Vintage Changes & Challenges – the craft of quality wines

It’s the most exciting time of year for winemakers; seeing a long year of work culminate in grapes being snipped from the McLeish Estate vines as we start on our 34th vintage.

Hand-harvesting is now underway, with our hard working pickers starting at daybreak to select the highest quality grapes from the canopy. This is a much harder process than if we were to harvest by machine – it’s labour intensive and also requires our pickers to use their judgement to select only the best produce.

Additionally, our pickers are doing this while trying to avoid the hottest part of the day. At summer’s peak temperatures amongst the vines can reach 45 degrees. Not only is this not good for people, it’s not good for the vines! Warmer weather tends to speed up the ripening process, but if gets too hot the ripening stops altogether.

This means that our decision of when to harvest is the most important decision we will make all year. A riper grape translates to a higher sugar level and lower acidity, which leads to a higher alcohol content. If the grapes are too ripe than this can cause the wine to taste unbalanced. However, if we get hit with exceptionally high temperatures and the ripening process stops it will result in the opposite – a grape that is too bitter. Throughout the vintage we constantly taste test the berries, making sure we have the right balance between sugar ripeness and acidity.

As a result of climate change our vintage now begins earlier and is compressed into a tighter timeframe. It’s quite a change from when Bob and Maryanne undertook their first vintage in 1985. Back then the harvest would start after Australia Day with the early ripening grapes like Chardonnay and we would tend to slowly work through the whites before moving on to the red varietals, like Cabernet Sauvignon. Now these harvests have moved much closer together.

We couldn’t be prouder of the efforts of the McLeish Estate team during this busy period. The heat can be brutal and the hours unforgiving, but everyone works together to ensure that only the best ends up in bottles.