This is my favourite time of year out in the vineyard and the best time to visit the Margaret River Wine Region. In the winery we can already savour the sweet taste of success and promise of great wines from the 2010 vintage.
With autumn weather bringing sunshine, mild daytime temperatures and cool nights our Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz vines are just loving the final stages of ripening berries. Already we see winemakers with broad red smiles, knowing that what is coming from the vineyards is the best possible quality from what is being a fantastic end to a somewhat earlier than usual vintage. Vineyard managers and owners are also pleased with the quality and quantity of fruit produced this year and we are all looking forward to a well earned break before pruning commences in June. The crew in the vineyard are mixing work and pleasure, with many locals and international visitors making the most of the best seasonal surf the region has on offer; a relief to the hours spent harvesting. We can even see the grapevines responding favourably to the end of vintage with autumn colours observed, indicating a job well done and the signal of the start of dormancy throughout winter.
Out in the vineyard this week we are right in the middle of Cabernet and Shiraz harvest. This will be the busiest harvest time throughout vintage. Nets are being removed from vines, hand clean up and removal of any damaged bunches is undertaken to improve quality and harvesting and transport of grapes to the winery completes the operation. Some of our smaller vineyards are harvesting by hand and everyone is watching the weather to see if there will be rain. The days are getting shorter and the time is right for harvest!
Much of the red grape harvesting occurs during the daylight hours, as usually there is a preference to have red fruit coming into the winery with some heat load. With reds it is normal to have fruit temperatures above 20 degrees centigrade and this allows fermentation on skins to start rapidly. The benefit of this elevated temperature can be improved wine quality and a reduction in fermentation time, thereby freeing up fermenter space for the next harvest.
There is harvest temperature management during harvest that takes ambient fruit temperature into consideration. We know that getting fruit into the winery at the desired temperature also reduces the need for heating or cooling. The reduction in temperature intervention in the winery has a cost saving in energy and most wineries are conscious of reducing the wineries carbon footprint. Its’ simply better for the environment!
I should explain the difference in temperature requirement between white and red grape production. In white wine processing the lower temperatures (well below 15 degrees centigrade) are desired. You may be interested to know the importance of picking and processing white grapes at cold temperature to preserve flavours and aroma. I guess a good way of explaining the damaging effects of high temperature in white grape processing is by explaining the process of heat and oxidization. A good explanation is by example of a cut apple. If we cut an apple and leave the cut portion on the bench at room temperature, the cut portion will rapidly oxidize, turn brown and taste pretty bad. However, if we had put the cut section into the fridge at cooler temperature, the oxidization (browning) would be much slower and the flavour, aroma and general quality is protected. This is why we process white grapes at low temperature and make use of cold night time temperatures when machine harvesting.
The end of vintage this year just happens to coincide with the Margaret River Wine Region Festival and many of us have been also preparing for the festivities. Out in the vineyards this week has been dominated by harvest and also thoughts of celebrating the vintage with a long lunch, raging at the Cabernet Cabaret and kicking back and relaxing at the many wine festival activities. The best time management allows a combination of many activities, including celebrating! One very nice benefit of working in the Margaret River wine region is the understanding of the importance of wine and celebration. A fantastic spirit of comradeship exists between vineyards and wineries and we all look forward to celebrating the end of vintage together…. This year’s Margaret River Regional Wine Festival is another great opportunity; I hope to meet you there.
Contributed by Bruce Pearce
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.