Often have I heard the cliche’ “times may be tough for vineyard/wine producers but think about the life style benefits”. Yeah right! This is usually said by our customers as they stand in our cellar door having just come down from our restaurant where they enjoyed a beautiful lunch looking out at our weed free garden and large freshly mowed lawn, with views out over the beautiful Yarra Valley landscape bordered by neat rows of green vines disappearing into the mountain horizon of blue sky and fluffy white clouds…..glass in hand they wax lyrically about how wonderful life must be working on a vineyard, making great wine, enjoying the great outdoors….
True, but in a small family run vineyard/winery like ours, who do you think weeds the garden, mows the lawn, prunes the vines in the middle of winter, looks after the vines in the middle of summer, picks the grape when it is 35 degrees in the shade, digs out the wine tanks, cleans the wine barrels…..I think you get the picture. (Not to mention the sleepless nights worrying about whether mother nature is going to throw down her fury for another season like she has done in the last 2 or 3, bushfires, heat wave, droughts etc)
There is however always a silver lining to every cloud and this time of the year the lining is not silver but red, lashing of red in fact. We are now at the time of the year when the pruning has been done, most of the tiresome, someone has to do it, needs to be done maintenance jobs that accumulate throughout the busy vintage period have been be-grudgingly performed. Things like replacing broken posts, re-wiring broken canopy wires, cleaning out air filters, changing the oil on the various farm machines, fixing the spare tyres, cleaning up the logs that have fallen on fence lines, repairing broken dripper wires (again I think you get the picture)……but back to the silver lining….or more correctly stated; red wine lining.
This time of the year is when we start the process of selecting the barrels that make it into our Helen’s Hill Cabernets and Shiraz. We select approximately 25 barrels out of some 80-90 barrels to go into the two Helen’s Hill big red wines. The selection process as you can imagine is extremely time consuming, some barrels need and I emphasize “need” to be tasted numerous times to ensure that you correctly score the contents. Heaven forbid that you discard or include a barrel without thoroughly analyzing the wine. It makes for one of the most enjoyable jobs on the vineyard/winery calendar. Although a trip to the dentist is required after a week of sipping and spitting red wine as the mouth does get a little stained!
The Cabernets (we would call it a Bordeaux but the French won’t let us) is the most time consuming. Made from the 5 Cabernet grapes used in Bordeaux our Cabernets combines the wonderful and varied fruit characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The Cab Sav and Merlot is fermented separately and we co-ferment the Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot thereby leaving us with 3 distinct wines that require careful blending to produce the best combination from the particular vintage. This blending requires hours of “trail and error” tasting with various combinations of the three wines. We generally discard any recommendations made after about 3.00 PM although that doesn’t stop us “trailing and erroring” up to dinner time!
All in all it is a very tough job, sitting around sampling red wine all day! Now we are finally talking Life Style!