Vintage Report 2020
Friday 6th March
Thursday 23rd of April
185 tonne processed
Summer 19/20 was mild with a distinct gap between whites and reds. This eased pressure to pick and meant the fruit ripened slowly in our Mount Benson vineyard. Coonawarra and Wrattonbully had a few warm days in late February which meant, as is normally the case, theirs was the first fruit processed at Cape Jaffa, our En Soleil Pinot Gris from Koch's Wrattonbully vineyard. With less contract processing this year because most of those grapes were sold to struggling producers impacted by fire, lack of water or hail we were able to take our time which resulted in our reds having more time on skins. Yields were down, which left us no choice but to make less. This is especially true for our single vineyard wines such as our La Lune and En Soleil ranges. Low yields were due to cool temperatures at flowering and moisture at cap fall* preventing the caps from falling off. As this was the case in many regions the best value for quality will come from smaller family owned wineries. Wind on the coast naturally regulates for lower yields and helps with disease pressure. With the little summer rains that we naturally get here there was no disease in the vineyard and fruit was picked clean. Sugar ripened first followed by tannin and flavour. Acids held well because of an early and strong Bonney Upwelling*. But as is usually the case there is an inverse correlation between yield and quality. So, although we picked less, the quality of the fruit was very impressive. Half an inch of rain at veraison* helped the berries colour up quickly and evenly. This rain event coincided with the moon opposing Saturn which is when we sprayed our biodynamic preparations 500 and 501* and the response in the vines was immediate. The geographical isolation of the Limestone Coast meant that the only real impact of the Rona was the barrel salesman stayed away, the pub was shut and there was a bottle of hand-sani on the forklift.
Once flowering occurs low temperatures will delay opening and this often results in retention of the caps. Usually at flowering the cap will be shed exposing the anthers and pistil which allow pollination. Lower rates of pollination due to cap retention will reduce yields.
The Bonney Upwelling is a phenomenon that has a considerable impact on our climate at Mount Benson during our summer ripening period. Cool deep water from the Southern Ocean is bought to the surface near the coast through submarine channels. This process encourages cooling afternoon breezes which keep our temperature consistent and lengthens our ripening period which aids in developing more complex flavours in our fruit.
Veraison is the onset of ripening which is observed by the colour of the grapes starting to change.
*500 and 501
500 Horn Manure works on the soil and roots to stimulate microbial activity, root development, and regulate PH. 501 Horn Silica complements 500 and is sprayed on the vines. It promotes vertical growth, plant vigour and reduces susceptibility to diseases.
"With our abundant access to ground water, consistent mild summers and huge diurnal swing during the ripening period. I would not want to grow grapes anywhere else." - Steve Brown, 2020 Winemaker
Cape Jaffa solar installation
Cape Jaffa Wines made a huge step towards meeting their sustainability mantra with the installation of 297 solar panels on their winery roof with a capacity of 81KW. Coupled with 96x 400Ah lithium battery cells to store power for use on those odd days (and nights) when the sun isn’t shining, this is expected to create an emissions savings of about 60 CO2e per year.
‘Our sustainability conscience has certainly led us on a journey of discovery, and a journey that I feel is a perpetual one’. Back in 2009, the company began to recognise the fact that running a certified organic and biodynamic vineyard created a degree of expectation from customers that this meant the business was ‘green’. ‘While there are many aspects of what we were doing in the vineyard that can be considered environmentally friendly, to truly be ‘green’ means so much more than running a biodynamic vineyard’. Cape Jaffa has taken a more holistic approach to sustainability recognising weak spots, priority areas and risks across the entire business and working to continually improve on these.
The winery has grappled with the fact that out on the Cape they are distanced from the national three-phase power grid which supplies the necessary current for most winery equipment. To date they have relied on load matched diesel generators for their three-phase power requirements. Although the company were early adopters of solar technology in the office and Cellar Door area, to make use of solar power generation in the winery they either needed to store power or have the support of a three-phase grid connection. For a long time this has not been considered economically viable for the business and they were unsuccessful in a number of Government grant applications for renewable energy due to this unique situation. Its only now that the cost of both solar and battery storage have come down, that the business case has stacked up.
Another challenge facing all wineries, is that the production process is tied to grape supply which is of course based on a perennial cycle. Therefore there are typically big peaks in usage especially at vintage time due to the large scale equipment used for processing and refrigeration. This adds another challenge to obtaining a pay back on an investment, especially when there is no grid to feed back into if supply outweighs demand.
To better understand energy efficiency, Cape Jaffa went through the process of a detailed energy audit. Although the audit was supported by a government grant, there was no funding available to invest in the improvements recommended. Reducing usage, and in particular peak loads, became the focus and substantial savings were achieved through a number of changes to our process. ‘We began co-inoculating for secondary fermentation to reduce our requirements to warm wines and we moved away from traditional cold stabilisation’. ‘Over time we have waited patiently for pricing on solar panels and battery based storage come down to the point that its now economical for us in its own right, even without the assistance of grants.’
The pay back in investment may not be the shortest one but this decision was made by a family with a long term view in mind. ‘We expect that the system will mean we can run a carbon neutral operation for nine months of the year and will occasionally run a diesel back-up generator to top up our power supply when required during vintage’.
Cape Jaffa has been recognised over and over for their sustainability efforts, winning three consecutive Advantage SA awards for sustainability, and subsequently being admitted to the Sustainability Hall of Fame in 2011. They were awarded an Australia Day Award back in 2012 by Robe Mayor Peter Risely for Corporate Contribution to the Environment. This award to recognised their conservation projects outside the business including weed removal on both McIntyre Reserve and the islands of Baudin Rocks. Cape Jaffa Wines also received a certificate of Merit in the South Australian Wine Industry Environmental Excellence Awards and Anna Hooper was runner up in an international event run by the Drinks Business UK for ‘Green personality of the Year’.
Cape Jaffa would like to acknowledge the tremendous support of Zen Energy, who supplied the lithium battery system. The installation itself was completed by local electrician Anthony Moore and his team at Robe Electrical. Derek Hooper has been involved in off-grid systems since he built an off grid, wind powered house on the Cape Jaffa property back in the late 90’s. The family home, out on a windswept hill near Cape Jaffa, was designed for a family of six plus the odd guest, has been off-grid and solar and wind powered since it was built in 2005. Derek’s first-hand experience includes importing battery systems into Australia and his wealth of knowledge on this subject has been integral to the implementation of this project.
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’.
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