Coming out of a dry winter 2018, spring was unpredictable and unsettled in the Yarra Valley. The tempestuous weather never led to much rain, however (just weird flowering/fruitset), and we headed into Christmas with dam and soil water levels low. On the plus side, canopies and the fruit zone were disease-free, so it was a low pressure year on this front.
Sensing an awkward ripening period if these conditions persisted (which they did), we decided to ameliorate vine balance in our Pinot Noir blocks by fruit thinning quite hard at the end of véraison. Some 4-6 bunches per vine were taken off the 777 and 115 blocks (the traditional source of Airlie Bank Pinot Noir). Winemakers were on hand throughout to ensure that the thinning had maximum efficacy, with only slow and weak bunches removed. Arguably, this technique acts more as a pre-emptive triage in the vineyard than any “doubling down” of vine resources on the remaining bunches. The net effect was that when it was time to decide on picking, the fruit ripeness was homogeneous across the blocks and we could proceed with haste.
We unashamedly manage irrigation in the Airlie Bank blocks to promote freshness and vibrancy in the fruit over weight. Lush canopies give the vine the engine capacity to ripen fruit in difficult years, and provide dappled shade to the fruit zone. This can trim more than 8 degrees off the fruit temperature on a 35 degree plus day.
Our average crop for the Pinot blocks was 3.5 tonnes per acre, and the fruit came in at 12.5 Baumé with no shrivel or sunburn. Flavours were darker than 2018 and 2017, ripe cherries into plums.
With production of a spring-style Pinot in mind, we carefully plan the method of extraction and fermentation. 50% of this wine is whole-bunch fermented, which is done as 100% whole bunch ferments in 5-tonne open fermenters. This is a carbonic process; stomping does not occur until after day 10, and only once per day at that point. Due to tannin ripeness, the duration of steeping was longer this year; the ferments were pressed at 16 days.
The other 50% is whole berry, with two daily pumpovers and no plunging. We aim to retain raspberry fruit flavours by a long cold soak, cooler ferment temperature and minimal berry breakdown. These were wild ferments, which generally started spontaneously on day three of the cold soak. Pressed immediately it hits zero Baumé.
The blended wine is then held in tank, where malolactic fermentaton starts spontaneously. Post MLF, the wine is held unsulphured on lees for five months. Unfined, it is rough filtered through rockstoppers and bottled in mid-winter with minimal SO2. - Tim Shand, Punt Road