2016 saw rainfall records crumble at Cape Jaffa, and the nearby weather station at Robe claims the highest annual rainfall since records commenced in the 1860’s. Coupled with a cool Spring and good crops, the whole growing season was far later than what we’ve come to expect of the warmer drier years that have seemed to be the new normal. Despite our prayers for sunshine as we moved into 2017, we had a wet January and approximately twice our average rainfall throughout April. Aaah the joys of agriculture! For those who waited for the high sugar (and therefore high alcohol), many still had grapes on the vine in May at which point vintage finished in a mad rush to pick before vines shut down for Winter.
It sounds a bit like a dog’s breakfast but funnily enough, there were still some very awesome grapes (and hence wines) from this vintage. The key to unlocking a successful 2017 vintage was curtailing our greed and keeping crop levels modest and recognising that grapes were actually tasting ripe at much lower sugar levels than what we’ve all come to expect over the last two decades. If we were prepared to trust our palates, we didn’t need to wait.
I arrived in the Limestone Coast in the nineties working a vintage at Hollick wines. During my time there, I boarded on a farm with one of my mother’s friends who had a cellar full of 1980’s vintage Coonawarra’s. Luckily for me this friend was prepared to share her collection with my keen mind and eager palate. It was these carefully cellared wines that made me fall in love with this part of the world and, at the time, I thought aged Cabernet was the bee’s knees.
Over the years, as I’ve learnt and developed as a winemaker, I now understand that like many of the better wines from 2017, these wines had a tendency to be lower in alcohol and led to much more civilised occasions than some of the ball-breakers we see on the market these days. They aged beautifully and, along with their hints of green vegies when they were occasionally picked (or drunk) too soon, these wines stood the test of time in a way that today’s riper styles often don’t.
There is fierce debate over why the old Limestone Coast reds, produced back in the 80s and early 90s, were so much lower in alcohol. Did winemakers do it this way by choice, knowing that the wines would be given the time to age by our more patient ancestors? Has it something to do with that stylistic swing in the new millennium to making riper, higher alcohol wines that powerful wine writer Robert Parker convinced the world to do? Or has a shift to warmer seasons accelerated sugar accumulation?
Well, after having been witness to the impact of a wet, cool lead up to vintage one might surmise that this season holds the answer to the lower alcohol levels of decade’s past. This vintage has in some ways taken us back to cooler times when Chardonnay ruled and Cabernet was King. And my thoughts are that its these cooler climate loving varieties that really shine from 2017. We can expect to see a throw-back to the stylish and ladylike wines with a slightly lower level of alcohol. The whites are looking great and reds are shaping up to look like approachable softer wines that you can probably squeeze in an extra glass or two of.
Hold on to your winter socks friends, as we are about to blow them off...
Jean Jaures once said, ‘Tradition does not mean to look after the ash, but to keep the flame alive’. Here at Cape Jaffa Wines we agree wholeheartedly.
Our newest release does just that and is an exciting and very, very different range of wines which will bring even your most oenophile of friends off their pedestal. For such a long time in Australians have held the notion that the best wines come from straight varietals. Well we’ve gone and tipped that notion on its head with stunning results. Aptly named ‘Winemaking on The Edge’, this new range closes the rule book, embraces the blend and sprinkles the result with a little dash of Cape Jaffa Wines magic.
If you are up to date with everything Cape Jaffa you will remember our immensely popular ‘Riptide’ made using viognier juice on Shiraz skins. Well, ‘Mesmer Eyes’ is kind of like Riptides rebellious brother where we have fermented Gewürztraminer on a combination of its own skins and a small proportion of Shiraz skins. This has created an aromatic medium bodied white wine which is actually red in colour. It’s lies somewhere between a rose and a red but not like anything you’ve tasted before. It will appeal to those looking for a light bodied, versatile red wine with a floral aromatic quality that was once only achievable with white wines. It goes incredibly well with a range of foods and, like us, pushes the boundaries and the senses to the limit.
This range also includes ‘Samphire’ which sees a melding of tradition and innovation. Based on the ancient Georgian craft of making wine in clay pots - which Anna learnt whilst working a vintage there in 2015. These pots, called qvevris, were traditionally buried anywhere from the family garage or, in the old days BC, in the local monastery for ‘ritualistic purposes’ or so they say. As Cape Jaffa Wines don’t have a monastery available we achieved a similar result using Australian fruit, a similar ceramic egg-shaped vessel, and a carved from Limestone barrel hall which may or may not have been blessed. Left fermenting on full skins in the egg for 5-6 months and then barrelling has led to a softening of the tannins, an explosive depth of flavour and a creamy mouthfeel.
Interest in these wines is bubbling throughout wine circles and our favourite winemaker, Anna Hooper, has been recognised in the top twelve at the 2017 Australian Young Gun of Wine award for her willingness to bend the rules. Even the very stylish Delicious magazine has picked up the range as the perfect match to their August recipes.
This new range encompasses everything that is right at Cape Jaffa Wines. Edgy, creative winemaking, a love of craft and beautifully drinkable wines. These wines are made distinctive in the range with a sketchy version of the regular label, reminding us of an artist’s draft-work, of our continual move back to the drawing board, of our promise to experiment and explore the very heart of winemaking out here on the edge.
As we head towards the pointy end of the year it is time to get our ‘festive’ on and commence popping. Over the next few weeks many of you will make the switch from a pre-dinner drink to the clinking of flutes filled with bubbly, nose tickling goodness. To help you choose, store, chill and pour your bubbles correctly, we've prepared our go-to guide on all things fizz.
Champagne or Australian sparkling?
To be called champagne a sparkling wine must originate from the Champagne region of northern France and be made using the "methode champenoise", in which secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle. Australian sparkling wine made using this same process will have "methode traditionelle", "bottle fermented" or "methode champenoise" on the label.
At Cape Jaffa Wines we use the charmat (or tank ferment) method. The bubbles in our Cape Jaffa Sparkling Pinot Chardonnay come from CO2 produced as a result of a secondary fermentation of sugar to alcohol. This is in contrast to the cheaper method of direct carbonation with CO2. Charmat method tends to create comparatively finer bubbles that persist for longer so it’s better quality than carbonation.
How cold do you like it?
Coldest is not always best. One of the most common mistakes people make is burying a bottle in an ice bucket or pulling it straight out of your fridge. You definitely want to keep it cool, but we recommend removing it from the refrigerator about 10 minutes before you're ready to serve, and assuming you're sharing with friends, you probably don't need to keep chilling it back down.
Flute, saucer or coupe?
We're sorry to burst your bubble, flute enthusiasts, but experts say that although flutes do retain the bubbles better than a coupe, the narrow opening concentrates the levels of CO2, forcing out an ultra-explosion of bubbles that ultimately distort the taste and aroma. The solution? Get the most oomph (both in terms of bubbles and flavour) by serving it in a classic wine glass. However, a flute is still a good option if that is all you’ve got handy.
So how do you open a bottle of champagne without looking like an arse who has just won a grand prix? The trick – after taking off the wire and foil – is to tilt the bottle to 45 degrees, grip the cork and twist the bottle, easing the cork out – let it hiss out, not pop out – and, when it is all the way out, keep the bottle at 45 degrees a few seconds longer. That way you won't lose any of that precious, fizzing golden liquid to the floor. They say when opening a sparkling it should sigh like a contented woman…we’ll leave that to your imagination.
Store it – with a teaspoon?
Sparkling doesn’t come with a screw cap so the biggest issue facing bubble enthusiasts is how to store an open bottle. Lots of people will insist that if you put a spoon in the neck and put it in the fridge the bubbles will stay healthy and boisterous. These people are both right and wrong. Put champagne in the fridge with a spoon in it and it will stay bubbly – but only because the cooling action of the fridge makes carbon dioxide more soluble and so more easily retained in the liquid. The spoon, alas, is entirely superfluous. Go get yourself a stopper and save your precious bubbles from a teaspoon inflicted death.
So, there you have it, you are now a bubble aficionado. So stock up, chill down and (don’t) get popping. Happy Australian Sparkling Season!
Here's our favourite crayfish dip recipe with a healthy splash of bubbles for good measure.
1 tub Robe Dairy Labneh or cream cheese if unavailable
1 1/2 cups cooked cray meat, roughly chopped
1/4 cup Cape Jaffa Sparkling Pinot Chardonnay
Season to taste with cracked pepper and sea salt
1 teaspoon fresh dill
2 tbsp sour cream
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Serve with your favourite crackers.
Even though this winter has kept us shackled indoors with her wet and icy grip for what feels like an eternity, it only took 48 hours of light and warmth and, kapow – holy pink delight Batman, we are ready for Rosé season. Nothing says happiness to us like a sizzling BBQ plate full of local seafood, some great friends, views across the paddocks to the ocean and some beautifully chilled, Cape Jaffa Wines Rosé!
Now we’re not talking about your Grandmother’s pink, sugary mess but dry, crisp, ballsy Rosé. The kind that makes you smack your lips together and look to the sky in thanks.
To help you get up to scratch with this ‘on trend’ glass filler we thought we’d share some of our knowledge with you so that you too can join the pink army and banish pink prejudice forever.
Five Rosé Myths Busted
1. Rosé is a girl’s drink. FALSE. Real men have no issue wearing pink nor should they about drinking pink. Brad Pitt owns a vineyard in France that released a great Rosé. He called it Miraval. It made the top 100 wines in the world, sold out in five hours and Brad Pitt looks like a real man to us. In the Basque region of Spain, there is a “guys only” tradition called Poteo. The male-bonding ritual of Poteo involves bar-hopping for an extended period of time, indulging in a glass of rosé at each establishment. So there are two great myth busters: Real men drink pink – join the Brosé revolution!
2. Rosé is a just a mix of red and white wine. FALSE. Whilst you can blend a small amount of red wine with white wine to create what looks like rose (and we’ve all tried it) rosés are produced using red grape varieties. The juice inside the grapes is white — the skins are the part of the grape that impart the colour. The juice and skins macerate (mingle together) for a very short period just long enough to extract some of the colour and character of the skins. The juice is then separated from the skins and seeds, then fermented into wine.
3. All Rosés are sweet. FALSE. Like all good wines Rosé comes in a variety of sweetness however the really serious ones are dryer in nature making them a great all-rounder. You might find hints of strawberry or watermelon but how sweet the wine is depends on the technique not the colour.
4. Rosé is cheap therefore low in quality. FALSE. Yes, we admit, there are plenty of cheap Rosés on the market however you can also find plenty of dirt cheap red and white wines on the shelves. When you are next at the bottle-o take a moment to look across the mid to high range, you’ll find plenty of Rose’s in that section too.
5. Rosé is purely for slamming down. FALSE. Rosé's charm is in its simplicity. It is a wine to drink not to savour and although preferred on a balmy summers evening, a glass in front of a warm fire with a special friend can be very romantic. One of the great things about Rosé is that it makes for great drinking with a wide range of foods. A drier style like ours can even handle a red meat dish more commonly served with red wine. Sweeter styles compliment Asian cuisine.
Serving Rosé: Now that you feel comfortable that Rosé is in fact a great wine and possibly even a ‘little bit classy’ you can now think pink to your hearts-desire. Quash your unnecessary embarrassment and take your favourite bottle to a fancy pants dinner party, be pink loud, be pink proud!
Rosé, unlike red wine and Brad Pitt, does not improve over the years — so don’t get any ideas about hoarding it (or Brad for that matter, even though he is freshly single) in your cellar. Rosé is made to drink right now so something from this year is best, the year before at a pinch, unless you want to indulge in some age worthy ones from some regions of France but they are not so easy to come by.
Rosé should be served at around 10-15 degrees so a few hours in the fridge or 30 minutes in the freezer will do the trick. If it’s a really hot day you’ll need an ice bucket but if it’s mild let the bottle sweat on the table after you pour the first glass, this allows the characteristics and aromas to develop.
Enjoying Rosé: Rosé is made to be enjoyed with friends. Escape the wine snobbery of tasting notes and vintages and just pour yourself a long cool glass. To quote the great American novelist Gertrude Stein:
‘A rosé is a rosé is a rosé – and everyone can enjoy it’
There’s a global melting pot of skilled labour at Cape Jaffa Wines (CJW) this vintage and with eyelash batting and stolen glances rife under clear, star filled skies a little bit of ‘World Peace’ may just be bottled with every 2016 wine…
From backgrounds as diverse as professional beer brewing to chemical engineering they followed their nose and travelled to the very edge of the Limestone Coast, South Australia to work with Derek and Anna Hooper. Some read an article and became intrigued about biodynamic processes, some were referred by six degrees of ‘Pip’ separation, some just answered a job vacancy advertisement online. A gypsy-like approach to travelling the world, chasing vintage work and a love of great food and even better wine resonating with them all.
“This region of the world is unique”, Scotty (England) says, rather than competing with each other (the Mount Benson wineries) are working together to promote the region as a whole, it’s a refreshing change in a highly competitive industry”. After being told there was ‘no relocation package’ Chris (New Zealand) finished University and drove his car the length of New Zealand to be able to get it home and catch his flight to Australia, arriving at CJW and being thrown into an earlier than normal start to Vintage. “I think Cape Jaffa is unique in that you can learn about conventional, organic and biodynamic techniques all in the same place”, he says, “there’s a lot more to learn, a lot more to understand”. Pip (New Zealand) agrees, “I’ve been here for two seasons now, we get to experiment. Anna loves fresh thinking. Pretty much any idea that’s remotely valid is OK, in fact the crazier the better. Nothing is out of the ball park, if the idea fails then we all learn something”.
Paul (New Zealand) says “I’d worked with Pip seasonally in New Zealand for sex (six) years. I thought I was coming to Cape Jaffa Wines to drive a little fork lift around, she didn’t mention that it was actually seven and a half tonnes. Now that the season is finished I’ve nearly got the hang of it!” The joke is not lost on the group, they all agree that if you are going to chase vintage work the only expectation you should have is to have no expectations. Scotty says “Paul and myself were picked up from Naracoorte by Anna and within half an hour of arriving at Cape Jaffa we had dropped our bags off, got changed and were scraping out tanks!”
Tom (New South Wales) agrees with the surprise factor. “I was used to a fairly structured working day at the Brewery, and from the moment I arrived that was completely blown out of the water. Long shifts back to back, I had no idea what was going on for the first couple of weeks, so for me it really has been quite the experience, there’s a lot to learn”.
Petra (Finland) met Pip at a harvest in Bordeaux, France last year. With a masters in Chemical Engineering she is still perplexed by the Australian ‘small town’ syndrome. “Everyone knows everyone”, she smirks, “it’s strange but as long as it’s not a shit job, then I’m happy to keep working out here”. So what constitutes a ‘shit’ job for Petra? “If I don’t like it then it’s a shit job”…simple, honest and a masters, this young lady is one to look out for.
To employers looking to jump onto the ‘global influx of vintage staff wagon’ the answer to one final question may surprise you. We asked them all, ‘Do you plan to hang around after vintage?’. Chorus like, their answer was not related to better conditions, higher pay or promotional possibilities it was much, much simpler than that. They will stay as long as they continue to learn, once there is no more to learn they will look for the next mentor. With Derek and Anna Hooper at the helm this group of travellers certainly have a plethora of possibilities available to them. As a group of young, good looking, well-travelled, food and wine loving adults they also have plenty in common to keep the sparks flying for a little while yet.
I’ll remember 2016 as the year that Mother Nature gave us our best crop in 10 years and then came back and took it away. At home we had 30 mLs rain at the critical stage and another 20mLs a couple of weeks later. Unfortunately the rains did not magically drain directly into our rainwater tanks; instead it covered the land as is the natural order of things. The effect was loss of berries from split, particularly in the better sections where berries were riper at the time. Tough skinned varieties like Cabernet were less affected than Shiraz.
Early bud burst (there were traces in June!!), early flowering and early veraison provided unheeded clues about when harvest would start. Despite many of the vintage staff being yet to arrive, we ended up having almost finished processing whites before end of February - and yes I know we had an extra day, but still….
Further inland, the Limestone Coast regions such as Wrattonbully missed out on the rain that fell across much of this state and enjoyed an excellent vintage. Shiraz’s looks particularly nice and flavours are well balanced in spite of the warmer season. Yields were on the low side which contributed to the excellent quality, particularly with reds.
On the coast, crop levels weren’t quite what we were initially hoping for either. And, quality-wise 2016 was not the cracking vintage that 2015 was, but it was still very much above average. The young wines display bright and elegant characters reminiscent of a cooler growing season with very nice intensity and colour.
So, the 2016 vintage again reminds us that we are but simple farmers. We are at the mercy of Mother nature, of the tide, the wind, the sun and the unpredictability of life here out on the edge. We have no choice but to embrace each season, after all, as Chuck Tanner once wrote ‘you can have money piled to the ceiling but the size of your funeral will still depend on the weather’.
The 2015 vintage started two weeks earlier than the previous five year average which felt very early. While the timing of budburst was about on par with expectations, temperatures in Spring were consistently above average and soils were very dry. Weather conditions closer to harvest were very steady, with only three days above 35⁰C.
Yields varied across the region with some vineyards cropping slightly heavier than average and others reporting lower yields, albeit an improvement on last year by all accounts. Despite the early start, the heavier cropping vineyards ripened later in the season, meaning harvest lagged into cooler weather at the end of the season and finished about on time. A continuation of dry conditions throughout the season meant all vineyards were free from any disease issues.
The slow steady finish to the season rewarded us, especially in our coastal vineyards of Mount Benson. Both Cabernet and Shiraz are looking incredibly strong with bright fruit, silky tannins and great intensity. Expectations are that the wines from this vintage will evolve to be amongst the region’s best yet. Sauvignon blanc and Pinot gris are also looking excellent with very good natural acidity. Shiraz from both Wrattonbully and Mt Benson have beautifully elegant cool climate aromas but at the same time carry great intensity of flavour.
The 2014 vintage will be remembered for its volatile weather early in the season. Persistent ocean ‘breezes’ coupled with above-average rain in Spring, wreaked havoc with flowering leaving some blocks in the region severely under-cropped. The dismal quantities we received on the coast stood as testament to the cruel nature of agriculture. Being dependant on the timing of flowering certain sites and varieties seemed to cop a worse deal than others. As a result of the light crops (or perhaps the burgeoning reputation of the region), fruit was in very high demand.
Summer temperatures were very slightly average with a hot spell mid-January and, throughout the season, nine days above 35°C. Despite the low crops and warm conditions, veraison was very late pushing ripening back into the cooler Autumn months and this seemed to have a positive impact on flavour profiles. Clean, healthy fruit, extensive and manageable picking windows and cold nights made for an easy harvest. Growers welcomed a delayed break in the season with the heavy rain in April holding off until post-harvest.
Despite its ups and downs, 2014 seems to have created some excellent quality wines. Looking at the resulting styles, one might expect it had been a cooler than average vintage. Whites are looking very strong with good natural acidity and lovely texture. Black pepper seems to have found its way back into a few of our Shiraz parcels and the Cabernet achieved ripe flavours before baumes became excessive or berry shrivel occurred. Not such a good year for making reds without acid additions but all in all winemakers should be pleased.
The 2013 vintage has carried none of the stigma associated with back luck. Nature was kind, providing an effortless growing season and filling winemakers with enthusiasm. The favourable weather conditions resulted in low disease pressure all season. Very good grape prices linked to impressive vineyard grading scores have resulted in a successful year for our region’s growers as well.
Cropping levels, usually on the low side in any event, have varied across vineyards; general trend has been below average in reds but not whites and higher further inland. The season will be remembered by tourists and grape growers alike for lots of sunshine and ‘good beach weather’ extending right throughout March. Days above 35°C are usually very rare due to our cold ocean temperatures, however this year have occurred from time to time throughout January, February and March.
Rapid ripening of reds in March as a result of the heat meant the good natural acidity we enjoy in other seasons was a little lower than usual, meanwhile baumes have been in a desirable range across varieties. Quality-wise, reds look stylish, slightly lighter than average, but with ripe tannins and excellent structure and colour intensity.