Ahhh, another vintage has rolled around.
First things first, I’m going to level with you. In my experience, most of these daft ‘vintage blogs’ you will read can either go two ways. First up, you have the pre-vintage blog, written in a tone dripping with a feverish, nervous restlessness of the winemaker before vintage commences. He or She will explain their perennial excitement for the upcoming crush often in a very short, hurried statement. Normally reheating some cheesy puns, they will tell you of their enthusiasm to see the culminations of a year work in the vineyards come to ‘fruition’, whilst secretly they wonder if they have ordered enough yeast or when that darn press will arrive.
Second, we have the classic post vintage report. In my opinion, these are characterised by an almost delirious drunken glow. The winemaker, who is now rendered a drinking lightweight by a few months of 12+ hour days, sits down at their computer a few sheets lighter into the wind after a one or two long-necks, a self reward for being roped into doing one of these darn ‘blogs’ by the marketing department in the first place. Bordering on a hubris haze, they will tell you how this vintage was definitely the ‘best yet’, let you know how good that new press was (really it was a month late), and implore to you that they always knew those natural Chardonnay ferments were definitely, unequivocally, certain to go bone dry.
So what sort of vintage blog it this I hear you ask? We’ll as it is my first ‘vintage blog’, I’m not even sure… Perhaps think of this one as a half time running report. But without the rose coloured glasses. Yep, winemaking isn’t as glossy as those photos in those overpriced coffee table books make it out to be.
This is more of a blog from the trenches, embedded with Xanadu Nightshift Company. This year, we have United Nations team of Frogs, Yanks, and of course, (ferment) diggers from New Zealand and Australia. We have crushed and pressed the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc offensive, but now the red army is approaching and we are about to come under heavy Cabernet fire. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a sticky war, we have lost a few good pumps and hoses out there. The battlefield is filling up fast, and now we have to be very tactical with our tank movements. Nevertheless, moral is high as we hope to get another shipment of coffee up to the front line soon.
And like any war, this vintage is comprised of a series of battles. We pride ourselves at Xanadu on letting many of our ferments go ‘natural’, which in our very humble opinion gives rise to increased complexity and character to our wines. However, it also gives rise to increased headaches to our winemaking generals, as these ‘natural yeast’ are sometimes as consistent as a my attempts to cook a good homemade risotto. However, just wait for our ‘post vintage blog’ and we’ll tell you we honestly didn’t have a care in the world.
Even the vintage conditions themselves have been a interesting battle. However, if I’m being honest, I think here in Margaret River we live in a bubble. A very, good bubble mind you. We are always extremely fortunate with weather throughout the ripening season here. Even our ‘lesser’ vintages would be the envy of many other regions. This is particularly pertinent when one thinks about the droughts, fires and floods that have affected eastern Australia in recent vintages past and present. However, this year we find ourselves in somewhat of an interesting situation. Let me explain…
So far this harvest, we have found at flavour ripeness, the sugar levels for this years white wine have been lower than in comparison with previous vintages. This will bode for lighter, and hopefully more refined, delicate and subtler styled wines. Not a problem for a white wine I hear you say. Let the fruit do the talking… Less alcohol, less hangover, a welcome change to all that riper vino on the market, we could go on and on. And I have to say I agree completely.
However, before we shut the book on this one, this has stimulated some interesting discussion around the winery which has got us thinking about true meaning of a ‘vintage’. So where does one turn when looking for the true meaning of anything in this crazy, high-tech world today. You guessed it, Google.
The definitive guide to life, ‘Google’ defines a vintage wine is one made from grapes that were all, or primarily, grown and harvested in a single specified year. However, most countries allow a vintage wine to include a portion of wine that is not from the year denoted on the label. In countries such as Chile and South Africa, the requirement can be as low as 75% same-year content for vintage-dated wine while in certain areas of the United States, the requirement can be as high as 95%. Here In Australia the requirement is 85%.
For instance, lets say one year, hypothetically the bubble bursts, Margaret River has a shocker of a vintage and the Cabernet Sauvignon came in under-ripe. Would you prefer we blended back 5% of last years riper material, or perhaps even the vintage following it, in the quest for a richer, fuller and ultimately better wine? Hell, what’s 5% between friends? You’ve worked hard, you deserve the best wine we can muster! Or does the purist inside you squirm at the mere thought? Don’t be messing around with what nature intended. A vintage is a vintage, and therefore should remain so in bottle.
So it’s a war of purity versus perfection. The purist within me wants the wine to be a 100% representation of that particular vintage. A true refection of place, accompanied with a sense of time. However, the perfectionist within me wants to make the absolute best wine possible, for both myself and for you.
The jury is out here at Xanadu…