Tuesday, March 19, 2013


On Monday Jennie and Wayne found themselves with a day free of the urgent need to be picking grapes - but instead of using the time to catch their breath they invited us out to Murrumbateman to experience some of the excitement of the annual grape harvest.

First stop was just up the road from their place, past the net shrouded rows of vines.....to the winery at Kardinia. 

Here the artist in residence is Alex McKay, certainly one of the Canberra district's top winemakers.  He leases the winery..and it's all shiny steel, expensive looking infrastructure..but when he talks to us it's all about ancient processes, precision science and extracting and nurturing nuanced flavours and complex aromas.

 The Bucher XPlus (French wine press) was busy crushing out the rather luscious tasting Marsanne grapes.

 Yet there is obviously still a place for the human touch in amongst all this machinery. Jerome was ensuring that the skins and seeds were rotating nicely (but very carefully) through this richly coloured tub of Pinot Noir grapes. Alex told us that the huge vats behind us were full of his lovely Collector Reserve Canberra District Shiraz (sigh!)

This visit really brought home to me the complexity and risk attached to these small scale (but high end) wineries. Alex has to replace these barrels every 4 years (French oak) and they're around $1200 each! And you would be shocked to know what the French press costs and the electricity to drive it!! We should all be prepared to pay more for our very beautiful hand made wines!

The Kardinia sheep grazing in the paddocks surrounding the winery must be SO happy at this time of the year - they enjoy a good munch on the grape residues left after crushing!

Then it was back down the road to Jennie and Wayne's vineyards, and before we begin our tour of the vines, a chance to look at those Italian tractors that always choose the worst moments to wear out small but vital components.

The Shiraz grapes are ready for picking this week. Jennie and Wayne have a good idea of the different baume (sugar) levels of all their different Shiraz clones, and their winemakers (mostly Alex and Nick O'Leary) have a good idea of which clones they want and when it's best to pick them.

Jennie and Wayne very patiently explained all this to us and guided us through tastings of some of the different clones. It was fairly easy to pick up the differences in quality and flavour once you have your awareness raised.

Although the vineyard was originally set out on an industrial scale in the heady days when Hardy's ruled Canberra region wines, Jennie and Wayne now grow their vines on a much more human AND INTENSIVE scale. Their intelligent management of the vines and high quality "picks", even in difficult seasons, is renowned - no wonder their grapes are favoured by the district's best wine makers. Good drainage and perfect aspect help a lot too.

These beautiful pendulous bunches are destined for Nick O'Leary's famous Bolaro Canberra District Shiraz..not only a wonderfully gorgeous tasting grape but stunningly beautiful looking too.

We walk around the dam, source of the vineyards' irrigation system, to the 1997 plantings, many of which have since been regrafted with clones that are better geared to the evolving wine market (including lots more Italian varieties).

There's miles and miles and miles of netting. We're awestruck by how two people can possibly manage all the work involved here (with some help from Jerome and occasional groups of contract workers).

 We stop to admire and enjoy these beautiful Sangiovese grapes..already earmarked by Alex McKay for the 2013 vintage. He hasn't released his Sangiovese on to the market yet - it's still in barrels from previous vintages.  We'll be trying it when we can. The grapes have an amazing flavour (and beautiful looking too).

Birds are the grape growers' enemy at vintage (they even get in under the miles of netting.  Jennie and Wayne have these amazing contraptions around the vineyard. They can be programmed to produce ear splitting sounds at intervals that frighten birds witless. It's easy to see (hear) why.

We've learnt so much - and admire Jennie and Wayne's vision, HARD WORK and drive for excellence so much more fully - if that is possible..... AND urge everyone to appreciate and drink more wonderful Canberra district wine, now and in the future!

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