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Vintage 2015: Wines to watch

Rebecca Carpenter

Canberra wineries have wrapped up their vintage for 2015. The fruit is in from the vineyards and the work now moves to the wineries in preparation of the white wines for bottling (sometime later this year) and the red wines into barrels to start the ageing process. I spoke with three winemakers from across the district to get some inside information about the challenges they faced this year, their innovations and to give us a heads up on the ‘wines to watch’ after they’re bottled and released over the coming months (and in some cases, years).

Frank Van de Loo (Mount Majura), Ken Helm (Helm Wines) and Alex McKay (Collector Wines) are all agreed about the biggest challenges they faced this year. With good weather, no frost and plenty of rain, there was more than enough fruit to go around this year.

Alex McKay, winemaker at Collector Wines says, “This year, the grape crop was [not only] of the highest quality but also abundant quantity.  Towards the end of the harvest, it was a challenge to make room in the winery.”

“On the whole, it wasn’t a very challenging vintage; it was great! Probably the biggest challenge was finding room for everything – we had bigger crops on some varieties than we expected, so now every tank and barrel is full. It’s a great problem to have,” adds Frank Van de Loo.

For Ken Helm, the challenge was also tank space.

Helm Wines picked record amounts of Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon this year. In fact, Helm crushed over 40 tonnes of good quality Riesling. Fortunately, with a family purchase of a second winery this year, Helm was able to access extra tanks. This is the 39th Riesling vintage for Helm Wines. According to Ken, the 2013 vintage previously rated as the best in his lifetime, but 2015 has ticked all the boxes.

I asked the winemakers if they had done anything different with their winemaking this vintage.

The additional fruit this season meant that Frank Van de Loo is able to do a little experimenting in the winery. Mount Majura Wines is doing a trial with the University of Tasmania, which is looking at a new treatment on Pinot Noir where grape skins are cut to encourage release of colour and desirable tannins.

Frank says, “We’ve also made a couple of new experimental wines, and for the first time, a very sweet botrytis wine. Between the sparkling base that came off very early (10 February 2015), and the botrytis coming off very late (14 May 2015) it was our longest vintage ever.”

For Ken Helm, the near perfect season gave them an opportunity to do something a little different in the vineyard.

“Our vineyard management changed to suit the wonderful season. We introduced hedging to all our vineyard because of the very large foliage growth. It was done with a tractor mounted hedger, after the foliage was lifted, and we were careful not to expose the fruit to sunburn. It allowed air flow and spray penetration and no vine damage by machinery catching vine leaders. Yet still provided leaf cover of the bunches.”

At Helm Wines, winery procedures have been upgraded to process the increased crush, faster and smoothly, without compromising the juice quality. While at Collector Wines, Alex McKay chose not to do anything different this year, instead he “just tried to make sure we focussed on the things we normally do, trying to do them even better”.

Finally, each of the winemakers recommended a ‘wine to watch’ for vintage 2015. Don’t forget to look out for them next time you’re at the cellar door.

Collector Wines

“Our wine to watch will be the Collector Wines Marked Tree Red Shiraz. It is a classic Canberra District Shiraz at an affordable price.”

Mount Majura

“Tempranillo is always a favourite here, and it is looking really special this year. In 2013 we were able to release three single-site Tempranillos, but there wasn’t enough last year, so I’m looking forward to having that possibility again.”

Helm Wines

The 2015 Riesling vintage is describe as “Nulli Secundus” (second to none) by Helm Wines. “The recently bottled Classic Dry Riesling and the Half Dry Riesling are both stunning wines.”

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Rebecca Carpenter

Rebecca Carpenter works in Social Policy and has a busy family life with Victoria (1yr) and Eliza (3yrs). With a Bachelor of Arts (English and History) and a Master of Public Policy, Rebecca has always been passionate about writing, research……and wine. Her wine education has definitely been helped along by husband and local Lark Hill winemaker, Chris Carpenter.

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