Like most agricultural pursuits, wine is totally at the mercy of the environment; be that the rain, the amount of sun or even the soil type. Despite the variation of environmental conditions it is always remarkable that there are still some flavours that remain consistent from a defined piece of land. There is a French agricultural term called 'terroir', (pronounced Tair-wah) that is now commonly used to describe this characteristic.
One of the most famous and noble French regions, Burgundy, is a text book example of the understanding of terrior. This is primarily because of the uninterrupted production of high quality grapes over at least a millennium. The behavior of individual vineyard style is well understood. As a basic rule, Pinot styles in the north around Dijon are robust, earthy styles, and approaching the southern town of Beaune, Pinot will soften to a more delicate fruited style, showing characters of strawberry and ripe cherry.
On the surface, Pinot would appear to be highly at the mercy of its location and of course that is true but when you consider Shiraz in the Australian example, the same is the case. Grown in such disparate locations as Margaret River, Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley and even the cold climes of northern Tasmania, Shiraz presents itself in many different guises.
Commercial realities dictate that popular wine styles should maintain a high degree of uniformity from one season to the next; after all, loyalty is built out of consistency. Preferably good consistency. This can be considered relevant for products to meet a mass-market or non-wine geek segment because explaining the variation does require a significant engagement from the consumer.
So where does the title for this article come in? Despite all of the pessimism of wet and challenging vintages that can be faced by grape producers, there is the opportunity to recover perfectly acceptable commercial wines. Looking at the Tower Estate case which I see everyday, I can share some of the pain of producing wine that initially may appear like an awkward gangling teenager and how it will develop into a really lovely adult.
|Panorama Vineyard in Tasmania|
Tower Estate has, for several years, been sourcing Pinot Noir from the Panorama Vineyard in the Huon Valley. Near the village of Cradoc, The Panorama Vineyard, owned by Michael Vishacki is a southern Tasmanian treasure. You can see the location of the vineyard in more detail if you click on the Google map.
A cool climate location, Cradoc is at the limits of producing viable fruit for wine production in the southern hemisphere. Early ripening red varieties like Shiraz have no chance of ripening in time before wineter arrives, leaving only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to consistently produce the best quality fruit.
In the Tower Estate example, the 2009 vintage Panorama Vineyard Pinot Noir won a trophy at the Hobart Royal Show. The 2010 Panorama Vineyard Pinot Noir was highly acclaimed, with the famous Australian wine writer James Halliday giving the wine a rating of 96 points; his highest rated Pinot Noir of that year.
The old addage that a wine is made in the vineyard is a relavent one, so looking at weather conditions that year should give us an indication of how such high quality fruit was produced. The table below is from the Bureau of Meteorology, and compares a 30 year average with the 2010 rainfall figure; the nearest BOM station to the Panaroma Vineyard is the town of Geeveston. The most notable feature is that during the growing period between January and April when rainfall was generally below the average but sufficient for good grape production.
The table below by contrast shows the 2011 vintage which reflected difficult growing conditions, with above average rainfall across many wine growing regions in southern Australia and in this specific example, the Huon Valley in Tasmania, where Tower Estate was going to buy top quality, very expensive Pinot Noir grapes.
Notice the spike in rain in April? April is such an important time in picking grapes. You do not want rain just at the time you are trying to ripen the grapes and concentrate flavours. But the 2011 vintage brought almost double the average rainfall, with over 100 mm of rain for the the month. With these adverse circumstances we have all the ingredients for "A Difficult Teenager" wine in the making. This is the time that the skill of the vineyard owner comes into play; minimising the risk of disease and the total loss of a crop. But it is also the time for the winemaker to work hard and make gentle touches with the processing of grapes in the winery.
Note: This article was originally written in 2013 when I worked in direct marketing at Tower Estate in the Hunter Valley.