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Quality cool climate wine from the Orange wine growing region in New South Wales, Australia

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Meteorological Matrix blog

Bloodwood wines are made entirely from grapes grown on our Griffin Road Vineyards, Orange. Although each vintage in this cool area presents its own natural challenges our aim is to produce wines which are of a consistent high quality and which are identifiably Bloodwood in style. During the processing and maturation of each wine, every effort is made to ensure that the innate Regional characteristics of the fruit are protected. To this end, sulfur additions are kept to a necessary minimum and great care is taken to protect each wine from unnecessary oxidation and handling. Pinot Noir of course, is still a pain!

Vintage Chart 1983 TO 2014

Stephen Doyle

Bloodwood Vintage Chart 1983 to 2014

VINTAGE REPORT AND RATINGS

1983   Give us a chance..we hadn't even planted..but elsewhere, a very severe drought by contemporary standards.  4


1984   Quite wet with some hail and bird damage on control fruit...Good growing conditions for an establishing vineyard.  5


1985   Good growing season with very dry finish to late March. Encouraging fruit flavours, particularly the reds.  8


1986    Perfect growing season throughout; spice & cigars opportunistically enjoyed by vicarious  vulpine visitors.  7

1987     Cold growing conditions with heavy rain in early March, more tobacco leaf than cigars. An underdone vintage.  5

1988     Dry, early vintage. Good quality clean fruit. Cabernet tannins still fresh and exciting in late 2013.  8

1989     Potentially great vintage. We suffered a terrible hail storm at 10 pm on New  Year's Eve. Clean bowled.  0

1990    Moist season followed by a dry March and early April. Complete wines with rich fruit and fine acid balance.  7

1991    Drought year with vintage late-March. Low yields and intense flavours  resulting in densely coloured, long-lived reds.  8

1992    Cool and moist until late February, then sunshine. Finely balanced wines of moderate alcohols which have aged beautifully.  9

1993    Dry, cold winter followed by a testing, wet Spring. A late sunny vintage helped raise spirits. Riesling shone.  6

1994    Mild winter and a frost scare on 12th October. Dry harvest saw rich fruit and a first July Ice Riesling.  8

1995 Dry conditions continued.  Fruit quality was good across all varieties. Cabernet carried the flag.  6

1996 Drought hit with a vengeance. Perfect vintage conditions.  Intensely flavoured small berried Cabernet and tight Riesling.  7

1997 Another dry year.  Fine, well structured Chardonnay and riesling the best and a surprise late Riesling picked on 20th June.  7

1998 Hottest and driest year for decades. Early ripening richly flavoured wines. An exceptional Maurice Merlot Noir and Cabernet  release.  8

1999 A year for all seasons. Frost, hail, heat and rain at vintage. Good  Riesling and surprising Cabernet; some fine Chardonnay.  7

2000 See 1987, double it and add devastating hail, bird attacks and torrential vintage rain. Chirac best although Cabernet a surprise lately. Enough said!  3

2001 Dry season until mid-vintage hail and 91 mm from 11th to 17th March. Riesling, Schubert, Shiraz impress.  7

2002   Great season, drought vintage. Wonderful ripe, balanced fruit. Chardonnay, Pinot, Riesling and Shiraz all fine.  8

2003 Drought continued into very early, very warm vintage. All reds are good, especially Cabernet and Shiraz.  7

2004 Fair winter but drought continued. Dry cool vintage, low yields and  intense flavours. Reds & Chardonnay a bit special.  8

2005 Drought continues continuing. Excellent early growing season. Natural fruit/acid balance in all varieties. Pinot OK!  7

2006 Drought continues intensifying. Very clean growing season with early, healthy vintage. Riesling, Shiraz & Cabernet all good.  7

2007 Drought intensifies into strangulation mode until 200 mm over a tough vintage. Birds a real problem. Small crop, rare flavours. Chirac shone. 5

2008  Still droughty,but variable cooler early vintage .Moderate crops of clean fruit. Riesling, Malbec and Merlot Noir particularly fine.  8

2009  Dry enough but THE VINTAGE OF THE CENTURY!!. Moderate crops of clean fruit with great balance and texture. Take your pick, it's all good.  9

2010 A season for the skilled in the vineyard. A lot of winemaking but not a lot of wine, very good though it surely is. Schubert and Shiraz outstanding. 8

2011 A spring and summer which would have made Noah feel at home. Plenty of challenges met and overcome. Cabernet Franc blossoms. 6

2012 More rain, more pain. Low crops in low cloud just got us through to a dry vintage month. Excellent whites. Less is more. 7

2013 Record heat, record one day rainfall on 1st March followed by windiest month for years. In the end, very good reds and great whites. Pinot a surprise. 8

2014 Potential brown disaster followed by potential green disaster. 230 mm in 23 rainfall events over six weeks. Some fancy foot work required. Possibly a 7

Wine Growing, Weather Spotting

Stephen Doyle

Whether the weather is cold
Whether the weather is cold
Or whether the weather is hot
Whether the weather is wet
Or whether the weather is not
We'll weather the weather, whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not.  Discuss:

A Metaphor For Our Times: Bloodwood Cows nonchalantly graze below the Schubert oblivious to an approaching bushfire.

Observations from the relative cold face of Australian wine growing

Well before I get into the above below, so to speak, I should say something about climate change in the Australian viticultural context. We've kept detailed weather records and observations since 1983 for Bloodwood and with this (very site specific) data behind us there are a few comments we can advance in the context of this industry locally. In Australia, there are many great advantages in growing quality wine grapes at our latitude in such an elevated region, remote from the coast. At over 800 metres our meso-climate guarantees relative coolness regardless of the current seasonal variations and importantly this includes reliable diurnal variation.

Orange has long been a great place to grow a wide selection of high quality temperate fruits including apples, pears, nectarines and zippy cherries. Quality pome and stone fruits require cool nights and warmish days during their autumn ripening period to promote flavour, preserve the natural acid brightness and deeply colour the skin. So it is with quality cool climate wine grapes. Over the last three decades, while we can report that day temperatures are showing a gradual upward trend, because of our elevation, the dry, cloudless nights have remained relatively crisp. Rainfall analysis does not show any statistical decline with the last 12 difficult years recording a yearly average of 830 mm. The median rainfall for the same period is 880 mm, so the variability of rainfall does seem to be increasing.  (See Monthly Rainfall Jan 1998 to Dec 2009) 

From the illustrations below of droughts and flooding rains, this is plainly evident. What does seem to be changing though, is that average bud burst dates in the vineyard with the early varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir advancing. These have gradually moved forward around a week or so, however, late season reds like Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon have remained steady. (In 1982, my thesis on this area predicted the first week in October as bud burst for Cabernet Sauvignon, and this doesn't seem to have altered to date )  As a consequence, vintage recently has been a far more relaxed affair with an early season rush of some whites like Chardonnay around mid-March, followed by a pause while the reds catch up, ripening well into April. We'd like to be able to record evapotranspiration changes here at Bloodwood, as we suspect that although the rainfall has been statistically relatively stable, it's seasonal effectiveness has not been maintained.

So in summary, our view is that while the recent climatic averages have not shown significant change at Bloodwood, the fluctuations around these figures have increased. The climate seems to be stretching at the seams. This poses additional problems for every wine growing area in Australia, although from the following bare statistics compiled from Bureau of Meteorology figures, in Australian terms at least, Orange is  a very fortunate place to grow good quality cool climate wine grapes.( Bloodwood Meteorological Matrix Summer 2009/10.) 
However, no matter how good the quality, someone still has to be willing to buy the fine wines they undoubtedly produce here at Bloodwood. That's where you lot come in!

The Story so far
Being a wine grower, or indeed any breed of agriculturalist, means, whether you like it or not, you have an intimate relationship with weather. And the fact is, almost every day on your vineyard, you will be presented with questions posed by the prevailing weather conditions. Often these questions, because of their sometimes confronting nature require immediate response. It's out with the chain saw and your trusty fungicide sprayer almost as soon as the immediate danger passes. Other inquiries grind up on you over a season or a couple of years. How will the lack of rain this winter or the extraordinarily cool summer predicted effect the bud differentiation in the vintage after this one? Will the unseasonal early vintage rainfall ruin any prospect for quality with the late season reds? How can global climate change really leave your spec on the communal crust we call the Earth, un-noticed? And, logically, can we do anything about it all in the end?.

Well, even though I have occasionally overheard mutterings through gritted teeth that the only difference between God and a winemaker is that God doesn't think he is a winemaker, here are a few weather challenges we've, ahem, recently experienced at Bloodwood, along with the odd tip or two on how to negotiate a truce with the weather gods concerned.

Flood in drought at Bloodwood

Rain on a parched landscape should surely not be a problem. Well, it all depends on how violently it arrives and how much vegetative ground cover you have retained in your vineyard. You see, to be effective the rainfall needs to be held in the vineyard and percolate through the top 30 cms or so of the soil surface so the vine roots can take advantage of  welcome moisture. Often. by mid-summer, with all the pressure of spray carts and tractor movements up and down each row compacting the soil, a sudden rainfall simply runs over the vineyard surface and out through the surrounding parched catchment. This is a shame, as, in our part of the world, summer rain is often nitrogen-rich thunderstorm rain during a period in which the vineyard is looking for a drink. That is why, at Bloodwood we maintain a permanent sward in the vineyard and mulch all winter prunings and organic summer re-growth grasses through the side delivery slashers on to our vine rows.  Then, if it does rain, there is an improved chance it will be beneficial to our vines.

Dust storm in Winter

Well the place is called BLOODwood after all! Over the best part of the last three decades, we've experienced a dozen or more dust storms. Usually they occur in late summer or early autumn as the vigorous weather patterns of summer grudgingly give way to the more settled outlook of autumn. With the recent malingering drought conditions across Australia they seem to be becoming less uncommon. While a winter event like the one above is a nuisance, vintage time storms are more problematic. Now while the term "dusty" is sometimes used when describing Bloodwood Cabernet Sauvignon, I don't think this is quite what our esteemed critics mean. But it does make us think twice about our imprecise appreciation of "terrior" here at Bloodwood, and all that iron-laden dust on vigourously respiring leaves during the growing season leaves us wondering.

Flood rain in late Spring

Sufficient rainfall through late winter and spring is critical for our vines. While we do have drip irrigation to each and every one of our 21,274 vines at Bloodwood, we only collect water through hill-side dams like the one above. Given we are at the very top of the Broken Shaft Creek catchment, all the water used in our vineyard must be harvested from the slopes surrounding each vineyard and parsimoniously reticulated as needed during critical phases of the vine's growth. Since we started the vineyard here in 1983, the average water use has been slightly less than 0.8 megalitres per hectare, per year. In some years, like 2007 we don't have to irrigate at all during the growing season whereas vintage 2004 was quite the opposite. Such is the variability of Australian growing conditions. Note the absurdist wharf fixed to the wall of the pump shed. This is an existential environmental statement on our part in that it says so much about surviving this challenging Australian environment. The only time the wharf lives up to its name is when the dam is full, and that's the only time, because there is no access door from the pump shed, that we can't access the wharf. Or it could be a stuff up on the part of whomever built the thing.

Severe late autumn drought

The driest three months at Bloodwood are February, March and April. From a wine making perspective, this is a good thing. It means that, given we are operating in a relatively cool climate, we can leave our fruit to hang while gently ripening in the cool autumn air. Importantly though, quality grapes need a little timely moisture to encourage the process, so it is important that we keep the canopy on the vines throughout the ripening phase and for as long as possible after vintage. This allows the vine to gather as much of its remaining summer energy into its structure so it can survive winter and importantly, make a good start to the next growing season. As a result, we often find ourselves giving our vines a good irrigation after harvest while the canopy is still functioning and before the first late May frosts drop the leaves to the vineyard floor. Traditionally, the first signs of an autumnal break usually arrive with a rain event in late March, followed by softer and cooler conditions into April and May. If it hasn't rained by early May, we know we are in for a very tough winter ahead.

Close Encounters of The Third Kind

So you've survived the physical drag of winter hand pruning, repaired your trellis wires and gotten the spring grasses under control. You've even managed, against the odds, to apply at the appropriate time the appropriate number of Copper and Sulfur sprays to head off seasonal fungal outbreaks of downy and powdery mildew. Not only that, the weather god's dispositions have been sunny and calm enough to allow your Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines to set a modest crop for the coming vintage. Your Cabernet Franc, Riesling and Malbec are at mid-flower and the Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon inflorescences are plump with promise. For once, spring rains have been gentle and reliable, and the frost danger has well and truly past with Melbourne Cup day. You've also won a Highly Recommended citation for your botrytis Nebbiolo at the Galargenbone District Biodynamic Advancement Exhibition, and all is right with your world. So what can go wrong. Was it Auden who wrote that in this happy contented picnic we all call life, death is the  rumble of an inevitable approaching thunderstorm?. Well, we get our share of them at Bloodwood and when they arrive, there is nowhere to hide. All Grape Growing 101 courses should include a compulsory lecture entitled pre-traumatic stress management; because if you have the hubris to grow grapes in Australia, you're going to need to pay close attention to what makes you and the weather gods tick.

A Chainsaw is sometimes needed to visit Bloodwood

A Chainsaw is sometimes needed to visit Bloodwood

Our American cousins call them twisters, our smaller versions we call willy-willys. If your vineyard is in the path of one of them, the localised damage can be severe. Every few years, we need a chainsaw to get down to the Mitchell Highway from Bloodwood. Mature trees are snapped off mid-trunk and a swathe is cut across the landscape. It is frightening to experience but thankfully not a common occurrence. To recycle advice previous, when you see one approach it is time to duck and cover.

Winds can strip tender, young Spring shoots
Spring is about the most changeable time in the Bloodwood vineyard and winds get a kick along from the East when big South Pacific High pressure systems park themselves across the Tasman during this time of year. The conventional wisdom in the Orange area is that SW winds are the most damaging to our vineyards, particularly when they are very cold and fresh; however in a protected vineyard like ours, with exposures to the North and East while sheltered to the West and South West, the ESE gale during the early growing season causes us the most angst.

When drought grips the land

We're not too sure how useful a drought is. The annual dry is a feature of this, the driest occupied continent on the planet. In fact, provided the rainfall eases off leading up to and through vintage, in our game that is a good thing. The Orange area is unique in the cooler end of Australian viticulture in that excessive vintage rainfall is relatively rare. Unlike our coastal cool climate wine growing areas, Orange is far enough inland to be practically out of reach of the damaging East Coast low pressure systems. While it is a fact of life in the warm vineyards of the Hunter Valley that these depressions can cause much vintage time heart break earlier in the year, even cooler sites closer to the coast throughout South eastern Australia are prone to April and May incarnations of this weather system. The 280 kilometres between Bloodwood and Bondi which incorporates the barrier of the Blue Mountains means that most all we get on the western side of Orange is the puff without the precipitation. Most of our seasonal rain comes via southern ocean fronts releasing their moisture on the slopes of Mount Canobolas after crossing the flat lands between us and the Mt Lofty ranges in South Australia. When these rains fail, it doesn't take long for the paddocks to petrify and the atmosphere to ache.

Early Summer hail storm

The last gasps of winter fronts in spring often bring very gusty Antarctic winds and sleet with them. If this occurs after bud burst, then tissue damage is sure to follow. Unless the hail is massive, this is a problem we just have to live with in such a cool, elevated area as Bloodwood. If we can manage to get a protective fungicide applied as soon as possible after the damage and the vines quickly dry out, then the serrations and battering they have endured will be quickly grown through. If the weather remains stubbornly sleety and gusty, then the seeds of an eventual botrytis outbreak are sown. Hail storms are more of a potential  problem later in the season after fruit set.  Over the years we've noticed that the damage caused by  moderate storms is more pronounced between berry set (when the fruit is hard and green) and veraison when the berries begin to soften. It may have something to do with the hardening of the foliage as it matures and the turgid fruit post-veraison acting as a  pneumatic buffer against the hail. If we experience damage like that shown below, our usual procedure is to spray the vineyard with a PMS solution of around 1000 ppm to help dry out and sterilize the split berries followed by a careful fungicide and foliar nutrition programme aimed at helping the vines over the immediate stress. We then carefully apply a bottle or two of Bloodwood Chardonnay to all witnesses present and pray for continuing sunshine.

Berries split after early summer hail

Rainfall at vintage

Rainfall at vintage

If you want to know what the weather will be like tomorrow, there's a better than even bet that it will be similar to what it is today. We're talking more suspicion than science here, however experience tells us that there may be some truth in that observation.  The picture above is the Schubert vineyard in late summer 2007. Even a casual observer can see that the vines are wet..they also look to be various tones of green through to brown. The lighter leaves and shoots towards the tips of the canopy are new young growth while the rusty foliage is older, sadder tissue. In growing season 2007, the rains came in January and really didn't leave off until late July. While the vintage period itself was briefly dry, there was enough unseasonable moisture about after a very dry Spring and early Summer to really confuse vines' growing pattern and promote late season fungal disease. We generally use soft, elemental fungicides like Copper and Sulfur for control of downy and powdery mildews at Bloodwood and these require regular application because they are not rain fast during wet weather. If disease develops and the weather remains un-cooperative, then it becomes very difficult to control. You will not be surprised that there will be no Schubert released from the 2007 vintage at Bloodwood.

Half a degree can make all the difference on a frosty morning. The coldest time during a calm radiation frost is just as the sun peaks its head over the dawn horizon. Tender young inflorescences like the one above are more prone than the surrounding tissue in a marginal frost event. The more mature foliage and the slightly tougher shoots have basically survived with passing damage, while the young tender flower cluster has been burnt off. This is one of the cruelest cuts of all in the vineyard. The vines look fine..it's just that they will produce only foliage for this vintage. That's why it is important in marginal areas like Orange that you give your vines every chance by ensuring that the sward beneath the vines is kept clipped low, and that you make sure that there are no impediments (farm sheds; paddock dams; tree lines and so on) to the free flow away of cold dawn air. For a few site selection frost hints, please keep reading below.

Severe mid-winter frost

In the time we have been growing grapes at Bloodwood we have never experienced a growing season frost of any consequence. When the vines are first planted, if your weed control is not perfect, there is every likelihood that early bursting varieties like Chardonnay will cop a burn off on the ground. This,we've noticed,  makes them mad for a while before they really get a spurt on as the season warms up. Before we decided to plant vines on Bloodwood, we were warned that they would be frosted out as a matter of course, and what we were doing was folly in the extreme. As a consequence we were very aware of the theoretical potential for frost damage and one of the main criteria for selecting our site was its relative freedom from frost damage during the growing season. This involved finding a site which had good air drainage against localized radiation frost events as well as enough protection from the cold SW freeze frost  mass air movement events which are too common in the southern Australian vineyard. We also took the precaution of installing a trellis with a cordon height of 1.1 metres and end posts which were at least 2.4 metres out of the ground. This, and the warmer than usual free draining gravels of our slopes helped trap early season warmth and  lessen the dangers of any potential frost event.

We do, however, cop our share of severe winter frosts like the one pictured above. These are generally thought to be a good thing for the health of the vineyard. As the climate warms up, proper vine dormancy in cool climate maritime vineyards is going to become a greater concern. Uneven dormancy leads to dispirited bud burst, and patchy ripening..not a good thing for quality wines. Vines respond well to uniform cold during this time of the year. Provided the temperature doesn't get down beyond around -12C for any length of time, they won't die while their resident populations of fungi and spores will not enjoy such a solid cold snap. The overall hygiene of the vineyard will improve.
Now here's a Bloodwood special site selection tip to avoid frost problems in cool climate vineyards in elevated areas like Orange. Stand in the middle of your proposed site, fold your arms, lift your head up to the horizon and rotate yourself through 360 degrees. If there is more than half of your horizon blocked by surrounding hills, find another site.

Late Winter snow stor

Snow falls at Bloodwood are not an unusual winter event. We normally see four or five occasions where snow rides silently in on overnight winter fronts from the South-West. The big dry flakes swirl around the winery and vineyard accumulating into a brilliantly white acoustic blanket which first hushes and then slushes every visible surface. Snow falls give us reason to pause for a day and enjoy their arrival, a time to sit, and listen to the silken silence while we can before it melts away into the landscape. We don't know if they are beneficial to the vineyard, but they surely restore us.

Anyone for tennis?

Pruning

Stephen Doyle

The beginning is the end

Sometimes the days are crystal clear gems with light winds and bearable temperatures. Other times, freezing SW gales crystallize ice on your beard, make tissue paper protection of your driza-bone and fairly cut you in half with ease. The quicks of your thumbs and fingers will gradually crack wide open and weep your own sap in concert with each new pruning cut. As the season wearys itself towards its end, your dry, scratched hands will become claws and your wrists stiffen and ache with over use. But it is vital to remember that you hold in your painful hands the future of the wine you want to create; leave too many buds in the wrong positions and the vine will wilt under the pressure to produce. It will become despondent and this ill thrift and overcropping will lead to a vinous liquid more or less divorced from the variety it should reflect.  Chop out too many buds and the vine will tend triffid..a sad, shaded vegetative mess prone to disease and greenness through the profile of the fruit. In the vineyard, as in life, it is balance which matters.  But whatever the conditions, sometime between May and October, we need to find around four months of good enough weather to hand prune each of our twenty-one thousand, two hundred and seventy-four vines in a manner which will result in quality wine. That's why pruning in a SW gale is sometimes necessary at Bloodwood.

Grape zen

Stephen Doyle

Hear No Evil;See No Evil and Speak No Evil: Mick, Stephen and Rhonda; The Bloodwood Bolshie Collective working for the greater good of the (very) common man... (and Sheila) at vintage 2009.

Bloodwood viticulture and wine making philosophy
Our viticulture is ecologically non-invasive and no insecticides have ever been used on or near the vineyard. All vines are hand-pruned (mostly by Stephen) and hand-picked, not by Stephen.

Light, supplementary irrigation is applied when necessary and mildews are controlled through preventative elemental Copper and Sulfur applications during most growing seasons.

All vines are trellised using V.S.P. (vertical shoot positioning) or adapted Scott-Henry systems to assist excellent light and air penetration of the canopy. Great care is taken to work closely with nature in our vineyard and our medium term goal is to leave as small a negative footprint on the environment as possible. While Australian viticulture is considered to be a clean and green activity by today's abysmal agricultural standards, we at Bloodwood are aware of our continuing responsibility as a part of this beautiful and fragile environment.

With a fermentation capacity of 75,000 liters, Bloodwood is hardly a blip on the weigh-bridge of the Australian wine industry and our annual production of about 4000 cases of wines over 7 or 8 styles means that our wines are pretty hard to find away from the cellar door. As with the vineyard, we try to allow the fruit to express itself fully in the wine, and we have a minimally interventionist philosophy towards wine making. Sulfur levels are kept to a minimum effective dose throughout the preparation of each wine and all winery wastes are re-cycled through the vineyard. When transferring wines about the cellar, the design of the facility allows us to use gravity in many cases. The red styles usually undergo some post fermentation maceration, while the whites are exclusively whole-bunch pressed as we find this method is the most gentle on the fruit. We believe the art of good wine making is having the knowledge and experience to know when to do nothing. We use exclusively French oak hogsheads for maturation of both whites and reds at Bloodwood.


The vineyard is located on the mid slopes of a free standing, north and easterly facing headland comprised of some of the oldest soils on this planet. Low vigour soils of calcareous laminated silt stone, greywake and limestone breccia overlying a friable red clay base and a deeply fissured Middle Ordovician volcanoclastic parent material provide an ideal environment for the manageable growth of vines in what is a soft, cool and sunny continental Australian environment. Annual rainfall averaging a little over 800 mm is, historically, winter dominant, with the ripening months of March, April and May traditionally the driest. (No one mentions vintage 2000 or 2007) Although we can experience several snow falls during winter and into spring, the mean temperature of 20 degrees C (70 degrees F) for January helps bring the mean annual temperature up to a comfortable 12.8 degrees C. As averages by definition are numbers which rarely exist in the real world, we do insure our vineyard against the ever present threat of Australian drought. We judiciously use supplemental irrigation water which we harvest from the slopes of Bloodwood and apply when extraordinarily dry periods occur at crucial times of the vine's annual cycle. We use about 1 megalitre of water per hectare per year for this purpose.

Making Pinot Noir

Stephen Doyle

Every winemaker you talk to will whinge and whine about Pinot Noir.

It is amongst the most difficult of varieties to grow successfully; it needs special care in the winery and has a reputation outside the best sites of its original home of Burgundy to be disappointing in the bottle. So why do we bother? Well, winemaking is essentially legalized flagellation on a life-time scale, so why not add a bit of impossibility to the pain. And everybody needs a holy grail to get them out of bed in the morning. Given that less is more in the Pinot Noir story, this is more or less what we do to the bloody stuff at Bloodwood.
We have a mixture of clones planted on the highest, coolest and most exposed section of the Maurice vineyard. The soils are quite similar to the Riesling vineyard, but the row orientation is North South on a 25% Easterly slope. Clones planted include the original 1984 planting of 85% MV6 with the balance a fairly casual mixture of 777; 114 and 115. The vineyard is Scott-Henry trained, and strictly hand pruned to around what I imagine to be 2 tonnes per hectare. I say imagine as we usually only end up with about 400 litres from the .6 hectares or so currently under vine. The grapes are gathered at around 13.5 Beaume and destalked 100% into a purpose built open fermenter with heading boards attached. The ferment is normally conducted on natural yeasts (although the dominant yeast established in the winery over the years is probably EC1118) and fermented cool. Temperature during primary ferment rarely gets above 20 C and the ferment is subjected to a total submersion regime for the duration with gentle pumping over as required to keep the yeast happy. Malo-lactic fermentation, if it occurs, does so in barrel. I say barrel because there is rarely more thanone of them to deal with. Oak treatment is usually classy new French oak for a couple of months until it starts sneaking above the wine, followed by exhausted old barrel oak to bottling after around 12 months. In the case of oak, less is generally more. After a few months inthe cellar it is released to raptuorous applause and critical acclaim..or stunned silence as the case may be.
Then it is treated exactly as Cabernet and Shiraz..ie, it is over to you.

Making Sparkling Wine

Stephen Doyle

Using the traditional methode Champenoise approach.

The wine is usually a co-ferment of 40% Pinot Noir from the Maurice vineyard and the balance from the bottom of the original Chardonnay block. The grapes are picked around 18 Brix and 10 grammes per litre total acidity and carefully whole bunch pressed to around 0.8 atmospheres. This usually yields 500 litres per tonne of exhilarating juice for the vin de curvee which, after adjustment, is fermented to dryness in ancient exhausted French oak hogsheads.

Depending on the quality of the new wine, a portion may go through malo-lactic fermentation before triage into solid skittle bottles for cellar maturation for up to 48 months. We should mention that the assemblage of the base wine is more or less de-facto at Bloodwood as the wine is a single vineyard, single vintage co-ferment..so we have to take extra care with the selection of the fruit and the precision of the initial ferment. The addition of a few grammes of sugar and yeast sets up the secondary fermentation in bottle which results in the famous natural sparkle or prise de mousse, while the break down of the autolysed yeast cells during such extended maturation, contributes a more or less fresh bread dough bouquet to the resultant wine. Occasionally, after extended aging sur lies, there develops a subtle vegemite like hint to that mature bouquet, which alongside the toasty bread smells and racy acidity of every fine sparkling wine gives the Bloodwood Chirac an appropriate Australian flavour.

The final step is a tricky one requiring speed, wit and strength. It involves riddling the detritus of ferment into the neck of the bottle; snap freezing it under liquid nitrogen; disgorging the plug of rubbish with the assistance of the natural  fizz in the bottle; adding a final dosage of sweetness or acid, or the expedition de liqueur as it is known which finely adjusts the wine and brings its volume back to the mandatory 750mls, and forcing the reluctant cork into the neck of the bottle. Then there is the small matter of wiring the cork into the stem and capsuling, cleaning and labelling the wine for your enjoyment. So you get an unique wine, individually fermented in the bottle you hold in your hand, prepared with care and respect for the fruit and reflecting the environment in which it was grown, or alternatively, we could have used a pressureised tank to carbonate a few thousand litres of generic dry white wine and, cola like, hey presto you have an alcoholic drink which fizzes. We know which wine we'd prefer!

Making Chardonnay

Stephen Doyle

The picking and handling of white grapes is more difficult than for red.

Although we normally pick our Chardonnay with good fruit and acid balance, (13.0 Beaume; 3.3 pH and 7.5g/l acid) oxidation is an ever present threat, and because whites are usually ripe a couple of weeks ahead of reds, the weather is likely to be a bit warmer. We cool the whole bunch, hand-picked fruit down to 5C and add 15 ppm sulfur to each tonne of grapes during the picking and refrigeration and whole bunch pressing process. At press, sulfur levels are again monitored to provide around 5 ppm free as the fruit is whole bunch pressed into refrigerated and de-oxygenated settling tanks. Some short skin contact of around 1 hour while the fruit is in the press also occurs during this process, although this is kept to a minimum.. After analysis, adjustment, and up to 48 hours of cool settling, the partially clarified juice is racked away from the remaining lees which are re-settled and the final lees are discarded into the home vineyard..The partially clear juice is then transferred to the refrigerated barrel cellar where each new French oak hogshead is waiting for fermentation. The juice is now moderately clear and its temperature is gradually raised to about 14 degrees in preparation for a 5% inoculation with a vigorously fermenting neutral yeast. Prisse de Mousse, a Champagne yeast which can operate at moderately cold temperatures is our preferred inoculation although we do let a few barrels rip with natural yeasts in the Schubert portion of the ferment. With Chardonnay from a warm vintage, sometimes about 30% is fermented carefully to dryness in stainless steel, and the balance is transferred to new French oak for a traditional treatment “sur-lie.” Even after a gentle malo-lactic fermentation, Bloodwood Chardonnay always reflects the character of the grape before the influence of the maturation process, and we find that this combination of methods allows for greater subtlety in oak treatment and better palate balance in the finished wine. After oak maturation for about 12 months during which the wine is kept in contact with its fine lees without unnecessary stirring, it is once again transferred to stainless steel for final assemblage, adjustment and cold stabilization before sterile filtration and bottling on site. Our Bloodwood Chardonnay is usually ready for release in the second Spring after harvest and can mature happily for quite some time. Currently, given the vagaries of corks, the 1992 version is still simply delicious.

Making Cabernet Sauvignon

Stephen Doyle

Fruit is picked as ripe as the season and our modest cropping levels allow

Usually this is around 13.5 Beaume (24 Brix or % sugar) with a pH of 3.5 and a TA of 6.5 g/l. These figures are usually achieved about the second week in April if the weather holds, however the decision to pick is always based upon natural flavour, the seasonal outlook, and bird attack. All grapes are hand harvested and refrigerated to 5 degrees Centigrade in preparation for de-stalking. As the fruit is normally clean and sound, and the picking swift, we only need to add around 15 parts per million of PMS (sulfur) as the destalked fruit reaches the fermenter. (15 ppm SO2 is about 30 grammes PMS per tonne of fruit.) This addition protects the newly crushed fruit from oxidation as the temperature slowly rises and the natural yeasts of the vineyard stir into life. Samples are again taken from the must to re-assess sugar levels, pH, and total acidity in tank and pH/acid adjustments are made if necessary at this stage. The tedious task of hand turning of the rising cap in small batches or gentle pumping over of the juice in larger ferments is carried out up to three times a day early in the ferment. This process has the dual function of improving colour extraction while keeping the cap moist. It also temporarily releases some of the heat of a vigorous (28 degrees Centigrade) fermentation while oxygenating the yeasts throughout the whole fermenting mass.

As desirable colour and associated flavour extraction is usually complete before the end of the primary alcoholic fermentation , we press the wine off skins after about 6 to 9 days when the remaining sugar level is down to around 1 degrees Beaume, however, more often than not, the Cabernet undergoes some post-ferment maceration. If malic acid levels are high, and an inoculation of malo-lactic bacteria is determined to be necessary, it is made at the end of primary ferment while the new wine is still warm enough to encourage this secondary bacterial fermentation. Once it is pressed, the wine is once again analysed and adjusted where necessary and transferred into a mixture of new and older French oak for the completion of malo lactic fermentation and initial settling. According to seasonal quality, we generally add the pressings back to the free-run juice .From the completion of the alcoholic primary fermentation and any malolactic bacterial fermentation to the eventual bottling of the wine, we aim ensure the presence of around 35 ppm of free sulfur to help protect the new wine from spoilage during maturation and handling. Over the course of cellar maturation, which may take up to 36 months, the cellar bright wine goes through a series of gentle rackings which are designed to separate it from its lees, naturally cold stabilize it and gradually improve its condition. Some controlled oxidation takes place during this process which also helps to naturally soften the tannins and integrate the wine. The final process is the assemblage of the various barrels into the final blend for the wine. This is perhaps the most challenging part of the process and one which leads to much tasting and discussion as to the consistency of style we are trying to achieve for Bloodwood Cabernet Sauvignon. Final analysis, adjustment and assemblage is carried out and the wine is sterile filtered, bottled and cellared on site ready for release after around 12 months in bottle.

That's where you come in.

Bottling and Packaging

Stephen Doyle

Doing it the Hard Way!!

All Bloodwood wines are bottled and packaged on-site at the winery using the excellent services of Des and Jean Proffit and their state-of-the-art vintage Vintage Bottling bottling line. No it's not a typo, they just don't do things by halves. This allows for complete control from our point of view in that the finished wine moves from a stainless steel tank within the winery, down the bottling and packaging line through sterile filtration, sparging, filling, screw capping, labelling, cartoning and final stacking in very quick order. It is then a matter of moving the finished pallets into our underground storage area so that they can recover from bottle shock and settle down before release. As the winemaker, I am able to monitor the whole process, analyse SO2 losses, if any, down the bottling line, and generally clucky hen our latest expression of our Bloodwood terrior safely into bottle.

This was not always the case...

There was a time when we used the services of distant bottling lines in the Hunter. This entailed transferring the wine into the cavernous tanks of a Hahn or The Booth Brothers B-Double  behemoth, gassing the head space in each partially filled tank with CO2 or Nitrogen, sloshing the wine through a transport operation to Pokolbin which took anywhere between seven hours and several days; pumping the wine into remote bottling line storage tanks under ullage, sparging the contents for DO (dissolved oxygen ) and re-adjusting free sulfur levels over a couple of days before bottling. This was an extraordinary challenge even when everything went well. And that is all before the packaged wine had to make the perilous journey through the Blue mountains back home to Bloodwood. No wonder delicate wines lost some vibrancy and perfume during that arduous process, even when things went right.

However, more often than not, the transporting part of the deal went more or less wrong. Bloodwood winery is not designed for B-Double tankers. It is not designed for mechanical harvesters or aeriel spraying either. For those who know the vineyard, it is a fold towards the top of a hillside, partially overgrown with healthy stands of native Australian vegetation bordering the roads and sheltering the vineyard blocks. As a result, in negotiating the precincts, a Ute is fair enough; a straight-bed truck a challenge, and a B-Double tanker wishful thinking. When one of the green monsters was due to arrive, we would take a Chainsaw to the driveway so that they could not only find the entrance, but also with a bit of luck,  torturously negotiate the winding  track down to the winery.

It also became our plan to meet the driver in Orange before he headed out to Bloodwood with his tanker in tow, so that he (and yes it was always a he) knew the place before the attempted arrival. Indeed, my habit was to drive the driver through the property pointing out the challenges posed for the cabin jockeys. Yes, it would be a very good idea to only bring one tanker in at a time; yes we can use a tractor if your empty trailer is too difficult to reverse onto the gravel outside the winery, and by the way, we would strongly advise that you gun the prime-mover over the dam wall so you can actually sneak up on enough revs to make it up the other side..particularly if it rains.  And rain it generally did. It seemed to us that, entirely on queue, the arrival of the stainless steel monsters was celebrated across the heavens by thunder and lightning closely attended by sleet and or a hail storm. The result was that the track out became even more problematic, unless the tanker drivers did what they were told to do.
We have a theory here at Bloodwood about truck drivers. Driving trucks against a hungry schedule and an ever more ravenous industry is undoubtedly a tough job. Often fueled by, ahem, substances and drizzled with hubris, they have to put up with being given the mechanical finger by every two-bit fork lift driver across this wide brown land.

No wonder they can be cranky blokes. This often results in your well meaning, precious, anxious and no doubt very odd winemaker's truck driving advice being laughed at from behind large, rumbling stomachs and crazed eyes. "Gun it over the dam wall?  This bloody expletive deleted mother expletive deleted unit is 540 horse power of expletive deleted grunt you expletive deleted idiot. It will piss it in up your expletive deleted Sheila of a dam wall. Now I'm off to bed..wake me when you finally have your expletive deleted vinegar loaded."  We did as requested, and after the mandatory sleet and mid-afternoon lightning storm abated, we bid a resigned farewell to our erudite companion, and waited for the expletive deleted grunt laden 540 horse power mother expletive deleted vinegar transporting wonder to whish our precious wine gently over the dam wall and up, up and away to its remote rendezvous with the Hunter Valley bottling line.

As the trailer and prime mover cautiously stalled under possibly too few revs and gently slid effortlessly backward down the exit track and the fully laden trailer came to rest precariously over the dam wall, we ignored the panicked expletive deleted wails from within the delicately balanced cabin of the truck.  Rhonda said, what are we, (that's the royal " we" by the way) going to do?  I replied, "We're country folk Rhonda. It's coming on towards dark; it's started to rain again, it could be quite icy out tonight....we're off to bed!

The expletive deleted truck driver somewhat unsure of the invincibility of his expletive deleted truck

This is a truck full of fruit for pressing with the winery in site after a 4 hour trip from Orange.

This is a truck full of fruit for pressing with the winery in site after a 4 hour trip from Orange.

The seasoned wine maker can spot the problem here with little analysis. The truck is full to the hilt with premium fruit which has taken a year out of his or her life. The winery is just visible on the top left of the picture, and the cool stored whole bunch hand picked premium fruit has been travelling for around four hours on the back of this truck into the tropical climes of the Upper Hunter Valley. Judging by the moisture along the vine rows, there's been some sort of torrential downpour, and the truck driver has eased ever so slif\ghtly left to avoid the possible attentions of the whispy branches of the tree on the right. No amount of forward or backward horsepower will dislodge the truck without disloging the load. If the tarps are removed, the pallecons of fruit will join the first row of vines, and the angle of the tray makes it impossible to use a forklift to unload the fruit and relieve the situation. Meanwhile, the rain is returning, and the whole festering disasterous heap is getting on with ferment in the cosy warmth  beneath the tarpaulins without us. Our salvation, and then it was a close run thing only a day or so away, appeared below in all its puffing yellow and black glory.  Any guesses as to whether the truckie had transport insurance?

However, before I get transported against my will, it is always comforting to recall that comforting aphorism, 
"the bigger they are, the harder they fall."

Vineyard Varietal Breakdown

Stephen Doyle

Bloodwood Vineyard Varietal Breakdown

 

Variety of VinePlantedSelectionVine SpacingNumberArea (Ha)Yield H/l
Merlot Noir1983French?1.5 by 3.0 m10000.4525
Merlot Noir1991D3V141.5 by 2.5 m15000.56239
 Sub Totals 2,5001.012 Ha64 H/l
Malbec1983Viral French?1.5 by 3.0 m8000.3630
Cabernet Franc1983Italian?1.5 by 3.0 m5000.2315
Cabernet Franc19841334 Bord1.2 by 3.0 m10000.3628
 Sub Total 15000.59 Ha43H/l
Cabernet Sauvignon1983SA1251.5 by 3.0 m2500.126
Cabernet Sauvignon1984SA1251.5 by 2.5 m35001.3128
Cabernet Sauvignon1991Lang Creek1.5 by 2.5 m20000.7510
 Sub Total 57502.18 Ha44H/l
Pinot Noir1984MV6/Gri1.5 by 2.5 m1000.0381
Pinot Noir1991MV6/Gri1.5 by 2.5 m7500.2810
 Sub Total 8500.318 Ha11 H/l
Shiraz1997PT231.8 by 3.015240.822 Ha35
  Sub Total 15240.822 Ha35 H/l
  Total Reds 12,1244.922197 H/l
Chardonnay1984Penfolds 581.2 by 2.5 m42001.2135
Chardonnay1994FVI10V51.5 by 3.030001.3545
  Sub Total 72002.5680 H/l
Riesling1984McWill. 1981.2 by 2.5 m2000.063
Riesling1985McWill.1981.2 by 2.5 m17500.5338
 Sub Total 19500.59 Ha41 H/l
 Total Whites 91503.15121
 

Grand Totals

 21,2748.072 Ha318 H/l