Winter is an important time in the vineyard for maintenance and also for pruning. Pruning is vital for the health of the vine and ensuring that the crop for 2020 develops and is delivered in peak condition. The vines in the Yarra Valley are all pruned by hand, while in Bendigo the vines are pruned by a combination of manual and mechanical pruning.
Click here to come behind the scenes and learn more about the process of pruning with winemaker Tony Winspear.
Cabernet Sauvignon is traditionally one of the last grapes to ripen and hence is one of the last grapes be picked at Balgownie Estate Bendigo. As with all the grapes at Balgownie Estate, the Cabernet has been picked by hand to ensure that only the best fruit is picked when it displays the optimum balance between fruit, acid and sugar.
The warm weather has resulted in the Cabernet appearing particularly good this year and the fruit was delivered to the winery in ideal condition. The fruit was destemmed and partially crushed before beginning a slow fermentation in open vats. The ferments were pumped over on a daily basis to ensure that the grape skins and the fermenting juice remained in contact and to maximise the extract of colour and tannins. The picture above shows a pump over in progress with the wine being taken from the bottom of the open vat and sprayed over the top of the feremnting skins.
After a long week with all the staff working extremely hard, most of the shiraz has been picked and is currently happily fermenting. Shiraz is fermented on skins to extract colour and tannin that are needed in the finished wine. While fermenting in open vats, the shiraz is pumped over twice a day, which keeps the fermenting wine and skins in contact and maximises the level of extract.
In the Yarra Valley, the picking crews have been fantastic and have very rapidly managed to pick all the chardonnay and pinot noir over a couple of days. Unusually both the chardonnay and pinot noir were ripe at the same time, as a consequence of the warm weather and high levels of sunshine that we experienced. Thanks to a heroic effort all the fruit was removed over two very long days and has been whipped off to the winery to be made in to delicious wine.
The sudden burst of warm weather has ripened the grapes and the picking crews have been working very hard getting all the fruit to the winery as quickly as possible. In Bendigo the first grapes to be harvested last week were Merlot which is destined to play a role in our fabulous Black Label Cabernet Merlot. For those that enjoy our increasingly popular Sangiovese, the burst of sunshine rounded the berries off nicely and has resulted in a beautiful looking crop with good balance. The 2019 Black Label Sangiovese is wine to keep an eye out for when it is released in a few years time.
The focus on the picking though the coming week will be on our Shiraz. With a number of different vineyards becoming ripe and at the point of picking at the same time, it is sure to be a busy week for the both the pickers and the winery staff.
The first vineyards to be picked will be Lone Gum and Fruit Salad where the fruit is earmarked for our popular Black Label Shiraz. Later this week, the harvesting will begin on the older shiraz blocks on the property – Rock Block, Railway Block and the fifty-year-old Centre Block. The fruit is in sensational condition and has a nice balance between sweetness, acid and fruit flavours, which should result in a remarkable wine to celebrate the fifth birthday of Balgownie Estate.
Today Balgownie Estate harvested the first grapes of it’s 50th anniversary vintage. This year will mark fifty years since vines were planted at Maiden Gully outside Bendigo and the journey of Balgownie Estate began. The fifty year history of Balgownie Estate has seen it grow to be one of the premier boutique vineyards in the country.
The first pick this morning was Chardonnay fruit that is destined for our delicious Cuvee Sparkling Brut. The berries were hand-harvested in the cool morning which is perfect for maintaining the fruit at an ideal temperature and ideal for allowing the pickers to keep cool as well.
The Chardonnay grapes that go into the Cuvee Sparkling Brut are usually the first to be harvested as we want to retain the natural acidity of the fruit. The grapes have been pressed and the juice is being held in tank for cold settling overnight – this will remove any grape skins or stems that are left floating on the juice. Tomorrow fermentation with wild yeast will begin to transform the juice into sparkling wine.
Despite being grown in Australian vineyards since the arrival of the First Fleet, chardonnay really only became popular in the 1970s and subsequently sales boomed through the 1980s. Today chardonnay is the second most widely planted variety in Australia (behind shiraz), with almost 32 000 hectares currently under vine.
Chardonnay is not only loved by wine drinkers, but it is also a favourite of winemakers and grape growers alike, and there are two major reason for this. The first reason is its ease of cultivation. Chardonnay is able to adapt to many conditions and hence is found in vineyards with very diverse climates – from the cold of Tasmania to the warmth of the Riverland. Many grape varieties are not capable of this, with varieties like pinot noir performing best in a cooler climate.
The different climates where chardonnay is grown are also reflected in the finished wine. Chardonnay from cooler climates taste more of gooseberry, grapefruit and lime, while warmer climates produce chardonnay with flavours of tropical fruit and rockmelon.
The second reason that winemakers love producing chardonnay is due to its malleability. There are a range of different winemaking practices that can be utilised in its production. This gives winemakers the opportunity to endlessly experiment with these different techniques. Some of the major winemaking techniques used in the production of chardonnay are:
Wild Yeast. Most wine is produced using cultured yeasts that have predictable behaviour, produce known characters and aromas in finished wine, and will tolerate a high alcoholic-strength environment. But wine can also be produced using the natural yeast strains that occur in the vineyard and winery. These wild or indigenous yeasts often produce some unusual flavours (often termed funky) that can add extra complexity to the finished wine.
Time on Lees. Called sur lie in French, this involves leaving the dead yeast cells, skin, pulp and grape seeds (collectively known as lees) that collects at the bottom of a vessel after fermentation in contact with the wine for two to twelve months (in some styles, even longer). The presence of the lees improves mouthfeel, by creating a creamy texture in the wine, as well as adding cream and yeast flavours. Often times lees-stirring (or bâtonnage), where the lees are regularly mixed in the barrel or tank, is also cemployed: this prevents the formation of off-putting hydrogen sulphide characters in the wine. Leaving a wine on lees also encourages malolactic fermentation to commence (see below).
These are a variety of these techniques that the winemakers at Balgownie use in the production of out two Estate chardonnays. As these two wines originated from two very different climates – the Yarra Valley and Bendigo – they employ slightly different winemaking techniques.
Grown in the cooler Yarra Valley, this chardonnay was fermented with wild yeast to add complexity to the finished wine. It spent 11 months on less while maturing in French oak barrels – a combination of 30% new barrels and 70% old barrels. To maintain the freshness of the wine and its crisp acidity, the Yarra Valley Chardonnay did not go through malolactic fermentation.
The warmer climate in Bendigo tends to produce riper and richer fruit that results in a heavier wine. The Bendigo Chardonnay was partially fermented with wild yeast and partially with cultured yeast before spending 11 months on lees. The wine was matured in a combination of new and old French oak barrels. This wine also did not go through malolactic fermentation to preserve the natural grape acidity and freshness.
The singular landscape of the Yarra Valley has an extensive history of providing a unique environment for agricultural and leisure activities. Long before the European settlement of the country, the Wurundjeri people occupied the lands around the Yarra Valley, centred on the Yarra River. Their dreamtime stories tell how the river was etched into the landscape by the ancestral creator spirit Bunjil - the wedge tailed eagle (https://visityarravalley.com.au/history).
Pastoralists came quickly to the Yarra Valley and vineyards often formed part of the farming that was established in the area. In 1838 the Ryrie brothers planted the first vineyards in the area at their property known today as Chateau Yering. The property was purchased by the swiss-born Paul de Castella in 1850 and he dramatically expanded the vineyard plantings, importing vines from Chateau Lafite in France.
Other famous Yarra Valley vineyards were also established at this time, with Paul’s brother Hubert de Castella planting St Huberts in 1863 and Guillame de Pury establishing Yeringburg in 1864. The ensuring reputation for the quality of Yarra Valley wine rested heavily on these producers and “despite their disappearance in the 1920s, their fond memory would linger… and would lead in no small part to the restoration of the vine to its rightful place in the Valley in the 1970s.” (Beeston, 1995).
Despite there being almost 1000 acres under vine, the turn of the century brought difficult times to the Yarra Valley as a multitude of factors combined to effectively spell the end of wine production in the area. In the late 1890s the vine louse phylloxera was detected at Geelong and with no cure other than prevention it quickly laid waste to vineyards of Victoria and New South Wales. This coupled with onset of the depression and a change of fashion to favour the heavily alcoholic wines from the warm areas in Rutherglen and South Australia, effectively spelt the end of the Yarra Valley as a wine producing area. The final vineyards were removed in the 1920s as pasture for milk production proved to be more financially viable.
The Yarra Valley would need to wait till the 1960s for the re-emergence of vineyards and wine production. Reg Egan, a Melbourne lawyer formed the vanguard, planting his vineyards at Wantirna in the outer eastern suburbs of the city in 1963. 1968 saw the reestablishment of St Huberts, as the Cester family replanted the vineyards and in 1969 the de Pury family replanted vines at Yeringburg. The year also saw botanist Dr. Bailey Carrodus establish Yarra Yering and Jack and June Church plant the nearby Warramate.
The rush to plant in the Yarra Valley continued with Dr. John Middleton selecting land at Coldstream and planting Mount Mary in 1971. Dr. Peter McMahon preferred the slopes of the hills at Seville and established Seville Estate in 1972. Graeme Miller a diary farmer, planted vines at Dixon’s Creek in 1971 and established Chateau Yarrinya (now Debortoli Yarra Valley).
The rush of planting continued into the 1980 with the establishment of famous names such as Diamond Valley, Yarra Burn, Tarrawarra and Coldstream Hills. The establishment of new properties continued through the 1990s and 2000s with more than 40 new wineries being opened, confirming the Yarra Valley as the nations premier cool climate wine producing area.
As the leaves on the vines change colour and the cooler temperatures make for more relaxing days, the winemaking staff are cleaning up and putting the wines away to mature in tank or in barrel. The long days and the hard work of vintage are nearly complete and the winemaking staff are delighted with the quality of the wines and happy to return to a regular week once again.
The warm and dry Summer and Autumn – warm sunny days, cool nights and no rain - have given ideal ripening conditions and low disease pressure. Conditions in Bendigo have been particularly good where the quality of the fruit delivered to the winery has been fantastic. Balgownie’s winemaker Tony Winspear is very happy with the depth of flavour and the balance in the fruit, although he admits that the quantity produced may be a little down this year.
The warm and dry vintage conditions proved ideal for the production of Estate Chardonnay in both the Yarra Valley and Bendigo. The warm weather resulted in an early harvest in order to preserve the crisp acidity that forms the backbone of these thrilling wines and to maintain the perfect balance of the finished wine.
The other wines to keep an eye out for when they are released are the Estate Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. The vines for the production of these wines are approaching 50 years of age, and grape vines at this age tend to be stable and reliability produce quality fruit, especially when the climatic conditions are favourable, and crop levels are kept low. These wines are currently finishing fermentation and will then move on to mature in French oak barrels for 18 months before they are released.
Finally, we are proud to be able to secure fruit for our popular Pinot Gris from a vineyard just outside of Macedon. Although technically the vineyard falls into the Bendigo Geographical Indication (or wine production area), it is a lovely cool climate area that suits the production of high quality Pinot Gris and will allow to build on the successful 2017 vintage.
Our ever-increasing number of Sangiovese fans will be pleased to hear that the Sangiovese has been picked. The quality is excellent though the quantity picked is down a touch. A wine to look forward to in two years time after it has been transformed into a fabulous red.
The picking crews have been hard at work in Bendigo and have been working quickly to harvest the remaining Shiraz. After the berries are hand-picked, they are quickly transported to the winery where they are crushed before fermentation begins.
A by-product of the fermentation process is carbon dioxide, which pushes the skins to the top of the ferment. In order to keep the skins in contact with the fermenting wine a pumpover operation needs to performed (see above). The wine from the bottom of the tank is pumped over the top of the ferment, keeping the skins and the wine in contact. This maximises the amount of colour and tannin in the finished wine.
All the Shiraz has now been picked and is safely in the winery, fermenting in open tanks. The Shiraz will be pumped over twice per day while it ferments through to dryness.