There’s a point during vintage at which things seem to click. Everyone knows what to do, any quirks in the equipment have been sorted and things just happen, even though the team is tired and a tad over it. It’s a nice moment to reach, and I felt able to move from a focus on learning basic operations to actually looking at each wine, its progression and how it might compare to other ferments in the winery.
Overall, the vintage was characterised by a stop-start rhythm, fruit arriving in waves based on a weather pattern that alternated between scorchingly hot and messily rainy. I saw no parcels of fruit that came in before full flavour ripeness, so although the weather was a bit tricky, everything seemed to fall into place in terms of being able to pick at the right time. Shiraz came in first and was generally full and generous, parcels varying quite a lot in fruit character but everything seeming of good quality. Then Cabernet arrived (more of which later) along with Grenache and Mataro. Some more unusual varieties also passed through the Geddes winery, notably a parcel of Nero D’Avola destined for the Brash Higgins NDV label and some Petit Verdot right at the end of vintage.
One thing I’ll be doing more of in future is branching out from McLaren Vale Shiraz into the wonderful Cabernets, Grenaches and Mataros it can produce. I do love the region’s Shiraz for its generosity and plummy flavour profile, but I saw so many parcels of great fruit of these other varieties that I feel they are due greater attention. Cabernet Sauvignon in particular was a surprise. I’ve enjoyed some McLaren Vale Cabernets in the past but have always tended to reach for Coonawarra or Margaret River when looking for great Aussie Cabernet. Although the Vale’s expression of this variety is quite different, I saw some really exciting, varietal fruit come in and it has reopened my eyes to the potential of this variety in the region. Fruit from Blewitt Springs, with its sandy soils and cooler climate, was especially fragrant and intense.
A lot of winemakers in the Vale are excited by Grenache and Mataro, although there’s more stylistic divergence between makers when it comes to Grenache in particular than for the other red varieties. It ranges from a fragrant, Pinot-like wine to more Shiraz-inspired expressions. The best ferments I saw seemed to fall between these extremes, preserving the fragrance and bright fruit of the variety while ensuring sufficient density, intensity and structure. Mataro continues to baffle me a little. It’s talked up a lot amongst wine writers and makers and, to be fair, I’ve had some really nice Aussie Mataros, but its dark, challenging flavour profile will have a hard time stealing the easy drinking crown from Shiraz. No matter; it’s a variety worthy of attention and I hope makers in the Vale continue to experiment with it, in blends and on its own.
Outside of the fruit, I developed enormous respect for the team I was working with and feel very lucky to have done vintage with them. Dowie Doole’s winemaker, Chris Thomas, managed a hectic vintage without really breaking a sweat. I love it when people move through stressful, constantly changing environments with seeming ease and Chris has that talent. He patiently showed me all the required cellar operations (sometimes more than once) and did so with clarity and patience. What a great teacher to have. Tim Geddes, in whose winery we worked in most days, is even more laid back and assembled a spectacularly fun and diverse vintage team comprising Julian Forwood, Tina Deng and Jack Christie. I’ve not laughed so hard in years. I’ve written about Amanda Geddes’s lunches before, and these provided pleasure and sustenance right to the end.
Time outside the winery was also fantastic, albeit necessarily limited. McLaren Vale is a real gourmet area and my host, Leigh Gilligan, ensured I was able to experience most of what the region has to offer in this regard, including via his own delicious cooking. It always mystifies me when wine regions have no food culture; when these things come together, as they should, pleasure is exponentially increased. A particular highlight was seeing Lulu Lunn, partner of Dowie Doole’s charming Drew Dowie, stretch mozzarella and hand me a portion, all warm and fresh and juicy. What a pleasure.
I’ll be popping back in early May to have a look at the wines we made, most of which will be in barrel. I’m fascinated to see what’s changed, how malolactic fermentation has affected each wine, which parcels have remained my favourites and which will surprise me.
So good was the experience that I feel strongly I’d like to do it again. Could this be the beginning of the end?