Vintage 2024 - an unprecedentedly warm vintage in Margaret River

It is Feb 21st in Margaret River and I am saying hello to the vines with Colin, our vineyard guru.  Colin has looked after our vineyard since 2011.  I am like a sponge and learn so much from him each time we walk the vineyard.  His knowledge is gained from twenty-five vintages mostly in Margaret River, but also around the world.  In 2018 Colin was awarded Viticulturist of the Year by the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology (ASVO).  

I scheduled this trip especially so that I could make the Chardonnay pick.  Well, that was the plan.  Historically we would hand pick our chardonnay the last week of February and about a week or so earlier if making sparkling.  Instead of looking at the chardonnay, guess what... we are looking at, the reds.  All the whites have been picked already.  Chardonnay was picked on the 6th of February! The reds should be off in the next three weeks or so.  The vines are about a month ahead.  Earliest vintage yet due to all the warmth.  Seemingly the warmest vintage Margaret River has experienced.

Imagine in 2006, the coolest vintage to date in Margaret River and we picked our chardonnay on the 15th and 25th of March! 

It all started with warmer than usual weather after budburst last spring.  Soils warmed quickly and dashed vines through shoot development and flowering. Berries matured quickly after Christmas and we all witnessed the earliest veraison we can remember. Rosa Parks valley terroir, strong soils and abundance of water have allowed us to keep the vine canopies vibrant and supportive in developing striking fruit.

Heatwaves repeated themselves through summer, with January 15th been an unprecedentedly hot day with 46c and boy did the grapes feel it.  I feel for them. 

This is when Colin says to me, “It is so good to have you here to see how this vintage is going. For you to see and feel what is happening.”

Our vines are planted along north-south rows so our fruit faces east and west.  The grapes facing the morning rising sun were unscathed however the grapes facing the afternoon evening soon baked in the heat and shrivelled.  It was like a day in the office versus a day on the beach getting a suntan. 

The canopy is like our clothes shielding us from the elements.  Viticulture isn’t an exact art or science, and though we tend to the vines and make sure the canopy is managed to give the vines dappled light, some grapes inevitably are a little more exposed.  Grapes do acclimatise to the heat but we still don’t want too much sun exposure in our delicate whites and risk creating undesirable phenolics.

Mega suntanning so the direct heat on the bare grape shrivels it. Fortunately, from a quality perspective, we are safe as we simply do not harvest the shrivelled grapes.  The key downside is yield loss. 

The weather continued in the warmer zone since mid January and thankfully Dad put in a deep dam when he first got the vineyard in 1997.  The dam has kept the vines alive else they be toast.  Colin has irrigated and irrigated many times a week and grateful we have the water to do it.  It is good to know the vineyard is safe on the water front.

The water is dripped onto the vine.  Because of the continued constant warmer conditions, the surrounding soils have dried out.  The vine can only reach nutrients within this 50cm diameter.  It cannot reach the nutrients further away because there is no water to transmit them to be taken up. 

It is in these warm and tough conditions that we can truly understand the intricacies of soil types across the blocks.  The soil types and how the vine responds glares out more clearly.  The higher clay content mungite soil that the chardonnay thrives on versus the rocky ridge that cabernet sauvignon prefers.  If the cabernet was grown in the mungite, it would be overly vegetative and green. 

Each vintage brings new surprises and lessons.  And we gear ourselves to manage the next vintage better.  Colin has been on the weather case daily and managing irrigation by intuition.  You can tell how the canopy is and how well the vines are doing by how they look.  We aim to keep vines canopy functioning post veraison, but not growing new shoots. Irrigation input is balanced to ensure the vines are set up to ripen fruit and not stimulate growing tips on shoots. The only vines that demonstrated canopy growth was where we discovered a burst irrigation pipe.

The attention to detail to manage for our vines is unprecedented.  As with every vintage we love to grow them but are also relieved when they are all safely in the winery. 

I so enjoy being with the vines and getting to know them better.  I started to get to know the vines in 2001 and I relish the journey and look forward to each encounter.  Back in 2001 I realised a balanced grape is how we want to start and we do all we can do achieve that.  And that led to the creation of our name UMAMU, inspired by Balance and Contentment. 

Am grateful for the care and attention Colin and his team give them.  We are where we are thanks to them.  And cheers to many more visits and learnings with Colin.