I don’t think we’ve seen a bad vintage in the Yarra Valley since ’11, and ’09 before it.
Aside from the quality of the wine, for me it’s escapism. Every year when vintage rolls around, it’s time ditch the business shoes and get some dirt under my nails. There’s a refreshing nature to it; working directly with, well, nature.
In 2016 I fully expected problems going in. This year I’m making only Pinot Noir, and it’s an extremely fickle and temperamental grape variety – it’s capable of brilliance, and that’s why great Burgundies are bathed in so much praise; but it’s just as likely to turn bad. I suppose it shows the truth of a vineyard and vintage more clearly than anything else; if there’s a problem, you will see it.
Instead, the weather was pretty much perfect. The vines are incredible, and the fruit likewise.
Even with wild yeast ferments, and a good amount of whole-bunch, the ferments started up fairly quickly and are at the time of this writing, still incredibly healthy.
A couple of changes this year to the Pinot Noir:
1: Making are the use of yeast nutrients. The health of the yeast is very important, and letting it develop properly and stay healthy for long enough to do its job is something I used to leave up to chance and prayer.
2: Lots of rigorous plunging. We’re definitely not in the territory of Portuguese foot-stomping here (although that does sound like a fun day), but instead focussing on frequent and overly thorough plunging to achieve more extraction from the skins, and more importantly to really move some air through the juice – before it becomes wine.
Air, I think, is going to play an increasingly big role in winemaking for me. It’s the cause of, and solution to most problems in the winery. It’s easy to try and keep air away from wine; it’s safer anyway. But I think good wine needs a few trials; like a person, it needs to be exposed to things to develop depth of character.
Ultimately though, I spend my days sheltered from the elements, tasting wine and talking about it for a living. Then I get to escape to vineyard and winery, and smell and taste the development of my 2016s. And they’re healthy, and I’m happy.