It was an early start to vintage, picking Chardonnay the day before Australia Day, but we had expected it so we were (sort of) ready for it. The next cab off the rank was the muscat for Moscato and Sparkling Muscat Blanc – this must be a bit of a winemaking record; we picked on the 4th February and bottled on the 9th of March! As is usual for vintage, it was days of frenetic activity as this early fruit came in, followed by a bit of a “phony vintage” lull, and then it all kicked off again.
The Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) is always early, even for Vintage Fortified, but we also picked at a couple of different ripeness levels to increase complexity of fruit flavour. This year the Tinta Roriz is being pulled in many directions, with some intended for the Prince Reserva, a bit going to the Sparkling Tempranillo, some into the Rosé, a little towards Vintage Fortified, and one small parcel going to a mystery destination that we’ll tell you about later in the year.
All the Shiraz parcels looked great this year, masses of colour, and the Jack’s Block looks outstanding, a credit to all the work Ruston has put into rejuvenating these almost century-old vines. We aren’t standing still however, and are experimenting in both the vineyard and winery with fruit thinning, whole bunch fermentation, bin ferments (plunging and foot-treading) and some “new new” oak barrels from specific forests in France and America.
As for the Durif, think big brooding monsters lurking in the barrel hall. Most people don’t realise, but the first day of a red ferment isn’t usually a riot of colour, with everything looking a touch grey. Not with the Durif this year – it was already red coming out of the crusher, indicating a great depth of colour (though the Shiraz wasn’t far behind). These batches will be some pretty classic Durifs, they even tried to escape from the fermenters a few times, but Tash’s plunging kept them in check. We might have to put a lock on the barrel room door though…
Muscat and Topaque are usually the last to come in, and this year didn’t disappoint – with some astounding sugar and concentration of fruit. Surprisingly, however, the late starters were the Portuguese varieties Tinto Cão, Touriga Nacional and Souzão, indicating their real affinity for the Rutherglen region. They came in with excellent acidity, and great tannin and flavour, but at low sugar levels (leading to moderate alcohol). We hand-plunged and foot trod them to extract their tannins (which can be a bit recalcitrant) and the resulting wines are showing a wide diversity of flavours, from bright berry through to sage and rosemary, reminiscent of a long slow beef casserole. We’re excited about the tannins too – silky-smooth fine-grained tannins running the length of the palate. I’m expecting the 2016 Prince Reserva to be the pick of the season, so watch out for it next year.
Assistant Winemaker, Joe Warren, tasting the Durif straight from the press.
Bright purple Shiraz streaming from the big rotary press. Andrew Drumm apparently doing quality control.
There's always plenty of cleaning up to do once all the winemaking fun is over for the day.
We thought a few left over bins of muscat that couldn't fit into the press could become our #v16 hipster wine project...all will be revealed later in the year...
**First image: Andrew driving the 'forky' receiving our first batch of vintage - Chardonnay grapes.