After many years of drought and excessively hot weather affecting life and the size and quality of the grape harvests in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 in much of south east Australia, the pendulum finally swung the other way in 2011.
A little too far the other way! The challenges and dramas of vintage 2011 were caused by cool, excessively wet weather through the growing season leading to late ripening and the development of bunch rot in some vineyards. From one extreme to the other!
It seems slightly perverse to say so but despite the problems this caused, the rain was still a welcome relief from the heat and drought it had seemed would never end. To see dams and water courses full again gives rise to optimism in anyone who lives on the land.
But with the blessing of the rains came some pain. It was too much rain in a short time in many areas and caused lots of pain for those who live on the eastern side of Australia which suffered terrible damage from floods.
Our vineyards were also affected. We lost the entire crop at Langhorne Creek. First the 20 Rows Shiraz block and eventually even the hardy Cabernet on the Fruit Trees block succumbed to bunch rot which moved through the blocks with a speed I’ve never seen before.
In a matter of just a few days in mid March, we went from finding only a few berries affected by the fungus to levels which made the grapes unusable for quality red wine. It moved through the vineyards like a bushfire. At just 12.5% potential alcohol they weren’t ripe enough to harvest. There was nothing that could be done.
Our growers, the Borrett’s, remained stoic and unflinching throughout. They could see there was nothing any of us could do and accepted the unfolding tragedy of losing their crop better than most people would. We shared their loss, as you share it with us now in the absence of a Reserve Shiraz or Reserve Cabernet from 2011.
Fortunately things improved from there. Through the local network, we learned that Paul and Angela Petagna from Sellicks Beach had some Shiraz available but we’d have to be quick if we were interested because it was very ripe and needed picking straight away. The next day we went to have a look at the block and were delighted at the condition of the fruit and two days after that it was in our vats!
Because of the very ripe state of the Shiraz, we decided to co-ferment it with a little of our own Grenache which was less ripe, to add structure and moderate the alcohol level. The result is a one-off red we have called Minute to Midnight (M2M) in recognition of how it came about. The weather improved from late March, the temperature even topping 30C on the 7th and 8th of April, along with an end to the rain. The prospects for the remaining crop improved with the weather.
Our own vineyards had held on very well. Particularly BJ’s block at the back of the property which is better exposed than the Winery block and consequently dries out quicker after a shower and stays dry longer. We harvested it in sunshine on the 8th of April and it was the star in 2011, providing the backbone for a magnificently ripe and full bodied Eclipse, which tastes as if it came from a warm, dry vintage!
For the record, the 2010 – 2011 La Niña event was one of the strongest ever recorded. Also, most significantly for the grape harvest, in February and March 2011, the Southern Oscillation Index values (a measure of a La Niña’s strength) were the highest recorded for each month since records commenced in 1876. So you wouldn’t expect weather this extreme again any time soon…although of course there’s no guarantee of that!
“From El Niño to La Niña, with an exciting Noon Eclipse and a one-off special release wine called M2M but unfortunately no Reserve Cabernet or Shiraz. – Drew”
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