Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A tough Harvest down under

After several years selling wine in England and Wales, Alex Bazeley decided to learn more about wine from the ground up, touring every major wine producing country in the Southern hemisphere. Visiting fairtrade projects in South Africa, learning about Biodynamics in Australia, and learning Spanish in Argentinian wine mecca, Mendoza. All this and both 2008 harvests, working in New Zealand in the first half of the year and helping out with the crush in Napa later in the year.
Alex recently
arrived back in London after 18 months on the road, read more about his epic journey at

The bush fires still raging through the south of Australia are the worst in the country's history, and some of the fiercest have been in the state of Victoria where winemakers are in the middle of their busiest season.

The Yarra valley is one of Australia’s finest wine regions, especially well known for it’s sparkling wines and Pinot Noir. I was there at the start of last summer before things had dried out too much, a good time to meet up with winemakers before things got too busy, and my heart goes out to those guys during these troubled times. Australia has been in a state of drought for several years now, so there is a constant risk of fires running out of control during the Summer months. So with the summer drawing to a close down under, and the grapes becoming ready for harvest, the surrounding bush is as dry as it gets year round.

There have been over 200 fatalities, making this the second worst natural disaster in Australia's history and more than 2,000 homes have been lost in the Victorian fires since the start of February. So as well as the loss of grapes, some winemakers have been under extra pressure during their most hectic period, fearing for the safety of their friends, family and homes.

The fires have damaged and destroyed vineyards and wineries in the region, with even the historic
Yering Station, Yarra's oldest winery, coming close to disaster. Narrowly escaping destruction, surrounded on all sides by fire, and the water tank empty the staff resorted to using buckets of water to keep the flames at bay. By the next morning it resembled an "Oasis in the middle of a charred landscape."

Another winery I visited last year was the relatively new ‘
Giant Steps
’ who source grapes from several vineyard sites around the valley
"Our single vineyards sustained some minor damage, but that did not stop us from picking some great fruit at Murrummong. Although we will have smaller crops, we are working quickly to bring in some terrific fruit. Sadly, some of our more northerly growers suffered severe damage and will not be picking. Their families are ok and our heartfelt support goes out to them."
Steve Flamsteed, Winemaker.

While only a handful of vineyards themselves have been scorched by the fires, the smoke blown over the ripe fruit clings to the grapes, making them, in some instances, so tainted with smoke that they were unsuitable for turning into wine.

The heatwave this summer will make it a difficult year for winemakers right across Southern Australia, so expect the 2009 vintage to produce some big bold wines which reflect the early ripening of the grapes. Until then though, I encourage you to go out and support the winemakers of Yarra by seeking out their wines in your local 'bottle-o' (that's wine store to you) and I have a couple of recommendations to encourage you further...

'Innocent Bystander' Pinot Noir 2007
(made at the Giant Steps Winery)

This is a lighter style, with a freshness making it very appealing, light berry fruit, raspberries and cranberries, finishing with a mineral earthiness. It also offers great value (around US$20) A nice unfussy Pinot that would be well suited to a picnic.

Yarrabank Cuvée 2003
(made at Yering Station)

A real classic fresh Champenoise style with dry toast and a zing of lemon citrus, perhaps a little rounder on the finish than most champagnes, but if I tasted it again blind, I doubt I’d be able to tell it wasn’t from Champagne.

and I just nearly fell off my chair when I saw what it goes for - around US$20 - a bargain!

1 comment:

  1. It's sad to hear about the fires and heat waves...I certainly need to seek out some more wines from the Yarra valley!