The journey to harvest in 2016 proved to be a bumpy ride. Winter and spring of 2015 were both warmer than usual, with October and November giving us unusual temperature spikes 6°C above average. Whilst many people were delighted with an early start to summer (we at least were pleased about the lack of frosts in September and October), our vineyards experienced very early flowering patterns as a result of the warmer weather.
Most of our varieties flowered* over a period of 5-8 days. This was very concerning as it usually would signal poor fruit set and therefor, low yields. Normally, flowering occurs over 10-18 days on average, so there was no surprise that vintage was going to be early.
Despite these concerns, fruit set and crop yields at S&K were an improvement from last season, producing grapes with high flavour intensity, thicker skins (i.e. more intense colour), good acidity and tannins. Vineyard canopies are much improved delivering healthy and well balanced foliage, allowing plenty of fruit shading during summer. Reviving the vineyard after the 2013 frost was always going to be a challenge but each year we have witnessed great progress.
The month of December brought with it unstable weather patterns including high humidity, thunderstorms, and was always threating us with unwelcome rains. Consistent rain in January had a few of us around the region worried about disease and some rumours were going around that it would be a wet few months. Thankfully, we took it one day at a time and didn’t get too hung up about the word on Main St.
The unstable weather patterns dried up in February and by March we were experiencing warm days and balmy nights. Although a little too hot over some weeks, the vineyard achieved excellent fruit maturation and sugar balance. Overall, it was a stellar year for the vineyard and our hardworking team. There were some challenging growing conditions but we’re pleased with excellent fruit quality across the varieties for 2016.
Post-vintage and through the autumn months, the vines are starting to shut down and the leaves are turning. We have already sown a mixture of inter-row cover crops such as clovers, broadleaf and rye grasses all with the purpose of improving soil nutrients naturally. Local insects will migrate to these areas thus naturally controlling unwanted insects, mites and funguses. Sheep will be placed in vineyard blocks to reduce grass and weed growth over winter and spring, and certain cover crops will be slashed once they reach 1.5 metres to provide mulching and moisture preservation to vineyards such as our new Arinto and Alvarinho blocks.
Moving into winter, we will start calculating the 2017 season yields and prune the vines accordingly. Our fertiliser program of prescription-blend fertilisers is from an organic perspective, and is applied to the vineyards and gardens annually to replace what should naturally be in the soil reserves. The restructured vineyards are now coming into balance naturally and are truly in great shape for vintage 2017.
*What is flowering? Depending on temperatures, 40–80 days after bud break the process of flowering begins with small flower clusters appearing on the tips of the young shoots looking like buttons. Flowering occurs when average daily temperatures stay between 15–20 °C which in the Southern Hemisphere regions is around November. A few weeks after the initial clusters appear, the flowers start to grow in size with individual flowers becoming apparent. It is during this stage of flowering that the pollination and fertilization of the grapevine takes place with the resulting product being a grape bunch.
Marie checking fruit, levelling the bins and ditching any excess leaves. A pretty tiring job, especially starting at midnight.
Being a 'spotter' means that sticky grapes get in all sorts of places, including Paddy's beard.
Ruston driving the tractor pulling our old Nairn picker. Timing is everything to make sure the fruit gets picked at the right speed and the 'chaser' tractor alongside it is receiving the fruit in the bins.
Starting in the middle of the night meant sunrises were a special part of the day. David on the back of the 'chaser' tractor.
Wendy Killeen getting stuck into the hard yakka. There were sore muscles that evening...
**First image: hand-picking Jack's Block fruit, our oldest vineyard planted by fourth generation Jack Stanton in 1921.