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

Viticulture blog

January

Stephen Doyle

Warm, dry and languid. Rain = 71 mm. Temp = 19.8 degrees C.

Summer occurs in Orange from the 13th to the 22nd of January every third year although we often still use a doona at night even then.

The late afternoons are magic with an almost fluid warmth, and the nights are often balmy. If you want another humbling experience after grape blossoming, sleep under the stars on a dark mid-summer night in an organic vineyard.

Meanwhile, the spring flies and insects have disappeared and the vineyard is in full flight. Irrigation is the main daily occupation, although an ever watchful eye is kept on the skies for hail and the spray program continues in anticipation of unseasonal rainfall. Historically we have been known to experience substantial rainfalls from NW ex-cyclonic depressions moving across the continent in January but unlike warmer growing areas where the fruit is accumulating ripening sugars, rainfall at Bloodwood at this time  does more good than harm to the developing bunches.

We conduct one more pass of the canopy to leave the bunches as open to the ripening sun as possible. Starlings and other feathered fiends, which will become a severe annoyance as vintage approaches, are seen gathering into huge flocks at dawn and dusk. Bird control is about to briefly assume Hitchcockian dimensions.

February

Stephen Doyle

Warm, dry and still. Rain = 78 mm. Temp = 19.7 degrees C.

This is the month where we pretend vintage is some distant event at some obscure time off in the future and everything will go well.

This is also the month where most of the vineyard passes through veraison  (or colour change) as the bunches soften and begin the accumulation of sugars and the displacement of acids through to full ripeness. It is an exciting and busy time as we begin to prepare for vintage and do what we can to lessen the impact of bird damage on the ripening fruit.

Presses and tractors will be serviced and the inventory of hand picking shears, buckets and band aids is attended to. By about the second week, we begin taking samples of the Pinot Noir for analysis to determine the picking date for our Chirac fizz which is normally ready for harvest by the first week in March.

The mean irrigation schedule is eased off until the vines are experiencing a controlled moisture deficit and spraying of sulfur for powdery mildew ceases. In effect the vines, unlike us, are coasting into vintage readiness.

If we plan to plant a cover crop of cereals between the vine rows to improve the organic status of the vineyard, this is when it happens. It's hold your breath time before the annual vintage plunge.

March

Stephen Doyle

Warm, dry and golden. Rain = 61 mm. Temp = 17.6 degrees C.

Sleep is a non-standard optional extra for the next two months.

All attention is turned to the now rapidly approaching vintage. Any late irrigation is eased off, and spraying of copper only occurs if the weather is unseasonably wet.

February, March and April are normally the driest months in Orange, but we occasionally get autumn break rainfall towards the end of March as the season begins to deteriorate. The stability and warmth of the months of March and April have a large bearing on the success of the vintage.

Bird control takes almost as many waking hours as are available. An isolated vineyard plump with  sweeting grapes in the hardest time of the growing year is a real temptation for starlings, currawongs, silver eyes, noisy miners, gill birds, rosellas, and all manner of squarkin' bastards..

We don't mind the resident rosellas having a feed or two, but the itinerant starlings which arrive in huge flocks of swirling devastation are unwelcome free-loaders. Gas guns; noisy motorbikes;  electronic scarers and plastic hawks are used, but even with this armoury of distractions, we lose about 5 tonnes of fruit each vintage. To put this in perspective, that's equivalent to about 6 pallets of Cabernet. (A pallet contains 64 cases of wine)

There is an urgent need to study the habits of the English starling and native noisy miner birds in Australia and to establish a means of controlling the impact of all birds between veraison and vintage. These eight weeks are critical, although we recognise that for the balance of the year, birds of all sorts have a very positive impact on the vineyard.

It could well be that the resident starlings have eaten enough light brown apple moth lavae and australian grape vine caterpillars during the year to more than account for the 5 or so tonnes of fruit they relish at vintage. We simply don't know!

April

Stephen Doyle

Cool and calm. Rain = 48 mm. Temp = 13.6 degrees C.

Sleep continues to be something you dream about.

Autumn has arrived with the whole vineyard rapidly changing into the golds and reds of Tuscany. This is the quality month for Cabernet and Riesling.

If it gets too cool too early in April, the Cabernet and Riesling will creep towards ripeness with ever more hesitant steps. If we miss the seasonal cold outbreak, then by the end of the third week, all the fruit will be picked and safely on its way to becoming wine.

If the weather remains dry, immediately after each vineyard is harvested we give it a good irrigation to encourage the normal autumn flush of root growth and to give the vine the energy to draw the carbohydrates of its remaining leaves back into its root and trunk structure. It's also a way of saying thank you to each vine for doing its best for us throughout the season and to chlorinate the irrigation lines before the winter shut down.

If the vintage has been safe and successful, it's a time for celebration..if it has been disaster, then it is time to immediately take the next step.

And in the very best years here at Bloodwood, if you look very closely towards the close of day, you can almost imagine the angels of the vineyard  floating above the autumnal canopy. Rich reward indeed.

May

Stephen Doyle

Sunny, damp and cool. Rain = 47 mm. Temp = 8.7 degrees C.

Put the sheep into the vineyard and go on holiday, preferably somewhere quiet and dark.

A viticultural fantasy of the first order! May is the month for sighs of relief and a time to catch up with badly neglected friends and to put yourself and your newly created wines to bed. Perchance to dream.

June

Stephen Doyle

Dull, wet and frosty. Rain = 99 mm;Temp = 6.9 degrees C.

This is the month to really get stuck into the pruning. Well at least to consider sharpening the secateurs.

Stephen does as much of the pruning as inhumanely possible and always dresses the whites.Noble Riesling (Sit! Stay! Get-a-way back!) Each vine is treated individually according to its vigour and bearing history.

In each vineyard there is a fairly high proportion of new wood from last year's growth laid down and it is not unusual for an individual vine to be an amalgam of spur and cane pruning. We usually try to prune the less frosty and later bursting Cabernet Sauvignon block during this month. This encourages a more even and slightly earlier bud break which will give the fruit an extra few days of critical ripening warmth at vintage in the following April.

The days are short and the nights sullen with cold. Towards the end of the month, we normally receive good rainfall and some light snow, just to remind us that Bloodwood is a truly cool climate vineyard.

July

Stephen Doyle

Windy, wet and freezing. Rain = 80 mm. Temp = 4.5 degrees C.

July and August are the months for the bulk of the vineyard to be pruned.

Depending on the variety, we aim at 50,000 buds per hectare for Cabernet and up to 65,000 for Malbec. This will give us the potential for yields between 5.0 and 7.5 tonnes per hectare. If you're looking for quality, and as a wine grower today you have no other option, balancing fruiting potential through pruning levels is where it all starts.

Of course your bank manager will be interested in making sure that they have a reasonable return on your investment, so it's a good idea if you are still talking to use terms like "down-sizing the vegetative interface" rather than the technically more descriptive "dropping the crop". (N.B. On no account allow the accountant anywhere near your vineyard in July. The place will be bleak enough already!)

August

Stephen Doyle

Wet, freezing and windy. Rain = 90 mm. Temp = 6.6 degrees C.

Most pruning is completed during August with the earlier bursting Chardonnay and Merlot Noir the last to see the blade.

This late pruning will help delay bud burst for a week or so, hopefully beyond the frost danger period in October. Even though modern production agriculture talks in hectares and tonnes, it is well to keep in mind that a hectare of vineyard is made up of anywhere between 1500 and 10,000 healthy individual vines and that a tonne of grapes is made up of somewhere between 10,000 and 17,000 individual healthy bunches.

As mentioned already, at Bloodwood, each vine is hand dressed according to the health and vigour it displayed in the previous season. Stephen does as much of the pruning and personally checks each vine he is unable to prune himself as time permits.

The dams are sometimes full by late August, the grasses begin to stir and the geese are evicted from their winter hangout in the pump shed. The last week or so of August is when we do battle with the spring grasses and winter weeds along the vine row. This helps preserve the vital winter moisture for the busy spring growing period about to begin.

September

Stephen Doyle

Freezing, windy and wet. Rain = 74 mm. Temp = 9.4 degrees C.

Actually its not as bad as it looks.

You occasionally get to see the sun again between sleet showers and scuds of rain from the South West. We often hear our first thunder for the season sometime in September, and in recent years we have experienced some of our heaviest snow falls. So how can that be all bad?

The pruning that was definitely completed during August is absolutely definitely completed during September. (and sometimes it's absolutely finally definitely completed in early October) I suppose the point here is that the weather has a lot to answer for at this time of the season.

The trellises are checked for damage, wires replaced where necessary, and the irrigation is given a run to make sure any repairs can be carried out well before the summer pressure really mounts. An early organic Copper spray is applied late in the month (if the Chardonnay has burst earlier than normal) to give a little more frost protection. Because

Bloodwood is so well air drained, we have never been frosted during the growing season but we do all we can to give this "luck" our helping hand. The sheep are removed kicking and screaming from the vineyard by mid-month and the foliage training wires are dropped so they don't get in the way of the young growth.

October

Stephen Doyle

Moist, cool and cloudy. Rain = 87 mm. Temp = 12.8 degrees C.

At this time of year, we pretend winter is gone and spring is in the air.
In Orange of course, this requires a substantial leap of faith and manifest resistance to frost bite. The fact is that the mean minimum for October is about 6 degrees, so it's basically optimism about the season ahead which keeps us warm.

By the end of the second week in the month, most varieties have burst their buds and are leafing out for the job ahead. When the new shoots reach 80 mm or so, we apply another Copper spray to prevent the development of downy mildew along with a precautionary powdery mildew spray.

The idea here is to keep a preventative cover of Copper on the quickly growing shoots and developing flower clusters as they head into what's known as the "grand period of growth". During this time you can almost see the vine shoots elongating from day to day so regular Copper coverings are high on our list of songs.

Any sucker shoots on Pinot Noir vines and unwanted water shoots elsewhere are removed and a final check on the irrigation equipment and trellises is carried out.
This is also the season of the nose blow and blow-fly as the early Patterson's curse and rye grasses begin to flower. ACHOO!!

November

Stephen Doyle

Humid, cool and thundery. Rain = 89 mm. Temp = 15.9 degrees C

This is our very religious period at Bloodwood as the early Chardonnay begins to flower.

Successful flowering weather is warm and calm with no rain. Orange often gets an arctic blast or two during November, so it's a case of bringing out the incense, adopting the Lotus position and remaining optimistic.

Lifting meter long vine shoots into the vertical position ensures good light infiltration and provides more efficient organic spray penetration. Luckily, vines are self-pollinating so there is no real need for insect vectors to cross-pollinate, but as we've never used insecticides on Bloodwood we always see a fair population of bugs working the vines.

One of the most memorable experiences you can have in this world is to smell the incredible perfume of a vineyard in full flower on a warm and calm early summer evening. This should be at the top of your must-do-before you-die list.

Regular rainfall in the Orange Region usually takes up in November, so it's important that the vines are not moisture stressed prior to and during flowering. We use tensionmeters to monitor vineyard moisture status and to give us an objective guide as to when each vineyard needs additional moisture.

December

Stephen Doyle

Warm, humid and thundery. Rain = 68 mm. Temp = 17.8 degrees C.

Prayers continue as the green black thundery clouds develop indigestion behind Mount Canobolas and remind us that, in this game, each vintage is a blessing.

December is the business end of the growth cycle with the completion of flowering in the Cabernet Sauvignon by Christmas, and the division of the canopies into their Scott-Henry configuration for the berry development and ripening phase. Timing in canopy division is critical..too early and you'll break soft fresh shoots out of their sockets; too late and sudden exposure will sunburn your young bunches and you'll understand the meaning of the term "jungle warfare".

Depending on effective rainfall, we continue with irrigation to keep the vine ticking over. By this time shoots have finished growing and the energy of the vine is being increasingly directed towards the developing bunches.

Late December is when we see the first signs of any developing powdery mildew in the vineyard if our Sulfur sprays haven't been effective. You can have half a day off on December 25th if everything is under control but you'll probably be spraying Boxing day.