By Leigh O'Connor.
The best time to visit wine country is during harvest season
when the weather is a little cooler, the grapes are ripe and everywhere is
bustling with activity.
Australian harvest season is from February to April,
depending on weather and the rate each variety of grape ripens. The best wine
growers are so familiar with the taste of ripeness that they can walk down a
row tasting grapes and know intuitively when to pick.
Timing the harvest is the single most important decision a
grower or winemaker takes each year. Wine grapes are much sweeter than table
grapes and this sweetness level – from sucrose - determines the alcohol level.
Vineyard managers check the level every week leading up to
harvest and sometimes every day, to ensure each part of the vineyard is
harvested at the right time. In a poor vintage, rain causes the grapes to swell
and ruin the careful balance of sweetness and acidity.
It’s not just sweetness that matters - ripeness also means
other parts of the grape such as the seeds, skin and stems have matured. Seeds
taste less bitter and change colour from green to yellow when ripe and this
makes the resulting tannin taste sweeter, which is known to affect a wine’s
finish or after taste.
Let’s take a fly around Australia’s wine regions and see
what’s happening as harvest time rolls around.
A boutique, family-run winery in the heart of Margaret
Estate produces a portfolio of low preservative and acidity vintages using
organic practices. Specialising in Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Tempranillo
and Pineau, Peacetree takes its name from olive trees that were planted at the
same time as the first vines. Producing only 1500 cases a year following
traditional methods with an emphasis on being chemical and pesticide free,
expect wines like the 2011 Cab Sav Reserve with typical Margaret River
characters of cassis, cherry, chocolate and mint, plus a soft and fruity
With valley views out to the Indian Ocean, Glenmore
Wines’ five hectare vineyard is nestled into the sweeping landscapes of the
Margaret River wine region. The north facing plot delivers an ideal place for
grape-growing, with natural slopes and windbreaks providing protection from
prevailing winds, resulting in an array of varietals being produced from the
flagship Glenmore Cabernet Sauvignon to Petit Verdot. Other varieties such as
Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are produced onsite, using fruits sourced across
the region from individual vineyards.
Long, hot Summer days and balmy nights create amicable
temperatures for LynneVale
Estate fruits to flourish and develop full flavours. Just 10 minutes from
the heart of Bendigo in Central Victoria, this boutique winery is usually one
of the last in the area to harvest, as grapes are handpicked and handcrafted to
produce highly-regarded wines that burst with signature flavour. The first
vintage was produced in 2002 and since then, LynneVale has won many awards
including their 2003 Cabernet Shiraz. Open for tasting on the weekend, make
sure to dine in the restaurant overlooking the vineyards.
Perched atop a sunny hillside at the end of Paynes Road, Seville
Hill Wines produces a line of premium boutique Yarra Valley wines. Home to
rich red soils with valley breezes that cool fruit as it ripens, Seville was
established in 1991, with a focus on elegant fruit driven reds and more
recently whites, sparkling and dessert style wines. Cellar door visitors can
bask on a platform deck by old English elms, overlooking a cherry orchard and
distant mountains, while sampling drops such as the richly hued 2010 Cabernet
Sauvignon, with aromas of berries, musk, mint and hints of cedar.
With mineral-rich soil and a gentle cool climate punctuated
by sunny Summer days, Pierrepoint
Wines specialises in Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris wines. Located
in the foothills of Mount Pierrepoint, this family-owned vineyard has been a
Tarrington tourist stopover since 1998, where geese, ducks and chickens roam
free as part of a chemical-free pest programme. The vines are tended with care,
hand pruned in Spring, de-budded to reduce the yield and harvested in Autumn,
to produce award-winning wines that can be tasted at the cellar door seven days
a week, teamed with cheese platters and lunch.
Exuding old world charm and rusticity, Holm
Oak Vineyards sits on an elevated site in the charming Tamar Valley, above
rolling vines fringed by grand English trees and fruit orchards. Producing
crisp, cool climate wines, Holm Oak’s cellar door is hard to resist with the
thought of ten varietals to taste in a relaxed atmosphere. Sip wines ranging
from dry to sweet or partake in a tasting of four contrasting styles of Pinot
Noir, while passionate staff create a platter of local cheese and artisan
terrine to graze on and watch the sun set from the spacious deck.
Photo: Jazelle Venter Photography.
Now for NSW:
Inspired by the wine and food of Italy, Di
Lusso Estate boutique vineyard and winery carefully crafts nine varietals
of grapes into a wide selection of dry reds and whites. Fringed on the northern
outskirts of Mudgee, Di Lusso sits in picturesque surroundings of rolling
hillsides, a peaceful lake and lush vines, where wines can be sampled in the
cellar door or enjoyed at the onsite restaurant, Cucina. Producing up to 17
Italian varietals at once, expect drops such as Vino Rosso, Moscato, Pinot
Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, enjoyed with an ever-evolving menu
showcasing local produce.
River Wines is a destination unto itself, situated in a pretty Gerringong valley
just 90 minutes from Sydney. This family-owned and operated winery sits on
volcanic alluvial soil - between the mountains and the sea - and offers wedding
and function facilities with panoramic views from onsite restaurant, Oak Room
Eleven. Book in for a wine tasting and sample best sellers like rich and
elegant Saddleback Mountain Red, bold Illawarra Flame Cabernet Sauvignon,
fragrant Chambourcin, or a fruity Chardonnay with undertones of nectarine and
Perched on a stunning elevated position above the Great
Dividing Range and Lockyer Valley, Preston
Peak Wines boasts 330 hectares of vineyard and land, providing an extensive
panorama over surrounding landscapes. The cellar door and function centre, just
ten minutes out of Toowoomba, are well suited to hosting special occasions, as
well as tastings of a broad variety of red, white, sparkling and fortified
wines. Perhaps start with a fruity Wild Flower White with lychee and honeydew
flavours, or savour the dark chocolate, plum and lavender notes of a deep ruby
Halfway between Victor Harbor and Adelaide City, Magpie
Springs sits proudly on top of Old Willunga Hill, boasting a stunning
scenic backdrop for their boutique winery and art gallery. Visitors to the
estate find entertainment for all ages – admire a show in the gallery, or
simply bring a picnic to enjoy in the gardens after a tasting in the cellar
door. With premium fruits for seven wine varietals, taste signature flavours
such as a light bodied Riesling, a Sauvignon Blanc with zesty lime and green
apple notes, while a Semillon Botrytis will appeal to those with a sweet tooth.
For a leisurely weekend wine tasting, cruise up to Eldredge
Vineyards cellar door, sitting adjacent to lush vineyards, fronted by a
grassy hill and large dam. Enjoy stunning vistas of Spring Gully Conservation
Park and the rolling hills of Clare Valley, while sampling award-winning wines
produced entirely from valley fruit, giving a true reflection of the region and
vineyard. Take a sip of deep cherry coloured 2013 ‘JD’ Sangiovese created in a
Tuscan style, or try a glass of magenta hued 2013 ‘RL’ Cabernet Sauvignon with
spicy accents - be sure to leave with a bottle of Blue Chip Shiraz in hand.
Ready to taste what’s on offer this harvest season? For more wineries to visit in your area,