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A Tragedy During Harvest

Barossa Valley Estate winemaker Stuart Bourne is wrapping up his white grape crush.
2009 Southern Harvest Winemakers
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Posted: Feb 11, 2009 1:49pm ET

By Stuart Bourne

Posted by Stuart Bourne

Greetings again from Stuey B and the crew at Barossa Valley Estate, now firmly entrenched in Vintage 2009, Barossa Valley style!

Firstly, on a sad note, our hearts, thoughts and prayers are currently going out to all of the people affected by the bushfires, currently still burning in the state of Victoria, just a day’s drive away from us here in South Australia. On the weekend just gone, bushfires of the most horrific nature we have seen in Australia burned across much of Victoria. They brought not only trails of destruction of property, but also a very large amount of death and injury, the likes of which we have not seen before in Australia. We experienced similar weather on the weekend here, high winds and hot temperatures, but by the Grace of God were spared any major events. Not so for Victoria.

But in true Aussie spirit, the flood of offers to help out with donations of clothing, food, money and other support shown by the people of Australia has been incredible to watch unfold. The local communities around the small country towns in which we live here, like all of Australia, are currently rallying around those affected. The incredible efforts of all of the volunteer and professional fire services, the paramedics, police, army, local farmers, etc., does not go unnoticed. We congratulate them all for their superhuman work. We pray not only for those involved directly, but also that Mother Nature assists so the fires can be brought under control.

On a brighter note, this week sees pretty much the end of the white grape crush. A few small blocks will be picked next week, completing the whites, just in time for the first red grape crush, Shiraz, next week. We almost always complete our white crush in just a couple of weeks, aiming for those fresh, clean styles of Chardonnay you may have tasted before, so this year is no different. Harvest dates are not as early as last year (but last year was an early start), and are more in line with our long-term average. Even though we experienced some hot days in the lead up, the canopies have held in and the vineyards have returned a pleasing yield of very good quality.

Rauri Donkin and Stuart Bourne checking Chardonnay ferments
The Chardonnay grapes picked last week are now well and truly bubbling away quietly in the cellar. Our style has been for very cool fermentation in tank (at about 15° C), followed by a touch of oak maturity after ferment to balance the fruit. The yeast we use is a very neutral fermentor, as we aim to bring out the natural Chardonnay flavor, with no contribution by the yeast strain. We monitor the change in ferment twice daily, by using analysis, smell and taste. The first photo is of Rauri Donkin and me, checking on tank ferments of Chardonnay. We are monitoring the drop in Baume (the sugar level, similar to Brix in the States), the temperature and then tasting. Rauri joins us this year, fresh out of college, to do an internship with Barossa Valley Estate, helping me and our assistant winemaker, Will Thompson. Rauri has a fantastic background in science and hospitality, and his enthusiasm and passion shine through. Over the course of the blog, we will also introduce more of the crew here for vintage.

Barossa Valley Estate harvest veterans Keenan and Ted
For example, the second photo is of Keenan (in red sweater on the left) and Ted (with the sunglasses and beard). Keenan is back for his third vintage with us and is, among other things, a local baker and IT guru. Keenan runs the presses and is very gentle in squeezing the juice out of the fruit to ensure we capture all of the quality, without bruising. Ted is a former tradesman, exceedingly handy and hard working, who is back for his second vintage with us. Ted mans the crushing area, marshals the tractors and trucks as they come in, and makes sure the fruit is gently crushed and pumped on to the fermentors and presses with all care. To have both these boys back for vintage is a blessing. They know what to do, how to do it, and maintain their beaming smiles as the long hours tick by. (Note to self: Make sure they are all well-fed, and the occasional cold beer at the end of the day never goes astray!)

Another load of fresh-picked Chardonnay
The third photo is me, seeing off a truck that has just placed its load of fresh-picked Chardonnay in the crushing pit. Again, like last week, see how vibrant green the fruit is! That juice was pressed into tank, cooled down and ready to settle out within three hours of that photo. The fruit was picked by machine in the dark, under full headlights, at 5 a.m., just before sun up, and was on our doorstep at sunrise. The photo was taken at 7:30 a.m. Speed and accuracy with the whites is critical. It is interesting to note that that this particular block has a lot more citrus and peach flavor to it, compared to the picks of last week, which had very strong green apple taste, with background citrus. The two will blend together very nicely in the E-Minor Chardonnay.

The magnificent Barossa Valley view from the office
The last photo is just for fun. It shows the magnificent view across a little patch of the Barossa Valley (for those who have been here before, we are at Marananga, near Seppeltsfield) looking from our crushing area out toward the thriving hamlet of Tanunda. You could say that the view outside the "office window" is pretty spectacular. The foreground and background show you just how dry it is here, yet the middle ground shows how vibrant the vineyards are, a patchwork of green in a brown land. By May this year, those hills in the background (that are actually the border between the Barossa Valley on my side and the Eden Valley on the other side) will green up with the breaking rains that signify the change from fall to winter. More on weather and all those things later.

Thanks to everyone for the support shown so far, as we blog away and share our vintage moments. To everyone, be safe till next time and hear from you soon.


Stuey B and all the BVE crew

P.S. I am sure my golf game is suffering as a result of all of this. May need to bring the driver into work to smash a few into the vineyard to remain sane!

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