Challenging vintages seem to make the wine more memorable. Vintage 2017 presented the type of curve balls that call for critical decision making in order to protect the grapes as harvest approaches. In spring 2016 the start of the growing season was characterized by unusually low temperatures which held the vine phenology (growth stages) back. The normal seasonal milestones such as bud burst, shoot expansion and flowering occurred up to 30 days later than in typical years. Going into summer it was apparent that we would have a later harvest of whites and reds than we had seen in well over a decade.
Mild temperatures, summer rains and up to four-day stretches of relative humidity ranging from 95 to 99% led to careful inspection of canopies for the presence of mildew and grey mould. This, together with very high yields, meant growers found themselves compelled to crop thin in order to assist ripening rates and to create airflow within the fruiting zone as a way of lowering the potential impact of weather-driven mould infections.
Grace Farm’s position on the coastal ridge meant that we benefited from strong winds, which allow for continual drying of wet, humid canopies. This lowered the risk of disease around the ripening bunches with their delicate skins. The white grapes eventually reached flavour ripeness with beautiful acidity and aromas which were preserved by the complete absence of heat spikes. Once the whites were in the winery we breathed a sigh of relief before focusing on the slow-ripening red grapes.
A side issue presented by the late season was that the blossom on the native gum trees ceased well before the red grapes were fully ripe. Having lost a major food source, the native birds peppered the nets for access to sugar and frequently found their way inside. A quick chirp from the first successful entrant attracted squadrons of like-minded birds straight through the tiniest gaps in the nets. This called for continual flushing of the nets to prevent bird damage and potentially volatile fruit spoilage. In the end, the coastal terroir assisted us again with low disease pressure. A welcome spell of warmth in early April saw us whip the nets off and harvest all five red grape blocks within a matter of days, all the while hoping the sky stayed clear. Now safe in French oak barriques, our red wines are showing an elegance that reflects a slow, measured ripening spell. There are slightly lower alcohol levels.
A recent tasting of all of the 2017 wines, from the recently-bottled SBS through to the maturing chardonnay and cabernets, highlighted the unmistakable sense of place that these wines evoke.