Wow what a vintage – warm and dry, short and sweet with virtually no rainfall during the vintage period. The Yarra Valley have been fortunate to dodge the extreme heat that other regions have experienced, but it begs the question – could this be the new normal?
Will we be fighting prolonged battles between the states over water in the next decade and will governments finally realise that a clear water usage and distribution model is required now?
After numerous discussions with grape-growers and other winemakers throughout Australia it is clear that this is the driest and toughest vintage on record. There are numerous stories surrounding issues with variable weather patterns, extreme heat, frost and hail and in some regions expected yields are down by up to 50% decreasing the viability of Vineyards and Wineries.
The weather changes are staggering. In the Yarra Valley of the early 90s the vintage commenced in the warmer parts of the Yarra in early to mid-March and progressed smoothly across all reaches of the valley into early to mid-May.
This meant vintage lasted 10 – 12 weeks – in fact I remember picking Cabernet Sauvignon from a Coldstream vineyard on the 24th May in 2014 – the same vineyard is now harvested by the end of the first week of April. That’s 6 weeks earlier than in the early nineties!
Could this be global warming? Why are we gradually destroying our agricultural industries through poor resource management, greed and lack of clear decisions?
In the Wine business we also need to adjust to changes in weather patterns both in the vineyard and the Winery and invest in our soil and water resources, people and capital equipment.
Examples of changes at our site include:
- Red fermentation capacity needs to doubled as grapes ripen earlier on all sites across the Yarra and compress the vintage back to a period of 6-7 weeks. Turnaround times are short – red fermenters have two fills instead of the expected 4 fills per vintage.
- We need to train and nurture staff to ensure we have passionate, ambitious people with viable career options. It’s vital to then allow staff to have the opportunity to gain experience internationally by working two or even three vintages throughout the world.
In vintage 2019 we have staff who have worked in the Hunter Valley/Yarra Valley/New Zealand/Europe and USA in the same year.
- Wine styles and varieties are changing as sugar levels in grapes (and resultant alcohols) increasing rapidly with tannin structures being rounder and softer.
- Wines are now released earlier. We now eat differently – it is shared plates/platters and Tapas style plus Asia style foods. There is an increased number of requests for Vegan dishes and wines being Vegan friendly. No more meat and three Veg and a juicy steak and fried chips!!!
The wine industry needs to change and be nimble – nothing stands still.
- Winery storage capacity at Rob Dolan Winery has increased by 30% and Red Ferment Capacity by 30% to better manage vintage intake. In addition we now lease a large back up Winery facility to ensure we have space and capacity to make quality wines.
- We will need to increase shedding, improve cooling/insulation of buildings to ensure fruit is handled quickly and wines aged correctly. All this costs money and places stress on all agricultural pursuits – not just wine and wine grapes.
- Capital is needed to update facilities and we need to be ready for the future – it will be hot.
It’s onwards and upwards and time to meet the challenges of a changing world and environment.