Our teaching pages are available at The Cool Climate Classroom. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter here.
Our Winderdoon vineyard
Growing Pinot Noir in the cool climate region of the Tamar Valley is a most challenging past time.
“Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet.”
-Miles played by Paul Giamatti in the 2004 film, Sideways-
We have 50 vines that were planted in 2001. They bore fruit for the first time in 2004-2005 and produced about 40 kg of fruit. This is about 1/3 of what we would expect when the vines are fully mature. The growing season in Tasmania is from September to April. 2005 was a dry summer with a long sunny Autumn, perfect for ripening the fruit. The grapes from this vineyard were harvested on March 20th. Sugar levels in the grapes measured 23 brix with TA at 9.4 and pH at 3.4. The leaf canopy had suffered severe damage from a wind storm in mid January and I was worried that the grapes would not ripen further to raise sugar levels much further.
The grapes were harvested and de-stemmed. They were crushed and allowed to commence fermentation on the skins at 23 degrees Celsius after an introduction of Lalvin EC1118 yeast. Temperatures during the fermentation period varied from 24-25 degrees Celsius, maintained with an aquarium heater inserted in the must. When the must reached a specific gravity of 0.005 after 10 days, it was pressed using a basket press, and the 24 litres of juice fermented to dryness with an airlock. When the wine reached a level of 0.000 a malolactic culture was added to reduce the Total Acidity of the wine. After a further 20 days the wine was racked into a 20 litre carboy and an airlock fitted to prevent air entry. The wine was aged until October 2005 and bottled just prior to the 2006 season harvest.
2006 fruit is smaller than normal with tight berry clusters. The subsequent skin to berry ratio is higher and has given the wine a rich plum colour with good berry flavours of raspberry and black currant.
4 year old vines with mature berries
The 2005-2006 season was wet to start with good rains in September and October. The vines were irrigated to keep the canopy growing vigorously. Vines had been pruned to 16 buds VSP on 2 canes and each shoot set 2 bunches of fruit. A new product on the market, Charlie Carp, was used as a foliar spray between spraying for Downy and Powdery Mildew. This provided foliar nutrient to the vines which grew strong with excellent fruit set. A moderate summer and warmer than usual February and March brought sugar levels up quickly. Grape samples reached 23 brix , pH 3.5 and TA 0f .68 on March 18th.
Grapes were crushed and placed in food grade plastic carboys for fermentation. The vines produced 100kg of outstanding fruit this year. 50ppm of SO2 was added to the must and left overnight prior to the introduction of EC1118 Lalvin yeast. Temperature was initially 20c and during fermentation rose to an average of 28c. Colour extraction was very good in the earlier stages of the primary fermentation. The must was pressed after 12 days on the skins and produced 70 litres of wine. The primary fermentation was completed by April 5th. As I was away after this time, I did not introduce a malolactic bacteria which had not occurred due to the casks being new. When temperatures averaged 15 degrees consistently in September I introduced 5 litres of the wine that had been innoculated with a malolactic culture. This allowed fermentation to complete by end of September, after which the wine was racked and then bottled.
2006 vintage has excellent berry fruit on the palate and a long finish. It is an excellent wine and should age well if we keep away from it.
A dry mild winter saw pruning completed by mid June with a Scott Henry trellis being constructed to control the observed vigor in the canopy growth of 2006.
Bud burst was in mid September followed by a period of extremely low temperatures in the early morning. Forecasts of -2 degrees with frost in most districts made me embark on a plan of vigilance and climate control to protect the young shoots from frost damage in the early morning. I lit a brazier in the middle of the vineyard and kept it going all night. I then started my drip irrigation at 4:30am each morning to raise the temperature of the soil. I was fortunate to escape with no frost damage, although vineyards over the river on the higher slopes suffered frost damage of about 1/3 of the normal crop yield. The Scott Henry system allowed 32 buds on each vine and I have had an excellent fruit set on all vines. I expect the yield to be up by 50% , potentially yielding 200 kg of good quality fruit.
At this stage ( early March) it looks like vintage will be 2 weeks early again and I am expecting to harvest on about March 20th
Sugar levels were right in mid March , but I chose to allow the grapes to mature on the vine for another week. We harvested our crop on March 22nd.
Levels at Harvest:
Specific Gravity = 1.105= 24.7 Brix = 13.7% potential alcohol by volume
Potentially a sound wine. After primary fermentation this wine is undergoing a malolactic fermentation. First tasting of the new wine was great. Another great year in the vintage despite conditions that could have potentially devistated the yield .
"God makes wine. Only the ungrateful or the pure blind can fail to see that sugar in the grape and yeast on the skins is a divine idea, not a human one."
-Father Robert Capon, The Supper of the Lamb
On second racking, this young wine definitely is again a fruit forward natural product of the season. Bottling will take place in mid November after malolactic fermentation has had a chance to fully complete in the rising temperatures of Spring.
Oak aging was achieved by hanging an amount of French Oak chips in each cask for a period of 3 weeks. Tastings were taken periodically and the chips withdrawn when the flavour was right.
A near disaster occurred in mid August when a wind storm took out the pole to my makeshift cellar- a tent.
Thanks to the quick actions of my wife, the pole was restored and no damage was done to the airlocks and the new wine.
We have told the story many times that I happened to ring from my southern Tasmanian base in the middle of this drama and asked the very dumb question " Where are you?" . I did get an earful.
The wine was bottled in November and late December. The product is wonderful and I am very proud of this new wine. Very little of this Pinot will reach old age; not because of any defect in the vintage , but because of demand from consumers.
Winter again was mild and very dry. The Spring brough good rains in late August and bud burst in mid September brought on rapid growth.
Sooner or later an amateur viticulturalist and wine maker is bound to take good seasons for granted and make a mistake.
I made the mistake this year of not consistently applying my spraying program for Powdery Mildew. This disease is inherent in wine grapes and must be controlled throughout the season with a variety of sprays. Using the same spray too often tends to build up a resitance to the disease, but the must about management is consistent spraying at 10 day intervals or more often if rain washes the chemical from the vines. We are trying to create an environment that inhibits the growth of powdery mildew. Specific notes on the control of this disease can be found at sites such as here. (Dep't Primary Industry Queensland)
The result was an outbreak of powdery mildew as temperatures rose to 20C that I was unable to control. I tried to use a new product on the market, Ecocarb, which raises the pH of the leaf and tissueof the vine so that the mildew cannot survive. It claims to actually kill the mildew. Having a small number of vines, I decided to indivdually treat them all. The result was far from satisfactory and the harvest suffered with about 50% of the grapes being affected by the Powdery mildew in either poor ripening or shrivelled appearence. I chose not to harvest this fruit and chose only the very best bunches for this year's vintage.
Fortunately a friend in a commercial vineyard locally had a number of Pinot Gris vines ( a mutant sport of Pinot Noir) that had been planted at about the same time as mine and which bore black fruit. I was able to obtain this fruit and ferment it seperately. The blend of my 100 litres of Pinot Noir combined with the 130 lires of Pinot Gris will form the basis of a 'Pinot Grisnoir' vintage this year.
Pinot Noir : Harvest Date: March 28th
Levels at Harvest:
Specific Gravity = 1.105= 24.7 Brix = 13.7% potential alcohol by volume
Pinot Gris: Harvest Date April 12th
Levels at Harvest:
Specific Gravity= 1.105 =24 Brix= 13.7% potential alcohol by volume
I chose to ferment both wines on the skins for 10 days to extract the very best tannins the grapes could offer.
50ppm of SO2 was added at crush to kill natural yeast on the grapes.
We now have a destemmer crusher, so the pics above of footpress vintages are no longer adding flavour to the wine.
Both wines were innoculated with malolactic bacteria after primary fermentation slowed and temperatures were above 20C.
Secondary fermentation lasted about 10 days.
Wines were racked in May before adding oak chips for 3 weeks.
Wines were racked again in August.
Blending of wines was done after full fermentaion .
I have noticed that the TA is now a complement of both and the characteristics of pinot with cherry, raspberry and black currant are a feature of this wine.
Bottling was done in December, the vintage yielding 260 bottles of a slightly spritz variety that has appealed to those who have tasted it.
The spritz tang on the tongue comes form an unfinished malolactic fermentation.
Next year's vintage will be subjected to daytime temperatures of 18 celcius plus until malolactic has entirely finished. I shall also test the malic acid content of the new wine prior to bottling to ensure the malic acid has been totally converted.
I am happy with the fruit forward nature of my Pinot Noir and can only experiment a little to bring out the fulness of the berry flavours available from a cool fermentation and the viticultural aspect of our cool climate. I tend to harvest when fruit is the right acidity and sugar rather than letting this variety "hang" to old age to catch that window of opportunity pinot is known for.
The biggest problem I have with wine making at present is the tendency for my wines not to age. Most probably due to the consumation, I expect ,with friends and neighbours around here.
Season 2009 was a very different experience. A cool start followed by a very cool flowering period in early December, brought many challenges to the grape growers in this district. As an amatuer, I am able to work in vinyards locally and gain the very best of information and experience from those who are doing things on a far bigger scale. I have learned with a small vineyard, that it is far better to apply a preventative spraying program every 10 days supplemented if necessary by additional sprays in crisis periods , rather than to attack problems when they occur.
This year I regularly applied organic sprays regularly every 10 days using a copper based spray combined with wettable sulphur earlier in the season to protect against Downy Mildew. Weather conditions were fortunately not conducive to this diesaese. Later spraying of Ecocarb after berry set controlled Powdery Mildew to neglibile levels.
I did not experience the yield loss that many of the professionals did in this area. My crop was harvested on March 28th with the help of a few friends.
The yield was 165 kg from 40 vines of Pinot Noir and 20kg two weeks later from 10 vines of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Pinot Noir harvest pressed to 140 litres of juice. This was cold soaked for 3 days at 12 centigrade ( my under house cellar temperature) to extract full berry fruit at a low temperature.
15 litres of juice was extracted from the must at 8 hours after crush to make a Rose.
This further increased the berry to juice ratio with the effect of concentrating colour and increasing tannins by about 20%.
10% of whole bunch fruit remained in the vat this year.The must was then allowed to rise to natural cellar temperature over a further day to 18.5 celcius. a Yeast starter was added 24 hours prior to introduction of yeast.
Lalvin 1118 yeast was added and temperature was measured over 12 hour intervals.
Temperature ranges :
Low 16 C
Active fermentation was noticeable after 24 hours and the must was punched down at intervals of 5-8 hrs to keep all material regularly liquified.
The wine was pressed after 10 days and 97 litres was extracted ( 15 litres remains in fermentation for Rose.)
Malolactic bacteria was added to the Pinot Noir juice after pressing.
To date I have racked all wines in my cellar twice ( September 2009) and intend to rack one more time prior to bottling.
This year's Pinot Noir is loaded with lots of floral, spicy cherry jam, raspberry, creamy vanilla and mocha. The palate is full-bodied with lots of ripe strawberry, raspberry and black cherry fruit with hints of barnyard, mushroom, licorice, soft acidity, and a good grip of tannin. I really like its rich, full-bodied palate and the finish is to die for. Excellent wine. A modest evaluation.....
I have just finished bottling the last of this vintage.( January 2010) A year on I am looking foward to the best vintage this little vineyard has produced.