The season of 2023 started strong. Coming off the back of a heavy crop in 2022, we enjoyed strong winter rains and entered our third La Niña year.
The problems of 2022 loomed over us – for what had been a kind year environmentally was instead the most challenging year in market.
With rain topping up the soil constantly throughout August and September, we experienced a very unusual delay to the season. Budburst has been so consistent in our records, you can almost set your watch to it that by September 10th, give or take a week, we see budburst every year. 2023 was late. Very late. We didn’t see widespread budburst until October, many weeks later than we’ve ever seen it happen before.
With a late start to the season, and with La Nina forecast though not yet declared at the time, the expectation was for all major milestones to be later than normal. This came true.
Flowering, normally in November, occurred in December. Veraison, sometimes spotted just after New Years Day, didn’t start until the end of January.
With all these lifecycle milestones delayed, there was a rather enjoyable period of low maintenance and work over Christmas and into January. A nice little opportunity to rest or catch up on odd jobs.
During this time we were, as normal, planning our vintage out with Scott at Schild Estate Wines. We wanted to make a rosé for the first time and planned to process in the saignée style which better suited making a small volume in the Schild winery. Hanging over this was the potential sale of Schild Wines. They had been on the market for about 9 months, though at this point it seemed too close to vintage for a sale to happen, so we planned our vintage to happen at Schild.
Over the month of February a lot changed. The Schild winery sold, though the brand did not. Final details weren’t yet organised but it became clear we couldn’t process grapes there.
James, the former assistant winemaker at Schild and now head winemaker at Turkey Flat, called and needed a hand for vintage. James introduced us to Jason Schwarz, of Schwarz Wines, who is based just up the road from Turkey Flat. We negotiated to make our wines in Jasons’ winery while I worked vintage at Turkey Flat.
The sale at Schild became finalised and we soon learned we had to move all our bulk wine and barrels out of Schild Estate by the end of March, right in the middle of vintage.
Wayne and Brenda Dutschke came to our aid, offering empty barrels and a place to store them. Wayne put in a few big days getting everything ready for us at Dutschke (while also making thousands of litres of Tawny Port for another winery), and I put in a few late nights at the Dutschke winery after long days at the Turkey Flat winery.
In the end we got everything from vintage 2022 sorted. In the background to all of this was our 2023 winemaking taking place with Jason.
The market problems of 2022 persisted into 2023. Far too many Shiraz grapes, and no where for them to go. Many wineries still had 2021 Shiraz they hadn’t sold, due to the closure of the Chinese market, let alone 2022. Hundreds of tonnes of Shiraz grapes were left on the vine to rot across the valley or sold on a delayed payment deal (where the grower gets paid when the winemaker sells the wine in a few years’ time).
In 2022 we processed everything under our banner, and in 2023 we ended up in the same, unsustainable position. Not wanting the fruit we worked on all year to rot, we processed everything as Genista once more.
In mid-March we picked four tonne of fruit, a mix of Shiraz and Grenache, for rosé production.
A week later on the 21st of March we machine picked the remainder of the Shiraz, all 15 tonnes of it, for dry red production. Our expectation was to pick around 10-12 tonnes of Shiraz, which was already too much for us. To get 15 tonnes, while a nice indicator that our vineyard renewal is effective, wasn’t ideal for us.
The weather was starting to turn with a cool change and showers on the way. While handpicking the Grenache for the rosé, we had to pick around a little bit of botrytis. While the remaining Grenache wasn’t quite where we wanted it to be, the forecast more or less told us “pick it or lose it”. With the aid of visiting family, we picked the last tonne of Grenache for dry red production and delivered this to Jason.
With all our fruit picked we had a little less on our plates. If I wasn’t at Turkey Flat squashing their grapes, I was carting barrels back and forth between Schwarz and Dutschke. On Sunday the 16th of April, with the backdrop of the Barossa Air Show overhead and the AFL Gather Round pumping a few extra tourists into the Barossa, we finished moving everything out of Schwarz and tucked it all away at Dutschke’s.
Grenache for rosé continued to flow into the winery at Turkey Flat late into April. Many commented that they hadn’t seen such a late harvest in a long time or ever before. I saw picking crews still out trying to salvage fruit in May, when the vines had all but shed their leaves and gone dormant. A small parcel of Adelaide Hills Shiraz received at Turkey Flat in May was less ripe than our Shiraz picked six weeks earlier.
Another interesting, different and challenging vintage drew to a close. With our typical earlier harvesting dates, as compared to the rest of the Barossa, we were largely spared any of the poor weather or difficult picking conditions. The last of the Grenache coming in a week or two earlier than normal looks good, maybe even better than normal. We’re going to taste this parcel more thoroughly as we approach harvest 2024 and perhaps pick it earlier again.