Thursday, February 26, 2009

Notes on Cabernet Sauvignon - Vintage 2009 - UPDATE 26/2/2009

Cabernet Sauvignon is always thought to be a tough variety. This year many Cabernet vineyards have held very well when compared to Shiraz (and often very well compared to Grenache).

In the Sellicks region Cabernet is holding. Most fruit burnt from the early heat wave has shriveled up. Some vineyards, where fruit is exposed to the west sun, have stewed fruit but in general fruit is sound. Some growers have been asked to removed stewed fruit before the block is harvested. 

Vines further to the north in Blewitt Springs Cabernet is looking more tired. Cabernet is shriveling up. This is a concern as the fruit is not yet ripe and has tobacco, or leafy characters in the skin. These blocks still need some time to develop ripe fruit characteristics.

Treat each vineyard in a case by case basis. If you get the opportunity look at vineyards that in a similar location as yours and look for differences. Which way do the rows run? North/South? How do they water? Have they used sulphur late in summer? Have they used Kelp/Seaweed products? Urea?

This vintage has been the most trying in our experience, try and stay positive and learn from what has occurred. Give priority to varieties that look marketable next year and management techniques that you see working.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Olive Nutrition - Pre & Post Harvest

Sam Freeman notes that; Irrigation is much more important than nutrition for Olive trees. Olive trees are not big feeders. Nitrogen (N) and (K) Potassium deficiency are the only common issues. Other nutritional issues occured very rarely.

Pre Harvest - Oil Accumulation.

As we head through this period, from late March into April, Olives accumulate oil and ripen.
Oil olives are just beginning to change colour.
During this phase it is important to maintain adequate calcium levels within the fruit. Calcium is important for cell development and skin strength. Much of the McLaren Vale region has subsoils high in calicum (eg. Limestone) however orchards on heavy, black soil or the light sands of Mt Compass are likely to be low in Calcium.
The use of Calcium Nitrate at this stage will greatly improve fruit set and development, as cell expansion rates increase within the fruit.

Post Harvest - Building up carbohydrate.

After harvest, applications of nitrogen are important to assist in the uptake of carbohydrates, which are used in spring to push early seasons growth. 

Carbohydrate accumulation is vital to Olives. Generally post-harvest applications of nitrogen in the form of soluble urea (Liquifert N) (20-50 Kg/Ha), or liquid urea (Easy N) (20-40 L/Ha), can be applied. 

On heavy black soil, or light sand where higher amounts of calcium are still required, then further additions of Calcium Nitrate can be applied (60-90 Kg/Ha).

Many growers also opt to use Potassium Nitrate (60-90 Kg/Ha) as a form of post harvest Nitrogen.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Questions about Irrigation - Q&A

Post harvest vines.

When running short of water can you skip post harvest irrigations?

The short answer is no, it is not ideal given the type of dry seasons we have been having. Salt levels are building up in soils and vine vigour is generally decreasing. This is especially noticeable on hard, cracking clays.
The period between the fruit being picked and the leaf fall is important to the continued health of vines. This period;
  • Allows vines to recover from the season,

  • Allows replenishment of carbohydrate reserves,

  • Stimulates some new root growth and nutrient uptake,

  • Can help to flush salts from the soil if irrigation is applied in a large enough amounts to cause leaching.
Therefore you need to maintain healthy canopy in most cases irrigation is vital to do this.

Can we wait until next Spring before giving fertiliser?

Post harvest fertiliser is timed when the vines have a flush of new root growth. Root growth after harvest in dry soil is obviously going to be less than root growth in Spring, when the soil is moist.

While you could catch up with fertiliser in Spring, there is no guarantee weather conditions next Spring will be idea for growth. The last few seasons have been notable for a lack of Spring rainfall. We may be chasing our tail.

Also, post-harvest uptake of phosphorus important, and nitrogen is needed to repleshing amino acids and proteins to help with a good bud burst next year.


In the shorter term,
  • Vines can tolerate a few poor post-harvest periods, but we have had two out of the last three years with very dry conditions, and many vineyards are at a point of low vigour.

  • Have we been running vineyards too lean during the droughts?
In the longer term,
  • Salinity management a key issue.

  • Consider your water supply, variety, rootstocks and location. Give priority for blocks that have the most potential to make you a return next year.
For more information visit:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Harvest on the Range

Is the Range the future of McLaren Vale?

In times of heatwaves and water shortages the naturally higher rainfall and cooler conditions found along the Range are helping to maintain fruit quality during otherwise tough vintages. This season looks like no exception.
As a rough rule of thumb vineyards in the Range Rd, Kuitpo and Hope Forest areas run two to three weeks behind McLaren Vale. This gives the opportunity to produce more delicate flavours from traditional varieties like Shiraz, as well as produce alternative cool climate grapes like the Pinot family, Sauvignon Blanc and others.

The Range area is suited to these varieties because of a longer and slower ripening period. During January the ripening period is stretched out to be four to six weeks later than the warmer climate region of McLaren Vale.

The slower ripening is due to higher altitude producing cooler weather. Also on many mornings a low cloud hangs on the range that takes several hours to clear. This further cools the area.

The length of daylight plays a part too. As growers to farm these areas know there is a large difference in the positioning of vineyards. Those on north facing slopes ripen quicker that those facing south or those at the bottom of valleys. Vineyards which are exposed to more sun ripen earlier.

This region has faired much better than McLaren Vale during the heatwave at the end of January. The fruit was not as advanced, the vines less water stressed and seem to suffer from less sunburn. In the Willunga basin (McLaren Vale GI) vines that are exposed to the sun are increasingly becoming negative factor. Sunburn is common on rows running north/south and many blocks have been positioned east/west to limit exposure.

In the warmer Range sites Pinot Gris harvest is beginning this week with Sauvignon Blanc looking at beginning in another 7-10 days. With no rain to speak of, the main threat to these blocks, late season botrytis, has not been recorded.

Assuming continued dry weather it is looking like a clean vintage in this area. Harvest dates are expected to be later than last year where many blocks were panic picture during the March 2008 heatwave. Expect fruit from Sauvignon Blanc in mid-march and late season reds from the end of the month.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Shiraz Flavour - Berry Sensory Analysis

A bunch of Shiraz with berry shrivel.
Shiraz fruit is beginning to show some flavour in many of the remaining vineyards. Acid levels are dropping and many of the best remaining vineyards are booked in for harvest. This give us a chance to get out and taste as much fruit as possible and come to our own conclusions about the vintage.

If I had to some up the ripening season it would be in a few words I would say, "Veraison interrupted."

It has been a difficult ripening period and this has showed through in the way flavours have developed. Most vineyards were affected by the heat and normal verasion did not develop evenly. Even now two weeks after the heat blocks have a high degree of variation.

The bunch shown above is typical of Shiraz this season. Some of the berries now have ripe seeds (brown and crunchy), macerated pulp (juicy) and skin that are chewy and bleed colour onto your fingers. These are the three simple things I look for in mature, high quality Shiraz.

Great news to see these signs!

However, some berries in the same bunch are not ideal. The bunch pictured has some shriveled fruit which tastes bland and has little juice. Worse, from a wine quality point of view, some berries that have only just coloured up and taste sharp and acidic.

Still I think it is as good as it will get. This block is being harvested Thursday night. Lets hope the ripe fruit out-weights the bad.

Phylloxera on the March?

The Great French Wine Blight - The French countryside is dotted with Phylloxera crosses. Since nothing else appeared to stop its inexorable march, some viticulturists turned to religion in a desperate attempt to rid the vines of this plague.

History Repeats?

There is a secret risk that could destroy the most valuable asset we have. There is a pest that can destroy old vines on their own roots. By historical accident the old vineyards in McLaren Vale, the Barossa, the Clare and Eden Valleys and Coonawarra have become the great survivors of this hidden plague.

These old vines have helped these wine regions continues to produce wines that are some of the best in the world. Wine producers like Wendouree, Henschke, Teusner, Kay Brothers and hundreds of grape growers are guardians of priceless old vines. These vines are now threatened.

The risk comes from a little aphid that only lives on the roots of grapevines, Phylloxera.

"THE PHYLLOXERA, A TRUE GOURMET, FINDS OUT THE BEST VINEYARDS AND ATTACHES ITSELF TO THE BEST WINES." Cartoon from Punch, September 6, 1890, by Edward Linley Sambourne (January 4, 1844–August 3, 1910).
The threat has always been with us (the Phylloxera aphid arrived in Australia circa 1877) but since it remained, against the odds, confined to the North Eastern Victoria and Nagambie areas for so long, it has dropped off many wine growers radars. Maybe it's the recent increase in plantings which has reduced the distance between vineyards, or maybe people became too casual with the protocols after getting away with living with the threat for so long but something has changed and Phylloxera has now quickly become a more immediate threat to all own rooted vineyards in Australia.

Phylloxera represents a clear and present danger to Australian vineyards now. For how serious this could be we only need to look back to history to show us how.

Phylloxera was thought to have arrived into Europe sometime around 1858, or 1860. It was introduced from North America. It can hardly be seen with the naked eye. There had been trade in grape stock between the two continents for over two hundred years previous, but no one had notice the grape aphid.

It is likely Phylloxera only became a problem in France after the invention of steamships. This new technology allowed a fast journey across the Atlantic ocean, allowing the Phylloxera to survive the trip. An increase in fast travel and between the continents made its introduction inevitable.

The French initially did not know what Phylloxera was doing to there vines, they just saw the effect, a sudden vine death which they likened to consumption. In 1863 the first cases had turned up in the old region of Languedoc.

They called it wine blight. This wine blight caused the entire course of French industry to change and is estimated to have cost double the repatriations the French had to supply Prussia after their losing war of 1870.

Such was Phylloxera speed and consequence as it spread through France and the rest of Europe it was likened to a disease. It was known as consumption as, like tuberculous, it consumed the vines.
For many this might seem like an ancient history lesson, irrelevant with the pressures of a recession and environmental concerns like droughts and fires, but the parallels between the past and present seem obvious to me.

I am scared of a repeat. 

Around Australia phylloxera is clearly being mobilised. Previously confined to North Eastern Victoria Phylloxera is on the march. As mentioned Phylloxera was first detected in Australia in 1877, in Geelong, and was responsible for the near destruction of the Victorian wine industry in the 1880s. Until fairly recently it was confined to small areas in central Victoria (Nagambie, Upton, Mooroopna) and northeast Victoria (Rutherglen, King Valley), in southeast New South Wales (Corowa) and in Camden and Cumberland near Sydney. However, there have been several detections in central Victoria in the past 10 years (Buckland Valley 2003, Ovens Valley 2003, Murchison 2006, Yarra Valley 2006, Mansfield 2010).

1.   RED: Phylloxera Infested Zone (PIZ) known to have phylloxera
2.   GREEN: Phylloxera Exclusion Zone (PEZ) known to be free from phylloxera
3.   CREAM: Phylloxera Risk Zone (PRZ) phylloxera status unknown (but never detected)

South Australia now faces the imminent arrive of the blight. While their is a slight risk an increase in travel and tourism between our wine regions seeing Phylloxera breaking out of its containment in Victoria the main risk come from the wine industry itself. 

Recent changes to quarantine regulations are making it easier to transport grapevine material and machinery material from any PEZ (green zone in the map above) to any other PEZ. While this may seem well and good many of the Victorian PEZ regions have only recently been declared Phylloxera free. This has been the result of survey work conducted by the Victoria Department of Primary Industry (DPI).

For whose benefit is this change? Why the need to bring grapes and machinery direct from interstate, from regions which sit right alongside known Phylloxera Infested Zones (Red zones), into the heart of SA?

I have heard it suggested that large winegrowing companies will benefit moving grapes and machinery around the country, by making small savings in convenience, cost & paperwork. Victorian harvester companies moving machinery into SA will also benefit. The Victorian DPI will justify the millions of dollars spent on Phylloxera surveys. Australian Vine Improvement Association assists its nursery interests in selling material freely. 

It is not popular for me to say this, but I agree. 

Michelton, Vic (c) Phylloxera; Grape Industry Board of South Australia.
If phylloxera arrives from Victoria in my lifetime, I want to say that I did everything I could to highlight the risk of changing the rules  to place SA at greater risk.

I fear that as financial pressure is put on wine businesses corners are being cut. Vineyard hygiene is being cut back. This short term financial distraction could let a long term destruction slip through into South Australia.

An introduction of the aphid would cause a modern upset that would could rival the original for economic catastrophe. The original outbreak saw 40% of French vineyards devastated over a 15 year period, from the late 1850s to the mid 1870s. The French economy was badly hit by the blight; many businesses were lost, and wages in the wine industry were cut to less than half. Farmers were ruined.

Waves of immigrants moved to California and Algiers to start farming anew.

Remember that the rapid spread of the pest was in an era where the only fast travel between wine regions was by train, or river barge. It is notable that the spread of Phylloxera initially followed the main river valley of the Rhone from Languedoc to the centre of France.

Ironically in Tuscany the railways were blamed for the scourge. They called the railway a devils tool and thought it unnatural because it laid long tracks of iron into the soil. The Tuscan grape growers ripped up several miles of track in fear.

After a start in the Rhone Valley, the disease spread across the French Alps and across the Pyrenees. Bordeaux was also breached and by 1884 over a million hectares of French vineyards were dead or dying. As the plague spread, church bells were rung in alarm, anti-pest syndicates were formed, and a burn-or-perish approach was regretfully adopted.

It was not until 1868 that the French biologist Jules- Emile Planchon and two colleagues, chanced upon a group of Phylloxera sucking from the roots of a plant that a theory on the blight's cause by the Phylloxera was formed.

Once the cause of the problem was discovered, there was no apparent solution. A large cash prize was offered for a cure and many off-the-wall ideas were tested, but the prize was never awarded.

Removing and burning infested vines was only marginally effective in slowing the spread.

The only option to keep the wine industry going was suggested by two french wine growers, Leo Laliman and Gaston Bazille, who both felt if European vines could be combined, by means of grafting, with the Phylloxera-resistant American vines, then the problem might be solved.

The process was colloquially termed "reconstitution" by French wine growers.

If Phylloxera came to McLaren Vale today, this remains the only solution. Our vineyards would have to be pulled up and replanted as grafted vines. Classic vineyards like Hill of Grace in the Eden Valley would have to be reconstituted because they will die from Phylloxera eating the vines roots.

A more recent lesson in the destructive abilities of Phylloxera is occurring now. Attempts in the 1960s by the viticulturists of the University of California to replace older rootstocks with the ominously named AxR1 rootstock. AxR1 performed wonderfully for a while, but a new strain of Phylloxera overcame its resistance. California experienced its own rapid outbreak, only now satellite and DNA technology was available to track the spread of infection, and Californian vineyards are now in the process of replanting at an estimated cost of between half a billion and a billion dollars.

While we do have the advantage, in modern times, in that we now know what causes the death of vines and how Phylloxera can be detected, you cannot put the gene back in the bottle. South Australia's hundred year old vineyards could be chewed up like their French forebears.

It would be introduced accidentally by a tourists boot or more likely a dirty tractor tire. It would take a few years to be noticed. We might have an advanced technology like satellite imagery to track its progress, but we would stand little better chance than out 19th Century compatriots of stopping a huge economic upheaval to an already stressed industry.

Like the steamships of old, the trucks on the highways could also bring with them a pest that can't be shaken - a ruinous aphid to claim the oldest remaining vines in the world.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

WARNING - Risky wine deal!

It has been brought to our attention certain buyers new to the region have been approaching growers to take their fruit.

They are offering terms where they will pay for the grapes in fifteen months. They are offering the grower $1,000 per tonne for Shiraz if the fruit sells for $3- a litre as finished wine. For every 10 cents below $3 dollars they will deduct $50 off of the price of the fruit.

This means if the finished wine sells for $2 per litre the grower will be paid $500. If the fruit sells for $1 per litre the grower will not receive any payment.

Growers are advised to take extreme care with these deals. All of the risk is with the grapegrower. Seek legal advise before entering into any agreements of this nature.

Warn your neighbours to of the same if they are offered this type of agreement.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Salt in Seasol? Q&A

An interesting question this week;

"Does Seasol make grapes taste salty?"

Seasol, and other commercially available kelp based products, are harvested from the ocean. The kelp is then prepared into a solution either by physical and heat extraction, cold pressing (like olive oil) or by using enzymes to break the kelp down.

Seasol is 0.33% w/v Sodium and 0.92% w/v Chloride. In rough chemistry this means in a litre of Seasol contains 0.33 grams of Sodium and 0.92 grams of Chloride.

If you applied three applications of Seasol in a season at 5 litres per hectare, 15 litres in total, you would apply approximately 5 grams of Sodium and 14 grams of Chloride. This is a small amount in comparison to amount per hectare to that salts deposited in the soil from common practices like applying super-phosphate, gypsum and of course irrigation water.

Irrigation water at 800ppm of salt (800 mg/l) applied at 1 megalitre (1 million litres) leaves 800 kilograms of salts (0.08g x 1,000,000) in the soil.

The amount of salt applied by the Seasol is negligible compared to that applied as irrigation.

Albarino Identity?

A press release from the AWBC has cast doubt on the identity of Albarino, aka Albarinho in Australia.
Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, Winemakers’ Federation of Australia and Wine Grape Growers’ Australia are aware that doubt has recently been expressed regarding the true identity of certain vines planted in Australia and described as “albarinho”.
Late last year one Australian viticulturist sought confirmation of the identity of some albarinho vines planted in South Australia and sent samples to France for DNA testing. Results received late January suggest the samples from this vineyard represent examples of the variety savagnin, rather than albarinho. Further work is being conducted to replicate these findings.
At this stage our investigations suggest that vines described as “albarinho” in Australia are from one of a very limited number of sources. In fact it may be that they are all from the same source. Therefore doubt about the identity of the “albarinho” vines that have been tested may have implications for many, or all, Australian plantings of this variety.
Albarinho is originally from Galicia (northwest Spain) and Monção (northwest Portugal), where it is used to make varietal white wines. It is seen as having potential to be a significant variety in McLaren Vale, and other similar climates because it is able to withstand warm and dry conditions and maintain good aromatics.
The AWBC press release infers that there maybe a confusion between Albarinho and Savagnin Blanc, an white grape from Jura in France. Savagnin is thought to be developed from ancient Tramier, and be related to Viognier.
We have some informative comments from Wayne Farquar of Elite Nursery and SAVII who feels more information is needed.
Wayne provided the photo (top) of the CSIRO's imported Albarinho mother vine and notes their are differences between that and the French text books illustration of Savagnin (left).

"There is just too much conflicting information but it is clear to me that the AWBC press release was too specific and will create much ill will. 
A more questioning response of potential identity confusion should have been made with no reference to Savagnin or comments about it being a genuine error as it may not be. The French may have it wrong as clearly their photo, pictured left, in their reference books have closed sinus for Savagnin not opened as per the CSIRO import.

Last year I spent a couple of days in France with Mr Morisson from Morisson-Courdec who has one of the largest ampelography libraries in the world dating back many hundreds of years and I came away with only two clear results and they were that Savagnin had closed sinus and Albarinho had open sinus. Clearly this is not my area of expertise and I may have it completely wrong but let’s be sure that what we are saying is correct."
DJ's grape guide will post updates as more information comes to hand.

Cool weather helps vineyards - UPDATE 9/2/2009

The return of cool weather has given vines the opportunity to return to normal ripening. In some vineyards green berries have resume veraison and are colouring up. Vines with healthy, functional leaves should now move quickly to ripen their remaining fruit.
Berries convert acid into sugar and other metabolites like anthocynins (colour) and flavanols (flavour).

The vineyard, pictured above, in the Sellicks Foothills has shed berry weight and lost fruit to sunburn, but it is holding leaves and has potential to be A/B grade quality. The weather over the next two weeks will need to be gentle to allow the vines to 'return' to normal ripening.

If you are running low on water allocation, prioritise your water to look after high value fruit. Also post harvest water and fertiliser will be vital for next season, it is advisable to keep some water for that. If your vines are water stressed after picking this could cause poor dormancy and poor bud burst for next season. It is a juggling act.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

2009 state of the vintage meeting

On Wednesday the 4th of February, two hundred grapegrowers met at the Bocce club to discuss the state of the 2009 vintage and look at the effects of heat damage on the vines and on the market.

Hosted by Derek Cameron, chairman of the McLaren Vale Grape Growers Council, Derek was joined by Peter Hayes. Warren Randal, Adam Jacobs and Jim Zerella represented winemakers and fruit brokers respectively.

The take home messages from Derek were;

- Some vineyards should be abandoned this year because the fruit is damaged.

- There is still some good grapes, but it may take differential picking and care over the next two weeks to get the best out of the what remains.

- Growers need to support each other through these hard times. Help your mates and look out for their health.

Peter Hayes the current OIV President and wine industry consultant reported;

- In hot weather soil temperatures rise and kill roots in the top 30-40cm.

- On hot days the vapour pressure builds up inside the plant and stops photosynthesis. High temperatures inside the berries destroy enzymes and pathways that produce colour and flavour. It is expected that normal ripening will be affected and it is difficult to say how they will turn out.

- Moderate vigour vines, with moderate canopies and moderate crop loads fared best. Vines that had small canopies were affected the most severely. Also vines that are traditionally over watered did not fair very well.

- Mulching will be very important in future seasons.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Heat at Harvest - UPDATE 2/3/2009

Shiraz in Blewitt Springs.
As the heatwave ends take stock on the condition of your vines and the ripeness of your fruit. Some vineyards are recovering and fruit is re-hydrating, as shown above, however others are in very poor condition as need to be immediately harvested. Unfortunately some vineyards have been rejected on the grounds of sunburn and defoliation. Grenache and white varieties have been particularly heavily damaged.

Many wineries have decided to bring this fruit in this to balance high beume fruit they are expecting in the coming weeks.
The main quality issue is fruit variability. Many vineyards have green, normal and sunburnt fruit in the same bunch.