Giant Steps

The 2018 season started off relatively dry with below average rainfall coming into budburst. October was quite cool, and the vines grew quite slowly. From November, there was a distinct change in the weather with an increase in heat and subsequent rapid growth. Initial observations of inflorescence size and flower numbers would indicate the potential for above average bunch weights.

Bloom started on the 12th of November for Chardonnay, 13th for Pinot Noir, 16th for Syrah and Merlot. Tarraford and Sexton bloomed at the same time and cap fall was complete in a week. Applejack was 8-10 days behind Sexton and Tarraford starting bloom on the 20th of November. Yet again great weather, with warm and sunny days led to a fast and uniform bloom at all sites. These types of blooms typically result in a high number of berries set and larger berries, which occurred, and the result was very high bunch weights.

The weather in December was exciting with a series of tropical storms sucked down from northern Australia. The rains helped top up the depleted soil moisture and fill up the dams for later in the season. It also helped the vines build nice full canopies which gave the fruit protection from the heat spikes we had in January. All in all, we received a whopping 200mm of rain in December bringing the year up to the average of 800mm.

January was defined by two things, hot dry weather and crop thinning. The heat spikes in mid-January had us a bit concerned, but thankfully the larger canopies protected the majority of the fruit and bunches that did have minor sunburn were removed prior to harvest.

Early January yields estimates predicted large bunch weights 150-200g in most Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blocks. Subsequently estimated yields were, in many cases, 150-200% higher than our targets. Pinot Noir was thinned back to 1 bunch per shoot, wings and bunches on short shoots also removed. Overall yields at harvest in almost every block were above average by about 20%.

February was dry as a chip and temperatures moderate to warm. Harvest started on the 14th with Chardonnay and steadily picked up in pace as we worked into Pinot Noir. A week of 30C weather at the end of the month really picked up the pace of ripening, sling shotting us through Pinot Noir in the lower Yarra, to the upper Yarra then back down to the lower Yarra for Syrah without stopping. Harvest finished up on the 28th of March with Tarraford Carignan.

Total harvest was 45 days for the 2018 vintage (compared with 61 in 2017 and 33 in 2016) and we believe this is the sweet spot for our vineyards.

The humidity and subsequent heat in January did throw in the threat of downy mildew but fortunately our team were ahead of the game in vineyard preparations and canopy management. We came through a potentially dangerous period looking very healthy into harvest. Despite the higher yields I am convinced that the fruit to weight ratio meant we had obtained efficient vine balance due to the good groundwater reserves, large healthy canopies. The Chardonnays are settling into elegant, minerally refined wines. The Pinots have great colour and a surprisingly rich tannin viscosity. Rhone varietals are rich and dark, Cabernets with plenty of concentration. At this stage we feel that 2018 may just be up there with 2017 as one of the great years of this decade. STEVE FLAMSTEED