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.
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.
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 warm weather throughout Summer has resulted in an early start to vintage for 2018. Despite the picking starting earlier than usual, the quality of the fruit has been fabulous and the winemaking staff have been eager to get their hands on the fabulous fruit.
As is usual at Balgownie, chardonnay is the first varietal to ripen and the first variety to be picked. The Old Vine Chardonnay (planted in 1976) was the picked first, followed by the Young Chardonnay Block (planted in 1983). These vineyards, along with all the vineyards at Balgownie are hand-picked as this results in the only the top quality fruit being harvested, as the pickers are able to ignore the fruit that is not fully ripe.
In addition Shiraz that has been earmarked for our delectable Rosé has also been harvested. It is crucial that the grapes for this wine have the right balance between ripeness, acid and flavour to produce a delicious wine that continues to grow in popularity.
Balgownie Estate is elated to have achieved a five-star rating in the 2018 James Halliday Wine Companion. We are especially pleased that 11 of our wines were rated 90 points or over, with the 2015 Centre Block (96 points) and 2014 Old Vine Shiraz (95 points) being stand outs. (Both these wines are due for release in the near future).
Here are all our ratings:
Join the Balgownie Estate Wine Club and be the first to find out when these fantastic wines are released.
Read Mike Bennie's reiew of out new release 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon in the June/July 2017 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller Wine.
“Born from vines that average almost 50 years of age, this is a big bold cabernet of deep concentration, lavish, palate-sticking tannins and ferrous, savoury character. It’s heady in perfume of blackcurrants, plums, gum leaf and blonde tobacco. The palate is an assertive thrust of choc-berry flavours, sweet earthiness and rib-sticking, tacky-textured tannins. It’s a wine of immense presence now, and should be tamed gradually with cellaring, to reveal more nuance and detail.”