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Archive for March, 2015

Vintage 2015 is in full swing across Australia. At Taylors, our winemakers hailed the beginning of vintage in the first week of February, when the grape parameters were all in balance – the sugars, acidity, tannins and flavour compounds. And this season’s fruit is once again a beautiful expression of our Clare Valley terroir, and of seasonal variations. The date of harvest changes every year, but we haven’t had a traditional autumn harvest on the estate since 2009.

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And we’re not alone

Across Australia winters are warming, growing seasons are earlier, and vintages are coming forward. This is more than an observation. Viticulturist Professor Snow Barlow says research over the past 50 years shows coastal wine regions have warmed between 0.7 and one degree, and inland regions as much as two degrees. Vines are temperature-driven, so when the mercury rises, fruit ripening is accelerated and harvest dates are earlier.

The impact of global warming on grape growing

Professor Barlow has been at the forefront of research on grape growing and the impact of climate change since the Kyoto negotiations in the 1990s, but as Max Allen points out in The Future Makers: Australian Wines for the 21st Century, it wasn’t until 2007 that many winemakers heeded the science. The drought was taking hold, squeezing life out of sunburnt vines, and in turn shrivelling hopes for the wine industry’s long-term future, as climate experts predicted that by 2050 warmer growing regions would be out of production. The advice was to prepare for global warming, use less water, fewer chemicals, and plant more trees. And many did.

How the wine industry is adapting to rising temperatures

Some have moved to higher ground or further south to grow their cool climate Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Others have planted vineyards east-to-west and manipulated the canopy to protect berries from the scorching afternoon sun. And we’re seen new technologies and innovations in grape growing and winemaking that are helping producers prepare for climate variations and extreme heat.

What about the wine?

We’ve also seen a broadening of our palate as we accept different wine styles and grape varieties. A trend driven by necessity, rather than solely by consumer preferences. Market research didn’t indicate an emerging thirst for Gruner Veltliner, Nero d’Avola, Vermentino or Tempranillo, but wine producers adopted these alternative grape varieties because they thrive in hot climates without compromising quality and flavour.

Sustainability in action

Faced with the effects of climate change, government and industry bodies have upped the ante to help the wine industry adapt to the effects of a warming world. And McLaren Vale has released its free Sustainable Australia Winegrowing program to wine regions across the country. The results speak for themselves, with 40 per cent of South Australia’s wine industry now committed to using less agrichemicals, nurturing healthy soils, reclaiming water, and saving energy.

Our commitment to sustainability

For the wine industry, climate change is more than rising temperatures and earlier harvests. It’s the catalyst for change. Change in the way we look at growing grapes, producing wine, and all the processes we undertake between grape and glass.

At Taylors Wines, we’ve made strategic decisions to adopt sustainable practices in all we do. These practices have been in place for many years. In fact, we are so committed to a sustainable future that we launched the world’s first 100% carbon neutral range of wines in 2009 – Eighty Acres.

That year we also attained the international standard ISO 14044 as well as Environmental Management Systems certification in recognition of our environmental stewardship. Since then, we’ve won quite a few environmental awards for our sustainable initiatives.

Our environmental vision statement is to: “Act responsibly for future generations.” By adopting the highest standard of stewardship, we honour our founders and the future they envisaged for generations to come.

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How we do this on our Clare Valley estate

Water is our most valuable resource, so every drop is recycled and reused. Water from our winery is captured and reticulated to the vineyard. Likewise the stormwater. And to safeguard against water being used when it’s not needed, we control dripper lines from our computers 24 hours a day. Organic mulch then traps the moisture, protecting it from evaporation, and in winter, we graze sheep to eat the weeds, pluck the leaves, and fertilise the soil.

A living vineyard

These practices have seen our soils rejuvenate and become alive with micronutrients and earthworms. A healthy soil means a healthy vine. And a healthy vine is strong, resilient, and equipped to fight disease and tolerate stress. It also produces super premium fruit. We feel the extra attention they receive is worth it.

Alternative grape varieties

We have also experimented with grape varieties that suit warm temperatures, looking to Mediterranean regions where the climate is similar to ours – cool wet winters and warm dry summers – and we’re pleased with the results.

Our white varietal Vermentino 2012 for example is described by our winemakers as an “aromatic wine with well-balanced acid providing a soft palate whilst maintaining a fresh, crisp finish.” And of the Tempranillo 2014, our winemakers say it is a beautifully balanced, flavoursome, red wine which will reward “careful cellaring up to and possibly beyond 2020.”

Longevity

Longevity is at the forefront of everything we do and decide at Taylors. Are we influenced by climate change? Definitely, and we will continue to be. Has it pushed us to make better wines, and prepare for a sustainable future? We believe so!

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Does a wine actually improve with age? There are certainly enough clichés floating around linking wine and ageing – ‘ageing like a fine wine’…. ‘like good wine, the best things take time’, and so on. But like any cliché, it probably pays to know a little bit more about the subject before committing to any costly adventures.

So if you are wondering how aging will improve a wine, the first thing we’ll ask you is, which wine? Because (to bust a common myth) lengthy ageing actually doesn’t suit all wines. The delicate symmetry between wine and time is one that involves a careful selection of varietal fit, winemaking features, and storage conditions.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of someone tucking away an expensive drop for years, only to have that future occasion marred by a glass full of murky vinegar. It’s not something you’d wish on anyone! So let us do our bit to shed some light on things to consider when looking for ageing potential.

 

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Happy historical accidents

To the delight of the ancient Greeks, the occasional misplaced amphorae of stoppered wine would turn up several years later with a paler but deeply delicious version of the original wine. Middle Eastern and European wine connoisseurs then worked across centuries to pinpoint those wines best suited to the ageing process. With sticky fortifieds such as Madeira and Port handling well across the passing of the years, wine aficionados took a guess that residual sugars might well be part of the secret. Yet resolution of the mysteries of the (wine) x (time) equation came down to much more complex factors than original sweetness. As knowledge grew, key varietal features, growth conditions and discerning vinification processes began to become identified with truly excellent ageing potential.

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Grape potential

The best place to start in understanding the ageing process is to consider the features of particular grape varieties. Where tannins (also known as phenolic compounds), acidic features and fruit characters are all in abundant and balanced supply, the chances of having a wine with good ageing potential increase significantly. Cabernet Sauvignon for example is one of the celebrated ‘agers’ due to the nature of the actual grape’s chemical composition, as is Nebbiolo. Yet a delicious youngster such as a Beaujolais or Moscato is not structured in such a way – giving you every right to enjoy such light varieties instantly! In fact, ageing beyond the first couple of years post-bottling for some grapes is more than a waste of time – it can rob a perfectly integrated varietal of its youthful character.

Acid tongue

As noted, good acidic structure can be a tell-tale sign that ageing potential is high.

Acidity should be assessed carefully, with low pH fruit such as Pinot Noir and Sangiovese providing a sound platform for cellaring. If you combine this structure with rich and complex fruit characteristics at bottling, it is highly likely that the passage of time will lead to even better flavour and aromatic components.

White knights and ‘dumb adolescents’

To dispel another myth, white wines can cellar beautifully in the right conditions. Place zesty Riesling from the right region in your cellar and you could find an outstanding 15 to 18-year-old (or more) waiting to be savoured. Chardonnay, with a strong and complex structure at bottling, also has the potential to steal the cellar spotlight. Don’t forget that our accomplished winemakers have enviable skills in coaxing a winning balance from many varietals; oak barrelling and lees management are just two of the key variables directed towards good ageing potential.

One thing to watch for in all wines that you age is the strange valley of disappointment that can arise in the middle years of ageing. A promising Cabernet Sauvignon at bottling could well produce insipid and disappointing returns at the 4 to 6-year mark. This is known as the ‘dumb’ period, where the wine is often confused, aimless and lacking form. The alchemy is underway – but not complete. It’s no surprise some wine aficionados call this the teenage years! Yet don’t despair – if your calculations of potential are correct, the 10 to 11-year mark could well reveal a mature and highly accomplished wine of perfect proportions.

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The right conditions

You might research and pinpoint a wine that has perfectly balanced fruit features, sharp tannins, and sound acid structure. And you could also ensure that the vintage emanates from a flinty, mineral-rich terrain known for adding further scaffolding to the wine’s ageing potential. Yet – it could all be for nought if the cellaring environment is sub-standard. Be sure to take account of the best temperature conditions for your varietal (or blend), and focus upon consistency. 20 hours of sub-13 degrees Celsius will mean nothing if a wall is pounded by 35-degree summer heat for the remaining four hours of each day! Humidity should also be maintained, particularly when cork is in use, so that unwanted oxidation is minimised. And strong vibrations such as truck traffic are a sure-fire way to upset the chemical mix. At the end of the day, we really want these gems to sit in the cool, humid dark until the time is right for unveiling.

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Et voila!

So what does all of this selection, attention and preparation for ageing deliver? Inside that bottle across the dark and dusty years, small miracles are coming to life. One of the key interactions occurring during the ageing process is the chemical dance that is performed between tannins and other components.

Across time, these hard-working phenolic compounds facilitate the mellowing of acidity and enhancement of aromas until themselves falling as sediment – job done. What is left with the passage of time will be a combination of textured aromatics and unexpected flavours that often inspire the sit-down-eyes-closed rapture that a well-aged wine can deliver. Why not put our award-winning St. Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon to the test? With elegant tannins and distinctive fruit aspects at bottling, the right cellar conditions could well see you bowled over by breathtaking flavours in 2025.

Just remember that well-structured examples of both red and white wines can leave the winery with a long rest in the cellar being their perfect destination. With a little understanding of the key features for longevity, you can begin to gain confidence in spotting and storing a ‘perfect ager’. But just don’t forget the young ‘uns! Some soft, youthful wines without legs for the long haul are nevertheless completely perfect for the 0 to 2-year mark. See? Whichever end of the ageing spectrum is chosen, we lovers of fine wine simply can’t lose.

 

 

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