Brian Croser of Tapanappa provides the sequel to his report on the nerve-wracking 2023 harvest. Above, the vines at Tapanappa are finally free of the netting that kept the berries safe from the birds.
It is 18 April, a gloriously typical autumn day in the Adelaide Hills.
It is as if the Piccadilly Valley is a painted autumn landscape. Everything is so still, not even a quivering leaf, the autumn green-gold of the vineyards signalling their year’s work is done. The frenetic activities of harvest finalised a vintage year of high anxiety. The vineyards are saying leave us alone, let us rest before the winter takes over and the cycle begins again.
We finished harvesting Foggy Hill yesterday, the last of our three vineyards to be harvested. Perversely, it is usually the first.
On 11 April I made the decision to harvest the Tiers Chardonnay, before the expected rain on the weekend of the 15th. The expected materialised, as 40 mm (1.6 in) of rain in two short bursts that the Pinot Noir fruit hanging on the vines in Foggy Hill had to endure before it was harvested yesterday.
It endured heroically, with no detriment to the fruit.
The Tiers Chardonnay was harvested before the rain, on 13 April, and we had to sort out about 1% of the bunches from the picking bins because of the incipient botrytis infection, a function of Chardonnay’s thinner, more fragile berry skins, the very late harvest and the consistently moist conditions of mid autumn.
Had the Chardonnay been left on the vine over the wet weekend, the level of botrytis would have likely ballooned, to the extent it would have changed the taste of the wine, partially masking the native terroir flavours and aroma of the Tiers Chardonnay. Those Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay attributes are why we are here, growing grapes in this fickle environment.
I have already commented on the serial disasters of Australia’s inland grape-growers. Many were destined to leave their grapes on the vine courtesy of the punitive Chinese import duties on Australian wine and the decimation of that market. Many of the many have been spared that heart-rending decision because Mother Nature has taken the lot, through vineyard inundation and rain-induced disease.
Theirs is a hard game, servicing the branded commodity wine market, selling bulk grapes at a settled low price, their only opportunities to increase miserly profit through higher productivity or cutting costs. They are true agriculturalists, valuing their on-farm independence and growing grapes for profit. Many will probably depart the industry over the next few years.
Ironically the expected very low 2023 national crop, just two-thirds of normal at 1.2 million tonnes, may well bring the Australian wine inventory back into balance with sales, instantly drying up the surplus. If, as is mooted, the Chinese reverse their punitive levies and if Australia can win back some of its previous market share, then there will potentially be a large structural shortage of Australian grapes and wine. A lot of ifs and potentially a very different result.
The cooler coastal vineyards of Australia, including our three distinguished sites, have also suffered diminished yields. I have not interrogated the vintage region by region, but our vineyards in the Piccadilly Valley (Adelaide Hills), the Southern Fleurieu Peninsula and Wrattonbully are all down on average yields by half. The 2023 vintage has produced very expensive grapes from full vineyard expenses and half the crop.
The crops are down in our vineyards because of the very cool and windy spring flowering season, a function of our dominant weather system, SAM (Southern Annular Modulation). SAM’s cold south-easterly winds blowing through our vineyards at flowering inhibited fruit set and diminished the final crop.
The quality of the small, late crop of Chardonnay from Tiers; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc from the Whalebone; and finally the Pinot Noir from Foggy Hill is all very high – higher than I anticipated and much higher than what I had feared. The low crop level and impact on profitability will be addressed only much later. The primary concern of cool-climate vignerons at harvest is monomaniacally focused on the quality of the crop and the implicit quality and style of the wine produced.
In 2023 we have high natural acids and intense fruit flavours in our Tiers Chardonnay juice, the same in our Pinot Noir and Cabernet musts, along with vibrant colours and grown-up tannins as we begin the fermentations.
It is a moment of huge relief to have it all in the winery, sound and very promising. What we do from here is almost mundane, as we shepherd the native fruit quality of the vineyard terroir through the winemaking process, losing nothing of the vibrancy and intensity of his unique 2023 vintage.
In the end, cool-climate vignerons are not gamblers, although we are sometimes forced to make contingent picking decisions based on weather. Always we have to accept what Mother Nature delivers and make the most of it. We are optimists, always hoping this next vintage will be the very best of all, knowing it will, at the least, be different from all the preceding others in unexpected ways.
The 2023 vintage in our three distinguished-site vineyards perfectly answered the description of unexpected and unique.
One of Australia’s most famous Chardonnays, though I fear it got a bit lost for some with the division of Petaluma and the emergence of Tapanappa. For me, this latest Tiers from the Tapanappa team must surely sit with the very best ever released, since the vineyard was planted back in 1979. A cool vintage, the fruit was pressed to tank and then to French oak barriques, 1/3rd new, for two months fermentation. The wine then stayed on lees until December 2022. A limpid lemon colour with flecks of green. It has the refinement of the 1.5 Metres Chardonnay, but an extra level of complexity. Notes of lemon, grapefruit especially, ginger, stonefruit, nuts and spices. Still fresh and with a minerally backing. Very long and surely with a life of a decade plus ahead, this is also utterly seamless and impeccably balanced.
From the legendary Tiers Vineyard, planted alongside the Old Block vines, these are close-planted, as the title implies, and tend to ripen a little earlier. As much as I enjoyed the Piccadilly Chardonnay, for me this is a real step up (making it cracking value in comparison). In 2003, Brian Croser and his team removed 1.3 hectares of the original Tiers vineyard, which was planted 1979, and replanted with the French Bernard clones 76 and 95, on their own rootstocks with spacing at 1.5 metres (and the fruiting wire at just 0.5 metres above ground). So far, the fruit tends to earlier ripening and fuller flavours and so, in 2015, they decided to bottle it discretely.
Pale lemon in colour, there is an early note of oak influence, but this is well on the way to full integration. Richer flavours here too; we have stonefruit, cashews, woodsmoke, melon and river stones with good early complexity. Even though we have riper and fuller flavours here, there is also an extra degree of refinement and subtlety. Very long with a gentle fade, this will provide pleasure for at least the next 6 to 10 years.
This, the third tier if you’ll excuse the pun, of the Tapanappa Chardies, is sourced from the Piccadilly Valley, more specifically an equal divide between the Mount Bonython and Pat and Ted’s vineyards. 2022 was another cooler vintage. The fruit was pressed and pumped to tank and then French oak barriques, a 1/3rd new, for fermentation and then aged on lees till September, 2022. A limpid green/gold. Quite a pungent and lifted nose with stonefruit, minerals, apricot and a hint of oatmeal. Good intensity, which lasts right through to the long finish well matched to bright acidity. An impressive Chardonnay which should drink very well for the next five to eight years.
Bright light yellow with a discreet wheaty, Weetbix, faintly malty bouquet, with excellent concentration of fruit flavour that’s focused and tensioned, with a clean dry finish replete with refreshing acidity. The finish lingers long and the aftertaste is satisfying and bright: a highly satisfying glass of chardonnay, with understated power, which also looks set for a bright future.
Light, bright yellow hue with a creamy, nutty, cashew and creamy lees bouquet, a hint of Weetbix, straightforward and youthful, the palate intense and long, refined and subtle. Very attractive wine and the price is right.
Very light yellow hue, a restrained style of chardonnay with a fresh, fruit-driven bouquet of lemon, nut and nougat aromas, while the palate is intense and piercing, deep, concentrated and powerful, with biscuity overtones and brightly refreshing and quite penetrating lemony acidity that powers a long finish. A superb and relatively fruit-driven chardonnay with a bright future
Brian Croser of Tapanappa has learned to expect the unexpected, but 2023 might take the cake … Above, the first pick of 2023 at Tapanappa.
It is 11 April and we have yet to begin the harvest for all but a young block of Foggy Hill Pinot Noir that was harvested on 5 April. In an average year we would have harvested all three of our vineyards by 11 April.
After 54 diverse vintages, none the same as any other, I do expect the unexpected but 2023 is destined to be the latest of those 54.
193 days ago, the first stirrings of the vine buds in our three distinguished sites initiated a season of anxiety. After a winter of above-average rainfall, the soil profile was saturated and cold as the buds tentatively began their new season’s journey in mid September, two to three weeks later than average.
The die was well and truly cast for a late harvest after the spring months’ (September, October and November) day temperatures were 1.3 °C (2.34 °F) colder than average, inhibiting the growth of the new shoots after their late emergence. Consistent with budburst, flowering was attenuated and 2–3 weeks late.
The culprit is SAM again! The weather engine of the south coast of Australia is SAM (Southern Annular Modulation) and it has remained in positive mode throughout the spring and summer of the 2023 growing season. Positive SAM means the weather systems arriving from the west are crossing the Great Southern Ocean to the south of the Australian continent, delivering cool Antarctic air onto the southern coast. The 2023 growing season is now the fourth in a row of SAM being positive.
The cool winds of the front edge of the slow easterly-moving high-pressure systems have consistently blown into our vineyards from the south-east, inhibiting the flowering process and delaying berry development. The result is a small, late crop. Given the lateness of the season and the low ripening temperatures, a small crop is better than a large one.
At the end of March, The Tiers had accumulated 999 °C growing degree days (GDD [see climate classification for an explanation]) for the six-month growing season, 3.6% below the average of 1036 GDD. For the same period Foggy Hill had accumulated 1115 GDD, 6.6% below the average of 1194 GDD. Whalebone Vineyard at Wrattonbully had accumulated 1261 GDD, 6.5% below the average of 1348 GDD.
These percentage differences may not seem great but in marginal ripening climates they seriously threaten grape maturity, especially when the ripening is delayed into the cool end of autumn as in vintage 2023.
Another peculiarity of this late and cool season is that we are harvesting all three vineyards at the same moment. Normally the Pinot Noir from Foggy Hill is harvested in mid March, followed by Chardonnay from the Tiers Vineyard at the end of March, then finally Cabernet Sauvignon from the Whalebone in early April.
Never have we harvested all three vineyards at the same time. This coincident harvest is imposing allocation stress on manpower, machinery and picking bins.
At this moment, as we remove the bird nets from the Tiers Chardonnay in preparation for harvest tomorrow, there are rain showers around and the air temperature is 12 °C (53.6 °F). I will be very grateful to see some fruit arrive at the winery door.
The positives of a cool, late growing season are the moderate sugar levels ensuring moderate alcohols; the fine, intense fruit flavours; and the high, balancing natural acid. 2023 is likely to produce a Chablis-like version of Tiers Chardonnay.
I had to make a decision last night, in the hours that should be for sleeping not decision-making. I had intended to harvest Foggy Hill Pinot Noir tomorrow and had arranged for bird nets to come off today in preparation.
The maturity curves for each vineyard reflect the natural, terroir-driven sequence of ripening among our distinguished vineyard sites. I would expect Foggy Hill Pinot Noir to be harvested two weeks ahead of Tiers Chardonnay and that in turn two weeks ahead of Whalebone Cabernet Sauvignon.
The 2023 exceptionally late harvest has jammed all three vineyards up against the wall of the end of vine function as the autumn temperatures close the vines down.
Last night, sometime after midnight, I noticed the Australian Bureau of Meteorology began forecasting a major low-pressure system wet-weather event for the next weekend, affecting the Adelaide Hills. The Tiers Chardonnay would be detrimentally affected by heavy rain at its state of advanced maturity. I had a decision to make: harvest Foggy Hill or Tiers, leaving one vineyard at the mercy of the weekend’s weather event?
After hours of agonising, in the pre-dawn hours of this morning, I rang my vineyard manager and arranged for the net removal and picking crews to be at the Tiers Vineyard, instead of Foggy Hill, redirected as they arrive for work. We will harvest the Tiers Chardonnay in dry autumn conditions from tomorrow.
The fate of Foggy Hill Pinot Noir hangs in the balance, but I am hopeful for less rain on the weekend at Foggy Hill at Parawa on the Fleurieu Peninsula; the steep slopes of the vineyard should allow better run off, there will be drying winds from the ocean and Pinot Noir has tougher skins than ripe Chardonnay. That’s my rationale and I am now committed.
The loose-bunch, small-berry Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in Whalebone Vineyard will hang through the rain intact and be harvested next week. The plumper-berried Merlot was harvested today.
These may seem like first-world problems especially compared with the travails of Australia’s inland grape-growers. The huge, flat drainage basin of inland Australia collected the massive rain from the multiple atmospheric rivers created for the east and north of Australia by the La Niña weather system during the winter and spring of 2022. That water inevitably found its way down the Murray–Darling River system to the irrigation communities of Australia’s Riverina, Sunraysia and Riverland, source of 70% of Australia’s grape crop. Many vineyards were inundated and those that weren’t couldn’t be irrigated because their pumping stations were under water. The disease pressures were also high.
Some estimates of Australia’s 2023 grape harvest are as low as 1.2 million tonnes, 33% below the average of 1.8 million tonnes and the smallest harvest since the 1990s.
Today is Thursday the 13th and we are halfway through harvesting the beautiful Chardonnay from the Tiers Vineyard. We will complete the harvest of another of our Piccadilly Valley vineyards, Pat and Ted’s, tomorrow before the predicted rain event on Friday night materialises. Whew!
I travelled the 1.5 hours down to Foggy Hill to sample and inspect the Pinot Noir grapes hanging on the exhausted vines. The fruit is in near-perfect condition, begging to be picked. What will it look like after the weekend’s rain event when we start to harvest on Monday?
I am praying it will be resilient, then the gamble I made on the night of the 11th will have paid off.
This is all part of a vigneron’s life. Never the same, never boring, always providing a story to tell as part of the final wine in the bottle.
Vignerons the world over, live with the caprice of nature, the weather God in particular.
The optimal result of a bountiful crop of outstanding quality grapes is a small sliver on the roulette wheel of weather dictated outcomes through a seven-month growing season, regardless of provenance.
More often the combination of a small crop of outstanding quality creates a consumer demand that can’t be met, frustrating for all and seemingly a Burgundian specialisation recently, but an acceptable result. Fortunately, the worst result, a large crop of inferior quality grapes is now a rare occurrence as vignerons hone and apply their knowledge and skills to ameliorate nature’s worst efforts.
SAM has delivered three consecutive small quantity, very high-quality crops to the cool regions in South Australia where Tapanappa’s vineyards are grown. The yields from vintage 2020, 2021 and 2022 combined would barely exceed the quantity of grapes from a more normal season.
Despite that I am very grateful to SAM.
Well might you ask who’s SAM?
SAM (Southern Annular Modulation) is the movement of the high and low-pressure systems circling the Great Southern Ocean from west to east, closer to the Antarctic (positive mode) or further away towards the equator (negative mode).
SAM in negative mode, wreaked havoc on the Australian continent at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020 because the high-pressure systems were crossing the Australian continent, picking up superheated continental air that fanned the dry lightning lit fires across the breadth of the continent.
A contrite SAM suddenly turned positive in early 2020 and the high-pressure systems sulkily retreated to their lair above the cold waters of the Great Southern Ocean closer to Antarctic and there they have largely remained through the balance of vintage 2020 and through vintages 2021 and 2022.
The counter clockwise moving front edges of these systems, low in the Great Southern Ocean, deliver cool easterly winds from above the ocean surface to the southern coastline of Australia. Cool south-easterly breezes for the whole of the summer has characterised the past three vintages.
Not all Australian viticulture benefited from SAM. In 2022 the Pacific Ocean La Nina event dominated the weather on the East coast down into eastern Victoria, dumping unprecedented amounts of summer rain.
In the West the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) was positive, creating fierce hot air conditions above the iron hills of the Kimberly that crept its way down the coast to Perth and further south.
South Australia is relatively immune to the effects of the Southern Oscillation Index, aka the El Nino/La Nina systems of the Pacific Ocean and to the Indian Ocean Dipole and has been firmly in the weather jurisdiction of SAM for the past three vintages.
In addition to being cooled by SAM, the high-pressure systems kept South Australia very dry through the growing season except for two welcome marginal incursions of soggy eastern clouds in October and January. After the fiery era of 2006 to 2019 the last three vintages have been cool water on a parched tongue.
In a previous article I predicted that the three Tapanappa distinguished site vineyards would all accumulate less than the average heat in 2022 for the seven-month growing season, based on where they were in February. This prediction remained true for Foggy Hill at Parawa on the Fleurieu Peninsula with an HDD of 1306C-days versus the average of 1342C-days. Ever tricky, the weather God engineered a very warm April, the final month of the 7-month growing season to confound my prediction for the Tiers Vineyard in the Piccadilly Valley and Whalebone Vineyard in Wrattonbully.
Tiers Vineyard-Piccadilly Valley
Tiers Vineyard in the Piccadilly Valley finally crossed the season average line in the unusually warm April reaching 1176C-day versus the average of 1098C-days, still a cooler season judged by the standards of 2006 to 2019.
The crop quantity was two thirds of normal and was harvested on the 8th and 9th of April, two weeks later than normal. The Chardonnay grapes were in wonderful condition with moderate sugars, high acids and pristine flavours. I can’t wait for the fermentations in French oak barriques to finish, to finally reveal the rude shape of what should be finely chiselled and intense 2022 Tiers Chardonnay wines.
Foggy Hill Vineyard, Parawa, Fleurieu Peninsula
A meagre half of normal crop of Foggy Hill Pinot Noir was harvested between the 2nd and 5th of April. The deficiency in quantity has been compensated in concentration and intensity of colour, flavour and tannin. There is a defining contrast between the relatively abundant crop 2021 Foggy Hill wines, lighter in colour and more ethereal in aroma and flavour and the already monumental 2022 wines in barrique beginning malo-lactic fermentation. Dark and brooding, replete with Foggy Hill typicity, the 2022’s are proof of the small crop is better for Pinot Noir.
Whalebone Vineyard, Wrattonbully
In 2022, Whalebone Vineyard delivered a normal crop of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. That was a relief after the 1 tonne/hectare effort in 2020 and the marginal improvement in 2021.
The sweet spot for temperature during the growing season for the Bordeaux varieties is between 1400 and 1500C-days. The average for Wrattonbully is 1425 and 2022 delivered 1496C-days, again mainly because of a warm April.
The Merlot from the Whalebone Vineyard was harvested on the 28th of March, the Cabernet Franc on the 12th of April and the Cabernet Sauvignon on the 21st of April, all two weeks later than normal.
The wines still fermenting on skins are very colourful and aromatic with a cool climate fragrancy.
Three cool ones in a row. Are we entering another cool era as occurred from 1945 to 1954 and 1995 to 2005? (see 1oo Years of Climate article).
This vigneron hopes so, against the grain of ever-increasing global temperatures, because the cool ones produce the best wines. If not, I rely on that most resilient of plants, the grape vine, Vitis vinifera, to demonstrate its typicity in the well-suited terroirs of Tapanappa’s distinguished vineyard sites, even in hot vintages.
That roulette wheel of life has delivered a jackpot to this vigneron, consisting of the suite of “noble varieties” of the wonderful Vitis vinifera plant and the beautiful sites I have the privilege to nurture.
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Liquor Licensing Act 1997
It is an offense to sell or to supply to or to obtain liquor on behalf of a person under the age of 18 years.
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Wines are sold by Tapanappa Wines Pty. Ltd. ABN 86 104 001 667