Talk to a farmer about the weather and it’s too wet, too dry, too hot, too cold. But if you were a grape grower (who’s a farmer) in Murrumbateman in the Canberra District a two-word description would be useless. On January 3 this year a tornado one kilometre wide took five to ten minutes to devastate those vineyards that happened to be in its path. The wind and golf ball sized hailstones felled an avenue of 100-year-old trees and stripped vines of limbs, leaves and berries.
Ken Helm of his eponymous vineyard lost 80% of his crop, and Sarah and John Collingwood of Four Winds Vineyard tell similar stories, photographs adding another layer of comprehension. Speaking the following day, Sarah was stoic: ‘We’ll be in the vineyard, and making sure we’re looking after the vines to make sure they’re all ready for the next season.’
Hail falling in strips metres-wide has long been part of Burgundy’s grape growing, spring frost likewise. The value of the consequent crop losses dwarfs those of the Canberra District, $800-$2000 a bottle for red Burgundy, $32-$75 for Four Winds. But that’s no consolation for winemakers when, as in 2020, the entire red grape vintage across the whole of New South Wales was lost to smoke taint and drought.
Smoke from those fires came south to the Yarra Valley, and settled in for days. Winemakers across the Valley made microferments (up to 5 litres) of red varieties if smoke taint is suspected. Because 99% of white wines are made by pressing the grapes before fermentation, the skins discarded, they aren’t affected. The taint chemicals are in the skins, which are broken by the fermentation process, the wine sent to laboratories for analysis. To the amazement of all involved, the first tests were clean, and word spread around the Valley like wildfire, as all came in with the same outcome.
But control burns close to vineyards each autumn give rise to intense discussions between vignerons and the CFA.
2021 Gundog Estate Canberra District Riesling
Welcome winter rainfall became a problem, with disease pressure through to harvest; taking only first 500l/ton of free run juice, fined and racked clean prior to a cool fermentation, with 4.1gL residual sugar. The wine has a potent palate, partly built on the touch of sweetness balanced by crisp acidity.
93 points, drink to 2026, 12% alc, Screwcap, $45
2019 Eden Road Wines Canberra Syrah
Matured in French puncheons (20% new) for 16 months. Deep crimson-purple hue; classic cool grown high altitude site with fragrant black cherry, blackberry, and distinct fruit spices. Medium-bodied but intense and perfectly balanced, the finish and aftertaste as fresh as a daisy.
97 points, drink to 2039, 14.5% alc, Screwcap, $50
2019 Mount Majura Vineyard Canberra District Tempranillo
Hand-picked, 5-day pre ferment maceration; wild fermented in open vats; pressed to French oak (15% new) after 9 days post ferment maceration. A truly remarkable tempranillo, with greater colour, more complexity, and greater weight and length than any previously tasted. 232 dozen made (plus 102 magnums).
97 points, drink to 2038, 14.5% alc, Screwcap, $54