Vintage Notes - 2013 Margaret River, Australia

A Good Finish

Posted on April 30, 2013

The end of vintage seemed to come rather quickly here at Vasse Felix as it's only been two weeks since we picked our last grapes. Oddly, it's only been four days since my last day and vintage seems like months ago! We did have a great send off on Friday with our end of vintage party. We started out with a lovely lunch at Bunker's Beach Cafe, which sits as close to the water as you can get; the food was great and naturally complimented by several wines. We then carried on back into town and had a few more drinks at Wino's.

The vintage crew may have left but there is still plenty of work to be done at the winery. There are a dozen red fermentors still full of must, which have finishedfermenting but are being left on skins to undergo extended maceration. There is also plenty of barrel filling and organizing to be done in the red barrel hall. It's getting pretty compacted in there since all the newly filled 2013 reds are being added to the 2012 reds still in barrel (Vasse Felix uses an 18-month barrel program for red wine).

I'd like to thank the Vasse Felix team for having me this vintage. I enjoyed working with you all, and was able to learn some new things while sharing some of my knowledge. The term I thought best described Vasse Felix was 'large boutique' winery. Despite being one of the largest wineries in the region (we processed about 1,500 tonnes this vintage), winemakers here keep every batch of grapes/wine separate right up until it's time to blend for bottling. We had several hundred different batches of 2013 wines, all of which get the same care and attention as the next. This not only gives the greatest number of options when blending time arrives, but also allows winemakers to learn as much as they can about their different vineyard blocks and grape sources as possible

Picking (at) the Right Time

Posted on April 12, 2013

Harvesting grapes at the right time is essential to making good wine. Winemakers and viticulturists often disagree on the right time; as a winemaker, the flavors need to be developed to the right stage because if it's not going to make good wine, then what's the point? But like everything else in winemaking, there are always multiple factors that effect when the right time arrives.

This past week's harvest schedule was stacked due to heavy weather forecast to arrive this weekend; we were fortunate to get everything in as the rain began falling within a couple hours of the last truck arriving at the winery. Fortunately, all our blocks were sufficiently ripe and we were more than happy to be harvesting it all. In fact, we received three batches of Cabernet Sauvignon on Thursday, totaling approximately sixty tonnes and representing the very last fruit of vintage 2013!

While there is still plenty to be done, work should be a bit more relaxed over the coming weeks with fruit processing complete. Our focus will be keeping red ferments happy as they tick away and pressing off batches as they finish (photo above shows our premium red varietal fermentors, which range in size from 5-8 ton). Many of the premium batches will undergo extended maceration, the process of leaving wine on skins to allow for polymerization of phenolic compounds (to be discussed in a later post).

It seems like we've nearly forgotten about the whites since the red harvest kicked off, but of course we haven't. Along with tracking the few remaining ferments (a handful of wild-fermented batches and our Cut Cane Semillon batches are slowly finishing ferment now), we're continuing our heavy stirring regime on the Chardonnay batches, which won't stop for the next several months. The bottling line has also seen a few operational days this past week as we bottled some of our 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon.

Halfway Through the Reds

Posted on April 1, 2013

I've been blatantly absent from the internet for the past several weeks due to some long work hours (and of course, squeezing in the odd surf when I have the chance). Last I wrote, we were just getting ready to receive the last of our white grapes here at Vasse Felix, and preparing to move onto red grape harvesting.

This past weekend saw several batches of Malbec arrive at the winery, which has put us past halfway through our expected red grape tonnage. Red grape processing is rather time consuming and has now taken over most of our wine work; the majority of our white wines have finished ferment and been packed away in tanks or barrels (the most glaring exception to this is the Cut Cane Semillon that arrived just over a week ago and is slowly moving through fermentation).

Margaret River's reputation rests largely on its superb Bordeaux grape variety wines. Cabernet Sauvignon is of course the shining star, but I've been very impressed with the Malbec and Petit Verdot. These are two varieties that have always been a major blending component in Bordeaux wines and have more recently began making marks as single-varietal wines in New World regions (most people would think of Argentina when discussing Malbec, and California has several lovely single-varietal Petit Verdots available).

As a self-proclaimed yeast lover, I've been very surprised with the use of indigenous yeast here at Vasse Felix. I've always been a big fan of using indigenous yeast when possible, but none of the previous wineries I have worked with have relied so extensively on indigenous yeast, particularly with red ferments. All wines turn out beautifully too!

Nearly Finished Harvesting White Grapes

Posted on March 4, 2013

Vintage thus far has been hard and fast. That may be obvious since this is my first update since the beginning of February! Along with a busy work schedule and trying to acclimate to night shift, I've also been dealing with a broken computer so I hope my absence can be excused.

We have been swimming in white grape juice here at Vasse Felix for the past several weeks, and now have just a couple remaining lots of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc set to arrive. That means this week is providing some much needed time to catch up on work and relax a bit as we wait for red varietals to mature.

Besides swimming in juice, we've been rolling in barrels too. Vasse Felix ferments nearly all of their Chardonnay in new or 1-2 year old French oak; they also ferment a few batches of Sauvignon Blanc in barrel as well, which means there's been several hundred barrels to fill over the past few weeks. As ferments are finishing, we're starting to stir and top; basically, we may not be receiving anymore whites, but there is still plenty of work to be done!

And it Begins

Posted on February 9, 2013

I have my first few days of work for vintage 2013 this past week. It seems like only yesterday I was finishing vintage in California, but here we go again!

We received our first few lots of hand-picked Chardonnay this past Thursday and Friday, allowing us to ease into vintage a little bit. Hot weather over the past several days, including today's forecasted high of 40° C (104° F), will be creating some rapid ripening here. This means we will be seeing an influx of white varieties starting this week and the beginning of 24-hour operation at the winery; myself and several others will be starting the night shift (6 PM - 6 AM) tonight.

While it's still pretty early in vintage, everyone seems pretty excited about another stellar year for Margaret River wines. Since 2007, the region has enjoyed great growing seasons. Forecasts show a cooling trend after today, which will help slow ripening for better flavor development (and better daytime sleeping conditions!), so fingers crossed.

Vintage with Vasse Felix

Posted on December 30, 2012

I'm excited to finally be locked in for vintage 2013 in Australia's Margaret River wine region. I've spent the last couple months applying for my visa and booking tickets so I can join Vasse Felix for vintage beginning in February. I am set to arrive in late January and have yet to sort out my accommodations or transportation, so if anyone in the area can help, please contact me and let me know!

Vasse Felix is one of Australia's premier wineries. Its long list of accolades includes admission to Wine & Spirits Magazine'Top 100' list of international wineries (one of only six Australian wineries to make the list) and Winery of the Year in the Western Australia Wine Guide 2013. Chief Winemaker Virginia Willcock was also recently honored as Winemaker of the Year 2012 by Gourmet Traveler WINE Magazine. 

Vasse Felix's storied history began in 1967 when Doctor Tom Cullity planted Margaret River's first vineyard. When its 1972 Riesling was awarded a Gold medal in the Perth Royal Show, attention from around the world turned on Vasse Felix and the potential of Margaret River as a premium wine region. Today, Vasse Felix utilizes a state-of-the-art winemaking facility to produce wines from its three estate vineyards: Wilyabrup (the original vineyard site with additional blocks), Karridale, and Carbunup. Their focus on the region's best varietalies, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, has allowed them to create their highly-acclaimed Heytesbury wines; these flagship wines showcase the best of the Margaret River and are backed by Vasse Felix's Estate and Classic wines, produced from several varieties including Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Shiraz (Syrah).

Copyright © 2022 :: Michael Horton
Copyright © 2022 :: Michael Horton