Garbin Estate Wines Vintage Report of 2021.
This season was more consistent with previous dates for vintage, starting on the 16th of January and that's about where the consistency ends! Each year brings new challenges and weather patterns, I can't recall any vintage in my time involved that has been exactly the same. From machine breakdowns to lockdowns and everything in between, rest assured there is wine at the end of the funnel.
Annual rainfall was below average in Perth with winter also falling below average, the fourth driest winter on record, third driest October on record but a record wet November. The late rain and fewer days above 35 degrees (compared with last season) may have helped this vintage keep more on schedule with previous years. Yields were up compared to last season also noting good quality fruit.
The Millendon weather station recorded 610.6mm of rain for 2020, down on the average of 760.4mm. This average was recorded from Perth Airport weather station as the Millendon (Swan Valley) station is fairly new with data only going back to 2017 compared to 1944 for Perth Airport. It's interesting to read the patterns in weather going back through the years, you can definitely see we are getting less rain. Here's some interesting facts; It appears we haven't been above average annually since 2011, the highest annual rainfall was in 1955 with 1164.7mm and the lowest was in 2006 with 479.6mm.
Pruning began on the 8th of August 2020 for the Gingin vineyard and the 10th of August for the Swan Valley vineyard. This was later than usual considering the difficulty finding pruners right for the job. With the pandemic and labour shortage around meant lots of work with competitive pricing to secure teams to complete seasonal fruit harvesting. Peter decided to change the pruning style in the Gingin Shiraz this year to increase total yield after a low yielding year for vintage 2020. The combination of this along with more ideal weather and watering saw roughly a 120% increase in yield compared to last season. Great news if you love Shiraz!
Spring as mentioned was particularly wet with above average rainfall for the season which brings about its own problems. With the vines reaching initial fruiting, it's now time to be exposed to ideal temperatures anywhere from mid 20's to low 30's. The mixture of rainfall, cloud-cover and humidity all play roles in slowing down the ripening process and introduce the potential for diseases. If left unattended grapes may stop growing to their full potential. We had to be more alert to combat these problems this season.
As mentioned Summer received fewer days above 35 degrees resulting in less heat stress on the vines and more ideal temperatures for ripening to occur. Upgrades to vineyard water routing and programming also paid off. We have noticed over the past few decades, the start of vintage is getting earlier. In 2020 vintage we recorded one of our earliest vintages, 11th of January with vineyards around the Swan Valley starting as early as Christmas/New Year.
Every vintage brings it's challenges, there's always new stories to tell. The first variety picked was the Verdelho on the 16th of January. I noticed there was extra noise coming from the harvester compared to last season, also noting issues with the fans that separate the grapes from the leaves. It turns out before picking the next variety being Chardonnay, we needed to replace two bearings on the harvester this season. One controlling the beaters that gently shake the vine and the other separating leaves from the berries. Easy to see why these would need replacing asap as they do most of the work. Thankfully after finding a good mechanic and only one days delay, we were able to pick the Chardonnay and continue vintage.
In early February we faced bushfires, Covid lockdowns and labour shortages all while trying to harvest and crush grapes. The Wooroloo bushfire started on the 1st of February in the shire of Mundaring, by 2nd of February it had spread to shires of Chittering, Northam and the City of Swan. The bushfire had come close to the back of neighbouring properties but fortunately no damage occurred. There was talk about the potential for smoke taint in the season's grapes, however, no signs of this were picked up in the Swan Valley. The fire coincided with a five day lockdown in the Perth metropolitan area starting 6pm on 31 January. This made planning harvests increasingly difficult having to reorganise labour and trucks to cart fruit from our Gingin estate. Reliable labour was also in short supply for vintage, with limited international travel and year round competition to use existing labour in Western Australia. We struggled with handpicking our Swan Valley vineyard. The pickers are also very busy, limited numbers and get tired unlike machine harvesting. In the end we used two different picking teams and paid a premium due to demand.
If that wasn't enough action for one vintage we also dealt with unseasonal rain during summer. You can do everything to the best of your ability in the vineyard to produce quality grapes but mother nature always has the last say. In early February there were weather forecasts for rain the next few days. The Sangiovese was close to ripeness but not the exact Baume we were after, it was time to make a decision. Do we pick early or do we leave to ripen but potentially risk grape splitting and fruit rot with the rain? We decided to take the fruit off earlier than we would have liked and not take the risk. Fortunately, Sangiovese being a lighter red style everything worked out.
After only 2 years planted the Waldron Shiraz block produced fruit, 2 tonne per acre in its second vintage. Peter was very happy that after all our efforts a reward was given in such a short amount of time. The fruit was good quality but low yielding as expected being the vine's first crop. On first inspection after tank sampling we noted a deep rich red colour and we were very excited to anticipate what time in oak and more maturing does to this wine.
Lastly, due to the unseasonal rain in summer our vintage extended into late March as we waited for the Muscat to fully ripen before processing for the Liqueur Muscat. Overall we were able to walk away happy with the 2021 vintage, the efforts and fruit achieved. We'll see what next year brings. So far we are off to an exceptional start with winter rain exceeding the July average.