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.