Patina renewed my early passion in wine making
In the early 1990s my brother-in-law purchased a farm in Mudgee NSW and developed a vineyard which re-kindled my interest in vineyards and wine. However having witnessed the large California expansion of European varietals in the 1970s only to be followed by a large vine pull in the 1980s my business sense cautioned me about investing in vines.
Both of my children were born in Australia and after some consideration we moved to Orange NSW in 1995 for their high school years as we were partial to living with our children until they went on to university. My wife is an artist so Orange seemed the natural choice with the beautiful hills, valleys, orchards, timbered areas and four distinct seasons.
In the autumn of 1999 I made the pivotal mistake of picking some of my brother-in-law’s grapes left by the machine harvester around the end posts and making 100 litres of wine. I had more fun than a kid with a new toy and by late winter of the same year I purchased a small farm in Orange. I contacted a local viticultural consultant to confirm the best layout and soil types for the vineyard and was informed that it was too late in the year and I couldn’t get the vineyard planted in time and I should leave it until 2000. I had never let such reasonable words of wisdom prevent me from doing something unreasonable in the past, so I forged ahead and by October I had planted, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Having caved into passion I began plotting my new direction in life.
Farewell to the post harvest blues
I enjoy growing grapes. As a crop farmer I have always experienced post harvest blues due to spending the entire years effort nourishing and caressing a seedling to harvest then watching it die and having to start all over again the next spring. Vines are different. They only sleep during the winter and are there to greet you again in the spring. They are so tidy in their neatly mown rows and manicured canopies not to mention the inspiring hills and valleys surrounding the vines.
The post harvest blues of the annual crops are now replaced with the excitement, smells, challenges and dreams of the new wine. It has been said many times that good wine is made in the vineyard and I subscribe to this, but I find that the biggest challenge, the most excitement and the most fulfilment comes from turning great fruit into great wine. It is difficult to say where winemaking begins and grape growing ends but a plan evolves for the vintage as the growing season unfolds and is confirmed when the nearly ripe grapes are tasted on the vine.
In effort to learn and prepare myself for the 2002 harvest of my vines, I purchased a tonne of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, a couple small stainless tanks and barrels (and a few books) and made a 2000 vintage wine. Bolstered by the experience I purchased 5 tonnes of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in 2001 and enrolled in the Bachelor of Wine Science program at Charles Sturt University to find out what they knew.
I produced the first vintage from my vines in 2002 but it was a small vintage due to frost. The Cabernet yielded 4 tonnes, Merlot 1.5 tonnes and the Chardonnay was a write off.