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Tim's Ravings

Posted by Tim Stevens on

Vintage 2024

The parched winter of ‘23 culminated in bushfires. The forecast of El Niño with drought, heatwaves and more fires were too easy to believe. We carefully watered the vines and didn’t plant a mid-row cover crop – it was just too dry.

We had to buy water for the winery, so each of the early spring rainfalls felt like a gift; each forecast too good to be true, and every drop of rain we could capture was hoarded for what we believed would be the dry times ahead. 

But it kept raining, and it stayed cool. The vines were happy, the vineyard team busy with canopy management, slashing, and spraying in a constant cycle. Instead of the drought, we were battling disease pressure. 

A decent heat wave in early December eased that pressure and brought welcome stress to the vines, refocusing their attention from too-enthusiastic canopy growth to the fruit. Veraison (colour change) started early in mid-December. And then it cooled right down and rained again. And again. And again. The vineyard looked magnificent, the slashing and spraying didn’t stop. 

In January it got hot again, with a spell of unusually warm nights, which is great for controlling downy mildew and ripening, but has knocked some of the acids around a bit. We can fix that up in the winery with natural tartaric acid.

We picked Pinot and Chardonnay for the sparkling base on 17th January – the earliest start to vintage in my recollection. Winemaking friends were caught out still on holiday, and the harvesters that normally come to Mudgee after completing in the Hunter were still busy there. The Pinot Noir Rose came in a couple of days later, and by the end of January, after some ridiculously big days, all the whites were off. I'm happy with the Chardonnay and the Rosé in particular. Yields were excellent, with the vines in superb health thanks to the continued dedication and work of our vineyard team. 

Now to the reds… By early February, the BOM had copped a hiding from every farmer in Australia, thrown their hands up in the air and more or less said 'we have no idea'... So now we're flying blind which is certainly spicing things up a bit! 

The last week of January and first two of February were hot, with maximum temperatures stuck in the high 30s and little relief at night. The vines reacted like a toddler on a 24hr flight who's overtired, over stimulated and just plain over it. They stalled, refusing to ripen, the grapes stuck at 12 Baume. A series of storms crashed over us time and again - a cycle of hot, muggy days and stormy, rain-filled nights. It's lovely to hear rain on a tin roof, except when it’s not. 

As I write this on 20th February, although we've picked some reds for the Nouveau and for clients, we haven't picked any of the serious reds for ourselves. 

The baumé (ripeness/sugar level) continues to stubbornly refuse to move but the grapes are holding up really well - incredibly well given the conditions are ideal for disease. We'll do what we always do. Hold our nerve and wait patiently for the grapes to achieve the ripeness and flavour levels we want. I'd rather lose a little bit of fruit and make great wine, just in smaller quantities, than use it all to make bigger quantities of ‘good enough’ wine. 

The advantage of 50 vintages under our belts, 19 of them under my leadership, is that I've seen it all (maybe not all in 1 year before though) and this experience brings perspective as well as knowledge. The disadvantages include being an old codger with a dodgy back, which gave out 10 days ago and isn't showing any sign of improving. 

Wish us luck for the reds! 

Cheers, Tim Stevens.

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