With the 2017 vintage well underway, we caught up with our Yarra Valley Estate Vineyard Manager, Rob Sutherland, to get an insider’s perspective on one of our most important times of year. With some days starting at 4.30am and ending at 10pm, Rob is a busy man throughout the two-month period that Vintage usually lasts, but he’s always pretty happy to see this time of year roll around...
“For me, vintage is the time when all of the hard work throughout the year is about to be realised,” he says. “We’ve survived frosts, hail, mildew events, drought, wind and insect invasions... so it’s with a sense of relief that we begin picking and getting grapes into the winery.”
With Rob’s help, we’ve put together our top ‘did you knows’ about vintage to give you an inside look at our busiest time of the year:
It starts before we pick
Vintage begins before anything is actually picked. “Leading up to harvest, our Viticulturalists and Winemakers spend time in the vineyards estimating how much will be picked in each lot and sampling the grapes to decide when they will be ready to pick”, Rob tells us. This helps the Winery and Vineyard teams organise and prioritise picking and estimate how long vintage will take.
Throughout vintage the wineries at each of our Estates turn into a 24-hour hub of activity. Yes, this means we pick at night! The cooler night temperatures help the grape berries stay intact when picked. Rob explains, “this means there is less of a reaction between the juice and oxygen, which can affect the quality of wine.” Picking in cooler temperatures is also more energy efficient, as the wine needs to be kept at a consistent temperature.
It’s all in the hands
Our Yarra Valley Estate hand picks about a third of the crop. Our pickers are sent to their allocated area and pick row by row, filling up buckets as they go. The filled buckets are then collected by vineyard workers and taken to the winery to be sorted. Rob tells us that “the most we ever hand picked in one day was 55 tonnes, which equates to about 50,000 bottles!”
First is Sparkling
We don’t just go out to the vineyard and start picking where ever we feel like it, there’s a certain order that we follow each year. Rob shares, “Chardonnay is always picked first... It makes up a large proportion of our sparkling wine base so it’s harvested at lower sugar levels and higher acid levels”. This is followed closely by some Pinot Noir for Sparkling, then Chardonnay and Pinot Noir again, this time picked for table wine.
“The Yarra Valley region is quite unique because of it’s large variation of microclimates and terriors”, says Rob. This allows us to grow a great range of wines from Sparkling, which originates from very cool climates, to Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Nebbiolo, which are traditionally grown in very warm climates. “We do the early stuff and the late stuff, as well as everything in between - resulting in a very long vintage compared to other regions” Rob says.
The hard work pays off
“We can enjoy a more relaxed pace on days when everything runs perfectly,” Rob explains. The Yarra Valley vineyard love taking part in the annual ‘wear your short-shorts to work day’ on the final day of handpicking. “We channel our inner Warrick Capper, and try not to bust the short-short’s seams as we lift the last buckets of grapes for the year”.