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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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.
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