Margaret River Harvest 2011

by Bruce Pearce

Cabernet Sauvignon at Fraser Gallop Estate
Here we are out in the vineyard, the second week in March… Sunshine, warmth, suntanned and target harvesting ripened reds as quickly as the wineries can go. Honestly, through my 20 vintages in Margaret River I have never seen fruit mature so quickly. We are in the thick of vintage and two weeks ahead of typical harvest dates. Our time has been spent expediting harvest to take best advantage of parcels of perfectly ripened grapes. Margaret River, sunny one day….. Perfect the next…. How true!

Out in the vineyard with the winemakers, that’s the best place for me right now, tasting grapes and programming the harvest (By the way, I’m tapping away creating this note in between vineyards and phone calls while sipping a well earned coffee… drive on Peter we have more grapes to taste!). The past month has been a sprint! With all the white varieties harvested and safely bubbling away in tank we moved straight into reds harvest. The traditional flow of red varieties into the winery isn’t the norm this year and we have Cabernet Sauvignon being harvested before usual earlier varieties such as Malbec, Shiraz and Merlot. The heat load that we have experienced in the past month is possibly one reason for this change and certainly the size and health of some of the vine canopies in relationship to the crop load does support a positive variation in rate of maturity. We know that a large canopy and a small crop will result in rapidly increasing sugar maturity; the canopy is like a solar panel in sugar production. Some of the Cabernet vines do have smaller crops this year, a result of rainfall and cold weather during flowering. I’m figuring that more canopy and a reduced amount of crop is probably why some of the Cabernet has matured earlier?

We can be certain that the quality of wine produced out of Margaret River this year will be exceptional. We are taking care to pick the ripest fruit. Most importantly, as we lead into harvest we frequently taste grapes on the vine and evaluate for the green, herbal, minty and astringent characters that indicate that the fruit is unripe; this unripe fruit simply needs more time to mature. In time and when the green fruit characters are gone, we can look for the free colour extraction from skins and then taste varietal flavour intensity and sweetness of the pulp as we determine that the fruit is ripe and suitable for harvest. If the fruit is ripe and sound, we can then decide if some “hang time” is possible to further increase the quality attributes of the fruit. This extended period of maturity on the vine can contribute further positive complexities to fruit flavours and outcomes in flavour and aroma nuances such as chocolate, coffee, pepper and violets. There are always risks to be managed and too much “hang time”, particularly if very hot weather occurs, can produce porty, jammy and other funky flavours. Regular vineyard visits, tasting and a great deal of experience results in gaining the very best that the vines have to offer. The pursuit of excellence, to produce the very best that we can and those very individual wines that are nurtured from the vineyard through to the winery is what drives us on and makes Margaret River wine “special”.

The region is harvesting grapes and counting the days down to the Margaret River Wine Region Festival. The festival is a highlight of our production year and lets us showcase the best wines of the Margaret River wine region. The entire endeavour that vintage brings culminates with a festival that lets us unwind a little. Palmer Winery near Dunsborough is the venue this year and I know the weather and the setting will be perfect. Time left to ring a few friends, organize festivities and then bolt out into the vineyard for one last fruit sample. Bring it on! I hope to see you there.

Contributed by Bruce Pearce

About Margaret River Discovery Tours
Sean Blocksidge is the owner operator of the Margaret River Discovery Company, an avid photographer, blogger and South West WA ambassador. In 2010 he won Western Australian Guide of the Year and his tours have been rated the #1 thing to do in Australia on the Tripadvisor website for the past two years.