March 14, 2016

Vintage 2016

Hand picking Cabernet Sauvignon

Ah, vintage! The tradition and romance of strolling between the vineyard rows, leisurely snipping bunches of grapes into buckets, and enjoying a pickers’ spread on the grass between vines at lunchtime.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Vintage is a frantic time, with grapes being harvested around the clock in the valley to ensure they are picked at their absolute best and delivered to wineries in pristine condition, ready for winemakers to weave their magic. Our Riesling and Shiraz grapes were picked the last week of February, and promptly delivered to winemaker Dave Palmer of Skillogalee, with the Cabernet Sauvignon hand picked a week later.

Nimfa and I managed to avoid the nervous anticipation in the lead up to vintage, heading to the UK to visit our daughter, son-in-law and grandson Edward, and leaving the management of the vineyard to Michael Smyth.

Michael has been looking after the vineyard for some time, and working closely with us to improve the southern end of our block, which had a shallow soil profile. He tells me our work applying compost and organic fertilizer had paid off, and the Riesling is looking terrific with a good balance of acid and sugar.

We can’t take all the credit though, as the weather worked in our favour too. This year summer’s heat just prior to ripening period did not having the same intensity as last year, and 31mm of rain received at the end of January into early February proved a lifesaver. Our vines are dry grown (not irrigated) and this rain made all the difference to maintaining a good canopy and was the perfect finish for the ripening period.  The juice from these grapes is now gently fermenting under the watchful eye of winemaker Dave.

Our goal is to let the fruit characteristics we so carefully nurture on the vine, shine through in the bottle.  To do this we only minimally intervene, allowing nature to do its work. Our Riesling grapes are crushed, the juice strained off the skins, chilled, allowed to settle and racked. This ensures we preserve the primary aromas of the juice without introducing unpleasant flavour compounds present in the skins. We then bring the juice to about 15 degrees Celsius, add the yeast culture, and allow it to ferment for about three weeks.

The result will be a pristine wine, exhibiting the characteristics of a typical, Clare Valley dry Riesling - zingy, lemon and lime flavours with some minerality, a good balance of fruit and acid, and a crisp, clean finish, similar to our 2015 Riesling.

Don with shiraz fruit in the destemmer hopper.

Our Shiraz received similar ‘royal treatment’ on arrival at the winery. The fruit was promptly destemmed and the whole berries transferred into a fermenter where they enjoyed ten days in a controlled temperature ferment (while the rest of the valley sweltered).  The juice was separated from the skins using a basket press, the small berries giving an ideal skin-to-juice ratio that infused the wine with intense colour and flavour.  

Dave doesn’t use fining agents in our wines (which means they are vegan friendly). Instead the new wine is allowed to settle in tank and the clear liquid then transferred into a mix of new, two and three year old American Oak barrels, which will impart subtle vanilla characteristics in what promises to be a fresh, juicy wine, with soft tannins and dark berry characteristics.

If, like us, you can’t wait to try the finished product, come along to the release of our 2015 Shiraz, which has just been bottled. The wine is elegant and refined, great for drinking now, but Dave assures me its balance of fruit, tannins and acid will allow it to age well, for those who like an older Shiraz.

The launch of the 2015 Shiraz will be held at the iconic Sevenhill Hotel, just down the road from our vineyard, on April 2 from 3pm to 5pm. There will be tastings of Farrell Wines and the wines will be available to purchase. If you haven’t received an invitation yet, or are still to RSVP, please contact me either by email (, phone (0416 086 641) or via the website and I’ll be in touch.