clare who have told me even though it is said the township was named after James Farrell, a former Dean of Adelaide, this cannot be proven. One South Australian History website states “There is no agreement as to the origin of the town's name. Originally named Hanson, it was changed to Farrell's Flat in 1870 when surveyed. Some say after James Farrell, a shepherd employed by Joseph Gilbert of Mount Bryan”.
Nimfa and I have been visiting the Clare Valley for about 20 years. We would stay at Rosella Cottages (now Sevenhill Cottages) and regale our daughters with stories of their family history and connections to the region. Our stories and the natural beauty of the Clare Valley must have had some impact on them. Mary celebrated her 21st birthday at Skillogalee Winery and Restaurant, which was also the venue for her wedding reception three years ago following the ceremony at St Aloysius church Sevenhill.
About six years ago Nimfa and I came up for a special weekend to celebrate her birthday, staying at Thorn Park in the Vines. During our visit we went for a walk and stumbled upon a vineyard that was up for sale. After some tough negotiating with the owner Larry Vasek (and who can blame him, we wouldn’t easily relinquish our slice of heaven either!) we became the proud owners of a Clare Valley vineyard.
Friends said I was crackers to buy a vineyard, but having tried my hand at it I think the Australia wine industry, and Clare Valley in particular, has great potential for great future success. Our regular weekly visits to Clare now involve at minimum a small amount of hard labour, but our efforts have been rewarded with delicious wines and some terrific new friends.
Until next time, Don.
It is hard to imagine anything as perfect as a Clare Valley winter, mist shrouding rows of bare vines, the gentle patter of rain on the iron roof, and a warming glass of red wine in hand, ideally in front of a toasty fire.
Whilst winter has not yet arrived, it is on its way. Our vines are adorned with rich, autumnal hues of golds, amber and vermillion. Days are warm but nights are already very cool, and the smell of wood smoke drifts along the valley after sunset.
It is also a slower time in the vineyard as we wait for vines to enter their dormant period (when we will start thinking about pruning). Nimfa and I are spending our days at the
vineyard relaxing and catching up on our reading and generally enjoying the quiet life and time with each other.
Cool evenings require something heartier. I’ve always liked my red wines; red is after all the colour of passion, of love, and of the oxygen-enriched blood that pulses through our veins. Shiraz has been a particular favourite of mine, but with the quality of Cabernet Sauvignon coming out of the Clare Valley, I find myself divided between these two varietals. Nothing beats a Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon with a hearty stew and fresh crusty bread to warm the heart and soul.Thoughts invariably drift to food and the wine we might drink with it. Our Riesling pairs beautifully with simple lunches of salads, cheeses, dips, olives and bread consumed over a few hours sitting in the warm sun with the weekend papers.
Dave Palmer, our wine maker, recommends matching the dark, berry favours, soft tannins and subtle oak of our classic Clare-style Shiraz with slow cooked lamb shanks served with puy lentils, or try our Cabernet Sauvignon with eye fillet steak served with anchovy butter and seasonal greens.
If you missed picking up our wines at our recent 2015 Shiraz launch at the Sevenhill you will be pleased to know our special of one dozen bottles of 2015 Riesling and half dozen 2015 Shiraz for $199 (with free delivery Australia wide) is still available. Click here for our online shop.
Cheers until next time, Don.
Ah, vintage! The tradition and romance of strolling between the vineyard rows, leisurely snipping bunches of grapes into buckets, and enjoying a pickers’ spread on the grass between vines at lunchtime.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Vintage is a frantic time, with grapes being harvested around the clock in the valley to ensure they are picked at their absolute best and delivered to wineries in pristine condition, ready for winemakers to weave their magic. Our Riesling and Shiraz grapes were picked the last week of February, and promptly delivered to winemaker Dave Palmer of Skillogalee, with the Cabernet Sauvignon hand picked a week later.
Nimfa and I managed to avoid the nervous anticipation in the lead up to vintage, heading to the UK to visit our daughter, son-in-law and grandson Edward, and leaving the management of the vineyard to Michael Smyth.
Michael has been looking after the vineyard for some time, and working closely with us to improve the southern end of our block, which had a shallow soil profile. He tells me our work applying compost and organic fertilizer had paid off, and the Riesling is looking terrific with a good balance of acid and sugar.
We can’t take all the credit though, as the weather worked in our favour too. This year summer’s heat just prior to ripening period did not having the same intensity as last year, and 31mm of rain received at the end of January into early February proved a lifesaver. Our vines are dry grown (not irrigated) and this rain made all the difference to maintaining a good canopy and was the perfect finish for the ripening period. The juice from these grapes is now gently fermenting under the watchful eye of winemaker Dave.
Our goal is to let the fruit characteristics we so carefully nurture on the vine, shine through in the bottle. To do this we only minimally intervene, allowing nature to do its work. Our Riesling grapes are crushed, the juice strained off the skins, chilled, allowed to settle and racked. This ensures we preserve the primary aromas of the juice without introducing unpleasant flavour compounds present in the skins. We then bring the juice to about 15 degrees Celsius, add the yeast culture, and allow it to ferment for about three weeks.
The result will be a pristine wine, exhibiting the characteristics of a typical, Clare Valley dry Riesling - zingy, lemon and lime flavours with some minerality, a good balance of fruit and acid, and a crisp, clean finish, similar to our 2015 Riesling.
Our Shiraz received similar ‘royal treatment’ on arrival at the winery. The fruit was promptly destemmed and the whole berries transferred into a fermenter where they enjoyed ten days in a controlled temperature ferment (while the rest of the valley sweltered). The juice was separated from the skins using a basket press, the small berries giving an ideal skin-to-juice ratio that infused the wine with intense colour and flavour.
Dave doesn’t use fining agents in our wines (which means they are vegan friendly). Instead the new wine is allowed to settle in tank and the clear liquid then transferred into a mix of new, two and three year old American Oak barrels, which will impart subtle vanilla characteristics in what promises to be a fresh, juicy wine, with soft tannins and dark berry characteristics.
If, like us, you can’t wait to try the finished product, come along to the release of our 2015 Shiraz, which has just been bottled. The wine is elegant and refined, great for drinking now, but Dave assures me its balance of fruit, tannins and acid will allow it to age well, for those who like an older Shiraz.
The launch of the 2015 Shiraz will be held at the iconic Sevenhill Hotel, just down the road from our vineyard, on April 2 from 3pm to 5pm. There will be tastings of Farrell Wines and the wines will be available to purchase. If you haven’t received an invitation yet, or are still to RSVP, please contact me either by email (email@example.com), phone (0416 086 641) or via the website and I’ll be in touch.
January is an exciting time for everyone in the wine industry. The focus this month is in the vineyard and making preparations for vintage, which the most intensive time of the winemaking calendar. During this period grapes are picked, transported to the winery, and the winemaking process begins. Vintage runs from about early February until around Easter, depending on the grape variety and the wine it will be made into. Right now, winemakers and grape growers are carefully monitoring ripening progress, and preparing wineries for the influx of fruit.
Grape growers are essentially farmers, so talk about how the season is going invariably becomes a discussion about the weather. South Australian summers are hot and dry, and this summer is no exception, but the Clare Valley’s climate is unique and is what allows us to grow warm climate varieties such as Shiraz side by side with cooler climate varieties such as Riesling. Maximum daytime temperatures in November 2015 were in the high 20s to low 30s, with only a couple of peaks in the mid 30s. This gave our grapes a good start, and the vines grew a lush leaf canopy, which gives the grapes good protection from the sun (essential for white grapes such as Riesling, which can suffer from sunburn).
December 2015 and the first couple of weeks of January 2016 were much hotter, with most days over 30 degrees and a maximum temperature of 41.7 degrees on December 17. When temperatures are this hot the vines respond similarly to people, taking it easy, conserving their energy and putting work (in this case ripening) on hold. Nights however have been cooler, dropping to the low teens, with three nights in December below 10 degrees. These cooler nights give the vines some reprieve and help the fruit and plants to rehydrate. Despite the long hot spells and lack of soil moisture (you guessed it, we could do with a bit of rain – the last decent rainfall was on November 6) the developing grapes on our vines are hanging in there and doing what they are meant to.
Taking a walk between the rows this week, we were very excited to discover our reds are getting the first hints of colour (known as veraison), a great sign that ripening is progressing well. Both red and white wine grapes both start off as small, hard, green berries, and over the coming weeks they will develop juice, plumpness, colour and softness as they get closer to harvest.
This is an exciting time for us as we keep our fingers crossed for favourable conditions - a splash of rain and a long and slow ripening period - to allow the complex flavours to develop in the grapes with the perfect balance of sweetness and acid.
If you are keen to get your hands on previous vintages of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling, pop across to our Online Cellar Door, where we have a great special on 2014 Riesling.
Excitement is building ahead of the launch of the 2014 Farrell Wines Riesling on the 2nd May at the iconic Sevenhill Hotel.
With former Australian Prime Minister Hon. Julia Gillard set to launch the release and a long list of VIP guests, the event is set to be the wine launch of the year!
If you cannot make the event, you can order your Riesling here.
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