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From the Winemakers...
Kim Horton & Dougal Herd
Another year flies by and vintage is almost upon us again with Vintage 2019 shaping to be one of the more interesting years.
Climatically, in a nutshell, the season has been cool and dry. The five months until this point at the end of January have yielded little rain, about 70mm less than this time last year.
The cooler weather has also disrupted flowering and fruit set resulting in much smaller bunch sizes and high incidence of hen and chicken. The cooler conditions have continued into January, and January 2019 average temperature of 21.3 is two degrees Celsius lower than the 23.3 of 2016.
So what does this mean? With still much of the season to unfold, anything is still possible, however we are bracing ourselves for small crops of intensely flavoured fruit, especially in whites, and keeping our fingers crossed for an Indian Summer to ensure good ripeness of flavour and tannin in the reds. It also must be noted the distinct lack of Eucalypt blossom this season will create bird pressure and fruit netting will form the basic defence against crows and silvereyes.
Making great wines means evolving, and over the last six years, Willow Bridge has undertaken some exciting new changes to the vineyard varietal mix. Much of it based on the successful introduction of Tempranillo to the property.
In 2011, Willow Bridge began a sustained program of evaluating the current clones on the estate, and where appropriate introduce the newer material available in Australia, with the outlook of making further gains in quality and complexity.
In that first season, Willow Bridge removed Cabernet Sauvignon, clone SA126, and replaced with a clone with a superior Western Australian track record. Known as the Houghton clones, Cabernet Sauvignon planted in the 1930s, a selection of 21 vines in the 1950s became monitored vines, and eventually ‘mother’ vines to the industry. Of those, twenty clone isolates were planted in Frankland River in 1973, of which a further selection was made in 2008, to isolate four WA clones, clone 5, 9, 19 and 20, with 5 and 9 considered superior for quality. Our original 1625 rootlings went to ground in late 2011.
2012, saw the planting of two Dijon clones. Clone 76 originates from Saône-et-Loire, this clone is a regular clone in terms of production as well as quality. Clone 95 originates from Côte-dOr and usually has a good level of production and excellent quality. Control of yields gives particularly high quality wines, and we harvested the first of this fruit in 2014, it now has become a regular in our G1-10 with the Mendoza or Gingin clone complementing the Burgundian clones.
In 2015, encouraged by the resulting wine from Clone 95, we extended this planting by a further two hectares.
In the same year, Willow Bridge also planted Mouvedre, Malbec and Grenache. We know that vines are only as good as the soil they are planted, thus we removed some of our prized Shiraz to ensure the deep gravel loam soils were available for our new plantings. An act bordering on crazy, however time and time again we have seen vignerons introducing new and exciting varieties but planting on poor land. Land that was unfit for planting in the first place! We want to give our vines every chance at a sustainable future.
In 2016, we furthered our program by removing some of the much maligned USA derived UC Davis Merlot clone, D3V14, and replacing it with clone 181 from Bordeaux. Merlot in Bordeaux is almost exclusively from three clones (70%), thus we are excited to see the first fruit come through the system in 2018.
Furthermore, we extended our Cabernet Sauvignon project by a further 1.32 hectares, now totalling 3.35 hectares planted to the
The 2017 Season....
The 2017 season broke the mould a little, a vintage so different to all those of recent years. Spring 2016 was abundant with rain, and teamed with near perfect flowering conditions, the white varieties yielded higher than average crops in 2017. Unusually however, much cooler summer conditions meant the wines maintained a pure line of acidity, giving elegant white wine styles, and a much later start date to harvest.
The cooler conditions coupled with 100mm of rain in February and March caused much anxiety as to whether the red varieties would sufficiently ripen, however a long ”Indian summer” and only 3mm of rain since has given an exciting crop of reds…..intense, powerful and succulence are synonyms used with all red varieties from the vintage, and has the traits to be one of the best. Kim Horton, Senior Winemaker
When discussing wines, inevitably the name Chardonnay crops up, Chardonnay is back in vogue, and then almost as reliable is the chatter about evolving styles. There is a long held view that Chardonnay of the past was a style that was rich, creamy, ripe and oaky. The style had served Australia well, and still does in the US and UK markets especially. Australia’s total Chardonnay volume export is over 40 million litres, however as we know, a lot is from the inland irrigation areas of the Eastern States, and the mainstream style was easy to replicate, well liked and relatively inexpensive to make. Furthermore, the average export price per bottle of Chardonnay is the lowest of all the mainstream varieties, Sauvignon Blanc included.