Vintage Report 2007

Published on May 27, 2007
our dwindling dam
our dwindling dam

We prepared early for a third year of drought, and this time with very limited water resources, so the vines were pruned for a very small crop. Once they started growing we also worried about late frosts, as spring nights had been much colder than usual. Several times we got very close to frost, but when a minimum of -2C was predicted, unexpected clouds came in at around midnight, and there was no damage!
Ever pessimistic we then expected that good spring rains would send the drought-pruned vines into a frenzy of vegetative growth. But this did not happen, because from the end of August we had no proper rain for the next five months.
For a long time the vines did not seem to notice, and without watering grew happily to a well balanced size.

bush fire out of control
bush fire out of control

In December, with the bushfires approaching, we carefully started to give them some water, and when in early January we experienced the hottest week ever, grudgingly poured out regular irrigations from our dwindling dam.

With the bushfires only five kilometres away, smoke during the day and an eerie glow at night, Sarsfield had been warned of flying embers several times. On January 11th we had 41 degrees Celsius, 13% humidity, gusty wind directly from the fire and an ember alarm current. When a quite spectacular tower of smoke suddenly rose into the sky, it was obvious that the fire had broken containment lines.
However, we were still filling the roof gutters with water when the smoke, which had been coming directly towards us, started to slowly veer sideways. We knew then that it was somebody else who was in trouble, not us.

smoke from the bushfires
smoke from the bushfires

Then we had to shift the water pump to deeper water and the windmill fell dry. Then we had to decide when to turn off the water to the vines completely, and to which ones first. Then we worried about the smoke, which is known to cause off-flavours in grapes and wine. Then we wondered if it was worth putting bird nets on the vineyard at all????

The vines looked quite unperturbed and content, and the grapes grew happily and in time changed their colour to black. So we sent samples to the Australian Wine Research Institute in South Australia to analyse for smoke taint. A dozen phone calls, four permits and a lot of dollars later we were told that the smoke damage in Pinot was just below the threshold level of perception, and that all the others should be fine. So we kept going.

and then it rained
and then it rained !

Vintage started very early, with the first pinot noir coming in on February 25th. Irrigation to this block was immediately ceased, but had to be kept up to the other vines. When we had only enough water left to irrigate the vineyard two more times the unexpected happened: it rained! The dam rose by a foot, the windmill came back into action and the fire danger was over.
And during the next two weeks grape maturity was set back by about three weeks - back to normal. With the cooler weather after the rain ripening slowed considerably and it was quite some time till cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot were ready.

sarsfield estate picking crew
sarsfield estate picking crew

When we had two days work of grape-picking left we got rather worried: the weather forecast seemed good enough, with a few showers predicted. But suddenly all the ants started to build high-rising towers, a sign we usually jokingly associate with heavy rain. We had to decide which grapes to pick, and which ones to gamble on! But when suddenly and unexpectedly all pickers rallied round, cancelling fishing trips, golf, holidays and other things, we (feeling rather silly) decided to go for the lot. With the weather forecast still bright, and the ants adding little ark launching platforms on top of their towers, we picked the largest amount of grapes ever. And just as well: during the next night it started to drizzle. And then to rain. And then to pour. And the next day also. And we took 86mm out of the rain gauge.

Our pickers always tell us that grape picking is a major factor establishing wine quality. We are quite sure that it is. And the end result of all these lucky escapes?
A much better than expected vintage with the total yield about two thirds of our usual crop and very high overall quality.

Update: Unfortunately the analytical result was out completely and during fermentation the smoke flavour in all wines became noticeable, particularly in Pinot noir. Eventually we had to downgrade our 2007 Cabernets Shiraz Merlot to a clean skin and write off Pinot noir as a total loss.