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.
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.
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.