IT’S March. Harvest commences. Picking begins in early March and continues until about mid-April.
Harvest timing is a big decision for winemakers because grapes don’t continue to ripen once picked and flavour therefore stops developing. The weather plays an even more important role in the life of a grape grower than it does for the rest of us. Frost and, perhaps, rain can be an enemy.
Even though the leaves of deciduous plants are starting to turn and an occasional autumn breeze chills, thoughts of bounty and ritual start to rise. The plump grape bunches are ready to pluck. Prayers are said to the weather gods, as Bacchus awaits his lusty play (I live in hope, obviously).
You drive past the plastic-wrapped lines of vines out at Murrumbateman and just think that bird scarers would remind you so much less of condoms. And each day the winemakers cross their fingers that there is not a dangerous amount of precipitation. A rain of terror is one that is significant and interferes with the harvest timing.
Robert Geddes, author of “The Art of Wine from the Vine to the Table”, explains why in March vintners’ eyes are often aimed skyward: “As grapes ripen their sugar levels rise while the acidity falls and the flavours kick in.
“Weather conditions often play a vital role in this, especially rain, which can leave the grapes vulnerable to rot or the water being picked up by the vines’ roots and going into the bunches and diluting the juice.”
But John Leyshon, president of the Canberra District Wine Industry Association, holds no fears for the 2017 vintage. All is steady-as-she-goes for another good year.
“There have been no reports of disease anywhere in the district,” he says.
“As the weather moves into autumn mode, with warm, sunny days and cool nights, the berries are developing beautifully.
“Just because we have had a wet period doesn’t mean the vines have been affected. Some reports are just not accurate.”
“Yes, it’s been wet. Well-above-average winter and spring rainfall established an excellent water profile in the soils of the district, resulting in strong canopy development after budburst and delayed the need to irrigate until much later in the season.
“The rain abated during flowering to produce good fruit set in most areas and good rainfall in January kept the canopies strong and able to cope with the periods of very high temperatures that occurred at times during the summer.”
Predictions are that 2017 will continue the good run of vintages since 2015. The celebrations are between March 31 and April 9 when Canberra District Wine Week is scheduled. It culminates with the Wine Harvest Festival on April 8-9. Local wineries will offer a variety of tasting adventures, music, artwork, food, and the opportunity for a great day (or days) out in the country.
They’re going to celebrate even if it rains.