In hindsight, it would probably have been more profitable to farm the blackberries in the vineyard at the outset than the grapes. When we bought it there were 6.5ha of Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. Having been planted in 2005, the original owners locked the gates and walked away a year or two later. With no love and a dry few years over the intervening period it was no surprise that by 2010, half the vines were either dead, missing or on their last legs.
“The greatest viticultural challenge I have ever seen” was the assessment of the viticultural liaison officer for one of the big wine companies. When someone who sees a variety of vineyards every day says something like that it makes you wonder if you’ve done the right thing…luckily he followed it up with, “if it was anywhere else you wouldn’t bother but this site is definitely worth it”. Phew.
When we saw the site, we felt it had huge potential; NE-facing slope, frost free(ish) and well drained sandy-loam soil over clay. From our research into the Huon Valley, if you can find a good slope, facing the right way, then the climate is perfect for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. We believe it’s on the edge that greatness happens and the Huon is right on that edge. If you just looked at the climate statistics then you’d probably think it was right over the edge and too cool but the success of the vineyards down here pointed to a different outcome.
The health of the vines was an issue but as we didn’t have the money to pull everything out, start again and wait five years to get any fruit, we decided to pull out the worst stuff and coax the rest back to life. So out came the Sauvignon Blanc, the Sangiovese and the Nebbiolo ,as we don’t think they’re the best suited varieties for down here, and some of the worst drought-affected areas of Pinot Noir. In their place we planted 2 hectares of Chardonnay (Dijon clones 277, 76, 95 and 96). For the clone-freaks of you out there, the rest of the vineyard is made up of the Pinot Noir clones 114, 115, MV6, 777, 2051 (D5V12) and 8048 (D2V6). Everything is planted at a density of 4000 vines/ha, which seems about right for the soil capacity.
The 700mm or so of average rainfall each year was one of the attractions of the area as we were looking for somewhere we could grow grapes without irrigating. The infrastructure is there and the newly planted vines receive a little water to stop them dying in the first couple of years but after that they only receive what the skies bring. We’d rather drive the vines’ roots down into the clay below and ensure they become self-sufficient. We feel not irrigating means the site can truly express itself and the vagaries of each vintage even if it means reduced yields.
A long growing season and a desire to spray as few synthetic chemicals as possible means we have to be very aware of the condition of the vines and respond quickly in case anything untoward happens. Fortunately our soils are quite hungry and that means we tend to have light canopies and low yields which, combined with leaf plucking and shoot positioning ensures low humidity around the fruit-zone and hence less disease pressure.
Our fruit is usually picked in the latter half of April, which is late even for Tasmania but the long, mild days of autumn and the cold nights ensure we achieve flavour ripeness at low alcohol levels and retain the essence of all long-lived Pinot Noir, acidity.