Gundog Canberra Correspondence

Monday, May 23, 2011

May is an appropriate time in the Canberra winemaking year to take a reflective view of the season’s vintage: all the grapes are in, ferments are underway, or completed, and as the exhausted vines close down for the restorative winter months we look at how we have worked the vineyard and consider if we could have done better.

THE WEATHER

Like all farming viticulture demands that we respond to the prevailing climate, which is a defining component of our terroir, and, what is more difficult, successfully cope with the unusual and extreme weather events that are always possible.

One can summarise the Canberra 2010/2011 season in one word: WET. My astronomer friend Brad Schmidt (who successfully grows that pesky Pinot Noir grape in our region) offers the following view of our weather this season:

“2011 has been characterised by large amounts of rain, cool daytime temperatures, and warm night temperatures, and lower amounts of sunshine hours than typical.  The 2010/11 growing season is the wettest ever in Canberra (since the region's first vintage in 1975) with 828mm of rain falling from 1 July 10 - 31 Mar 11.  In terms of degree days, it is the coolest year since 2002. The lack of sun and abundance of moisture, has also meant that vintage has been very late compared to what might be expected, with many vineyards yet to pick even early ripening varieties by mid April.”

On Gundog Estate our 12 megalitre earth dam has been full to overflowing since the winter rains of 2010. In the five years we have owned the vineyard this is the first time that the dam has been more than a quarter full. A full dam is a beautiful sight and the corresponding abundance of growth all over the property has brought a return of birdlife we have never seen before and a major increase in our kangaroo population.

Winter rains are always important to us as they provide moisture to the sub-soil metres below the vines enabling early and even flowering when the spring arrives. This year however the rains continued after winter, and although that meant we didn’t have to irrigate, the continuing rain through the growing season, especially after fruit-set, exposed the vineyard to mildew problems and even botrytis rot in extreme cases.

Canberra region was not alone suffering these weather extremes, in fact most Australian grape-growing regions, with the notable exception of the Hunter Valley, were affected in some degree by the excessive and untimely rainfall.

THE VINTAGE

Many of our neighboring vineyards lost their entire crop to disease this year; others had only tiny crops to pick. At Gundog Estate we established an early maintenance plan for the vineyard and with conscientious spraying we were able to pick a healthy crop of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, although final ripening took considerably longer than usual. Matt has used these grapes to make this year’s Rosé and I am delighted to be able to report that the 2011 Rosé is just as outstanding as the previous year’s vintage. Remember the 2010 Rosé was a multiple award winner for us and netted the Estate’s first wine trophy. We expect at least the same this year!

We were not so lucky however with our Shiraz this year. Dane Dahlberg, a very experienced viticulturist who carefully nurtures our Shiraz grapes throughout the growing season was able to avoid mildew diseases through the application of timely spraying, but he was not able to increase the sunshine hours during the critical ripening weeks. As a result a very good looking grape crop failed to ripen to the extent that Matt judged was essential to produce a high quality Shiraz wine, which being our flagship product can’t be compromised.

The decision not to pick the Shiraz this year was a stressful and disappointing one for Matt, Dane and myself to make, but in the end our benchmark style of single vineyard wines, ie not blended with other grapes to overcome shortcomings in ripeness or flavour, left us no choice.

Fortunately we still have a good stock of the highly regarded 2009 Shiraz that we can make available to the friends of Gundog. The beautifully smooth 2008 Shiraz is almost gone, and the really interesting 2010 Shiraz, also made after a difficult ripening season, will be eagerly sought after it’s upcoming release – this is a very special wine indeed!

THE FUTURE

No two Vintages are ever the same; this truism drives viticulture and oenology more than anything else. As wine consumers we like to know what we are about to drink when we choose a good bottle of fine wine and seek out the evidence for making our choice: country of origin, region, grape type, wine style, wine maker and, of course, the Vintage.

Lists of Bordeaux vintages of the last thirty years rate the wines and indicate the very few considered exceptional.  The same is applied to our own Penfold’s Grange, and every Australian winemaker has clear opinions of which were his best years.

At Gundog Estate we are very proud of our three Shiraz vintages, we believe they all say something important, and different, about our style ideas for this wine, all great examples of our region, our terroir, and Matt’s great wine-making skill and aesthetic.

Sadly there will not be a 2011 Shiraz in our Cellar, but we are already designing a 2012 Shiraz which will undoubtedly make up for the missing year!

I do hope you enjoy all our current releases.

Geoff Burton