02 December 2013
Growing grapes and making wine is an agricultural pursuit. We would all like to work in unison with Mother Nature but sometimes she does not make it easy. Winemaking vintages usually reflect Mother Nature’s mood, whether it be drought, inundation or as in the case of this year - frost.
Spring is always a nervous time for grape growers. The vines shoot new growth from their buds. The new soft tissue shoots continue to grow as the days get warmer. But the nights remain fairly cold. Herein lays the danger. If the wind drops as the sun sets, the skies are clear and the cold air settles at ground level, the temperature might fall below 0oC. And if this happens, frost is a likely consequence. Soft, new, green grape vine shoots do not like frost. The frost freezes the water inside the tissue cells and destroys the cell structure. Within 12 hours the shoot looks ‘burnt’ – black all over and dead as a dodo. While the vine will recover, the burnt shoot will not. It can be devastating for the grape grower. It usually results in significant crop losses and higher costs of production.
The spring of 2013 has been a bad frost season. As a rule, the Orange region is not particularly frost prone. With is vineyards planted on the rolling slopes coming off Mount Canobolas, there is pretty good air drainage which keeps the cold air moving downhill. Cold air turns to frost when there is no air movement. Having said that, the Printhie vineyards have experienced their worst frosts ever. The damage at Printhie is not particularly significant but the extent of the damage is an indicator of the severity of the frost season. There are low lying vineyards on the Orange GI boundary that have been damaged as well as vineyards in the Canberra District, Hilltops, Gundagai, Riverina, Mudgee and interstate. There have been reports of damage resulting in anything from 20% to 100% crop losses.
Fortunately, the danger has now passed. For those that have suffered frost damage it is a matter of making the best of a tough season. We can be thankful that we do not have the danger of early autumn frosts – that would be a double edged sword if there ever was one.
05 November 2013
Early Start to the Season
The 2013-14 grape growing season has started with a bang with the likely consequence of an early harvest in 2014. We have just started to bottle some of the wines from the 2013 vintage and already our thoughts are turning to the 2014 vintage as we cannot ignore the green sea of vines flourishing out the winery window.
The winter of 2013 was very short. Sure enough, in the depths of winter it was cold enough – we even had some snow falls. But it was a very compressed winter. It was late to arrive and disappeared very quickly. As a result, budburst in the vineyard occurred about 2-3 weeks ahead of the average timing. Ever since, the vines have been growing at their usual spring high-speed rate. If this pattern continues we are in for an early harvest.
There has been no comfort zone for grape growers and winemakers in recent years. There was ten years of drought and then two years (2011 & 2012) when it felt like summer never arrived – both cool and wet although 2012 was a little warmer and a little drier. Then 2013 – 6oC above the average temperature. What a change of pace! As a result, we had the earliest vintage we have ever had starting in early February and it was all over by the end of March.
The 2014 vintage could be just as early. The start of the season actually reminds me a lot of the 2009-2010 season. It was the end of the drought. The spring was early (although not quite this early), dry, windy and hot. I distinctly remember November being particularly unpleasant, especially for the hot, dry winds. Of course the drought was broken mid-summer with a deluge of rain at Christmas. You never know what is around the corner.
We have a long way to go before the 2014 harvest starts. We have to dodge frost, make sure the soil moisture remains high enough for vines to keep growing through the warm, dry, windy spring. Hope for the odd shower of rain (enough but not too much please!), fend off disease and pests, and then get the grapes into the winery. But if the pattern is being set now, we will be counting on another early harvest with a start in mid-February. Inevitably this will result in the overlapping of harvest with the bottling of wine from the previous vintage in the third week of February. We used be to pretty safe with the timing of this bottling. Now we are not so sure. We might have to start re-scheduling. Crushing grapes and bottling wine at the same time is a bit of a winemaker’s nightmare.
04 November 2013
Ten Years of Printhie
The 2013 vintage at Printhie marked the tenth anniversary for Printhie as a wine brand with its own winery and cellar door, so we thought it fitting to celebrate this milestone during Wine Week in October 2013.
Although the first vines were planted in 1996 and small batches of wines were made by another winemaker in the first years of the new century, the 2004 vintage marked the beginning of Printhie as a commercial wine brand. In late 2003 construction of Printhie’s own winery and cellar door began and the Swift family employed Robert Black as its first winemaker. Although construction was not entirely complete by the beginning of the 2004 vintage, the wines were made in the new winery nevertheless. Drew Tuckwell’s tenure as winemaker began just before the 2008 vintage and is staring down the barrel of his seventh vintage at Printhie. The two Swift sons, Edward and Dave, have both returned to the family business to take on the management of the vineyard and these days, much of the business of running Printhie.
To celebrate the 10th Anniversary we trawled through the museum collection of wines and teamed up with Simonn Hawke at Lolli Redini for a wonderful dinner that looked back at the wines that have achieved so much for Printhie and had a sneak peek into the future for what may lay ahead.
The 2005 Riesling was complex while still fresh as a daisy and sat beside the yet to be released 2013 MCC Riesling – highly aromatic bursting with youthful extravagance. The pair of 2008 chardonnays, the Mountain Range and the MCC, represented a significant point in Printhie winemaking – the first time we made a reserve chardonnay. The 2008 Mountain Range was remarkably youthful for a 6 year old chardonnay and the MCC showed a lot of the complexity you would expect for a fully barrel fermented wine.
The 2006 vintage was significant vintage for Printhie when it won four trophies at the Orange Wine Show in 2007 with red wines from the 2006 vintage. Although the 2006 Mountain Range Shiraz was not one of the trophy winners, it was a gold medallist and today still retains freshness but with wonderfully complex bottle aged characters – all for what was at the time, a $15 wine. On the night it sat alongside the double trophy winning 2011 MCC Shiraz – proof that in every dog year (cool & wet), great wines can be made.
Our flagship red wine, the Swift Family Heritage, rounded out the wines that night. The 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, from the very first commercial vintage at Printhie and the first Printhie wine to receive a five star rating from James Halliday still has plenty of life left in it – rich and complex. The 2010 Shiraz Cabernet is still another couple of years away from seeing the light of day but provided a look to the future and also the underlying principle of this wine – a variable blend year to year as long as it represents the best red wine of the vintage.
All in all, a wonderful way to celebrate a major milestone in the life of Printhie. See you in 2023 for the 20 year anniversary, it should be quite a feast.
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