Vintage Report 2009

Published on July 4, 2009

The 2009 growing season started rather badly: a large flock of yellow-crested white cockatoos descended onto the farm every day and some of them attacked the new tender vine shoots.
shoot with cockatoo damage
A cockatoo has bitten off this new vine shoot
These cockatoos are not native to our area but have originated from escaped pet birds. During times of drought they appear in their hundreds to search for food. As a single bird can go through several vines in a few minutes - slicing off every shoot and cracking the wood of older branches - the damage was soon considerable.
vine with cockatoo damage
All shoots on the left hand side of this vine have been chewed off

Cockatoo damage will not kill a vine, but there will not be any grapes on that vine either.

Fortunately a pair of wedge-tailed eagles came to the rescue. Every day we heard terrified cockatoo screeches and watched as an eagle would strike, kill a cockatoo and carry it away. Later in the season we observed four wedge-tailed eagles: two majestic birds, and two flappy, squawky ones with fluffy heads. We hope they will carry on the tradition.

hyacinth orchid
Hyacinth orchid, Dipodium punctatum
shoot positioning
Lifting wires to tame the canopy
Early summer was pleasantly cool, the vines grew well and the summer orchids were beautiful.

Wildlife also seemed to thrive and the vineyard was full of birds, frogs and .... our favourite vineyard pest: Wally Wombat (sounds like combat). Wally has been visiting (owning) the vineyard every night for years, but this summer he decided to build himself a lovely cottage “Under The Vines”.
We thought rather not and filled it in.
He dug... we filled....
he dug....
we filled...

wombat hole in the vineyard
Wally's cottage "Under the Vines"
Wally Wombat, favourite vineyard pest

Wombats don’t have anything else to do, it seems. Subsoil aeration is their business, and of course: if we had to pay a bulldozer to do all the work Wally does, we could never afford it.
However: no digging in the vineyard!
Eventually we rigged a wire and connected it to the electric cattle fence. And as Wally had already learnt this lesson when he tried to dig up the winery, he gave up his ambitious project.
Or so we thought.
But it seems Wally never forgot his dream of the “Under The Vines”. When we dismantled the deterrent two months later to put the bird nets on, he was back within nights and shovelled. At the moment the battle is undecided, after we viciously dumped a load of grape skins onto his dream home.

vineyard at 46 degr.
Vineyard at 46 degr. Celsius

The lovely weather was not to last. In late January and early February we recorded weekly heat waves of 40 degrees plus, and up to 45 or 46 degrees on 3 days. So we again recorded the hottest week ever.

heat shrivelled grapes
Grapes shrivelled by the heat, a week later

A fellow winemaker once said to me: “People always think that on these stinking hot days you are sitting in a cool cellar, tasting wine. They don’t realise that you are actually out there, nursing your vines and walking for miles checking for blocked irrigation drippers.”
I think sometimes of him.

The heat damage to the grapes was easier to cope with than last year, as the grapes were at a less tender stage. The burnt berries and bunches just shrivelled and many dropped off.
Rain from January onwards was 60% below average and by the end of March we were already more than 100mm short of our normal summer rainfall. But unlike 2007 we did not have the fires close and there was only little smoke.

grape pickers
Early morning grape picking

Vintage started on the15th of March, and all four Pinot blocks were picked within a week, with about 10% loss due to the heat. The other varieties ripened in slower succession and our experienced pickers, reinforced with some new ones, coped easily. A broken-down crusher and a new grape press caused some excitement at the winery, but all went very well.
Overall a very easy and promising vintage.

However: Wally Wombat is back and digging!!!