Ben Cane | Vineyard Update


V I N E Y A R D   U P D A T E

New Releases

November has traditionally been when our first reds from the previous vintage are unleashed into the market. This release will be particularly pertinent as these will be the first red wines made from the 2022 vintage under the new ownership. It seems so long ago that we jumped into the 2022 harvest with great expectations and huge excitement.

Winter and the Pruning Season

This winter, we continued our reworking and restructuring of vines, which Duke had begun several years before we had taken over. The vines had been set up as double-stacked cordons where the top cordon could shade the lower one, restricting the light and creating a decreasing fertility and fruit potential as the years proceeded. This ends up creating less crop and more and more canopy, lowering quality and increasing congestion. Duke had begun to restructure the Cabernet vines, by cutting the head off the vine and allowing the stump to reshoot, thus allowing for new, and more fruitful, shoots to be laid down.

We began in the 2022 pruning season (in June 2022) to cut back the Riesling, converting to cane pruning (where we renew the fruiting cane every year), allowing for better fruit quality and spacing. We need to set renewing buds on the trunk, to allow for the best choice of canes each year, but ended up leaving some of the cordons in place, which were still quite fruitful. We continued this in the 2023 season, reshaping many of both the old and new vines, yielding better shoot and, thus, bunch spacing, allowing better mottled light penetration and airflow. This all adds up to better quality fruit with less disease pressure and better aromatic and flavour development.

The Cabernet was the next to turn our attention to in 2023. Cordons had become thicker than my arm with dense shoot growth and less and less crop. Something had to be done! So, we followed our Simonet and Sirch pruning method, an old French style of pruning that helps preserve and nurture vines for long-term growth where we respect the continuous sap flow to each bud, whilst cutting the massive cordons, which had never been trimmed back. Normally, these would be pruned back every five years. We trimmed back to the first strong cane close to the head on each side, allowing us to have some good quality fruit still but also allowing for new shoots and canes to develop lower down the head and trunk to give us strong canes for the following year.

Nothing in the vineyard happens quickly! These changes take a few years to achieve properly; it takes thought, planning and focus. Mike, our vineyard manager, has been spearheading this and has done an amazing job literally shaping our future and guiding me and the other pruners in the best methods and ways forward. So, to convert from cordon to cane pruning, on big 24-year-old vines, some big cuts were needed. In fact, we use something akin to the jaws of life, which not only slice through the vine but the wire. Necessary, as these old arms have literally consumed the wire and grown around them. Supervised by Mike, this was spearheaded by Hassan and his team of merry men who tirelessly cut and removed these massive old arms, piling them out the back to be eventually burned in some vinous burial pyre. Not so much Joan of Arc as Duke of Arc, perhaps! This was a huge undertaking requiring lots of energy and many trips with a tractor and trailer, but the lads got it done fantastically well. We then had to come back out, run new cordon wires for the canes, and tire them down for the new season.

Lastly, we turned our attention to the Shiraz. One of the most sought-after wines from the property, the Shiraz vines never fail to set a healthy crop — year in and year out. Shiraz is also one of the most perfect varieties to graft onto, should you wish to try something different. And try something different we did!

When Duke first toured us around the property, he spoke of always wanting to grow Pinot, and showed us the top paddock of cleared land, perfect, in his mind, for a dabble at Pinot. Even before he told us of this dream, I thought to myself how perfect it would be to try this little block for Pinot. This is yet another example of where, even though we are a couple of generations apart, Duke and I think about quality grape growing and winemaking in the same way and have a common vision for this special property and the wines from here.

So, we decided to take the step of reworking eight rows of Shiraz to prepare them for grafting to Pinot Noir. Shiraz performs very well as a scion as it has great strength of growth and good sap flow. Thus, we undertook to trim the big old arms back to just the heads, allowing for growth and the continued flow of sap.

We also kept the sheep in the vineyard after leaf fall and right up to budburst. These welcome fluff balls keep the grass down and leave some pellets as fertilizer. They are quite curious and intrigued to see what we are doing when we prune, and Dujac fancies himself as a bit of sheepdog, though he has no clue what to do. He just knows when the sheep start to run, he needs to follow and round them up. The moisture was so intense in the soils this winter, there would have been no chance to have a tractor go through to keep the grass down, so we are thankful for our neighbour’s sheep. We just wish they still made cheese from their milk……

2023-24 Growing Season

Whilst we have only been here a short while, it’s fast becoming apparent there is no such thing as a normal season. This season is proving no exception, but all the massive amount of time, effort, and work that went into pruning proved to be well worth it. By establishing better-spaced buds and thus shoots, we created better-balanced vines that required less canopy and shoot work throughout the year, whilst remaining healthier and more disease-resistant due to better airflow and light penetration.

We had good winter rain that replenished the soils and helped to fill the dams. The season got off to a later start with some cooler weather. But, once the sun decided to come out and the soils warmed up, we had excellent, even growth with many more inflorescences (flowering structures that develop into bunches). The Riesling and Cabernet, in particular, have bounced back with great vigour, strength and evenness, giving us more potential bunches, but better spaced and smaller, which bodes well for intense fruit.

Flowering is always tricky in the Porongurups and is affected by temperature, sunshine, wind and rain. Flowering can extend for many weeks sometimes, giving some variable ripeness that can in turn, build in complexity across the site. In 2023, we had some very favourable warm to hot weather, with light winds, which allowed the flowers to rapidly go through flowering and begin to form small berries (as opposed to 2022, where very cool, wet, cloudy and windy weather drastically reduced crops, giving a range of ripeness across the site). We did not escape cool weather this Spring, but timing is everything! And we are blessed with a hillside site with some handy breezes that are maritime in nature due to our proximity to the coast. Things were not so fortunate for our mates further inland, such as in the Mt Barker area, where a late spring frost hit hard. Vines with up to 40-50cm shoot lengths were affected, which is extremely rare. It got cold at our site but did not drop below 0C to get us into frost damage territory.

The season has proceeded rapidly, and the shoots have grown strong, reaching for the sky. We have needed to be quick on our feet with wire lifts to keep them well-trained and not trailing out into the rows. We have maintained our focus on farming under organic principles as best as we can and are realising that we will need ducks and chickens for pest control combined with the six guinea fowl that constantly keep us entertained. We have just hedged (trimmed the tops) off the Shiraz vines, and they are looking fab. The Riesling is fast approaching bunch closure, but the berries are tiny peas right now. The Cab is not far behind, and overall, the vineyard is looking stellar. So very proud of what our little team is achieving here and the quality we are deriving. I think we’re in a for an epic 2024 vintage with enough wine to go around, thankfully!

Grafting Project

A little note on the grafting. Pinot Noir is the one variety that has driven me to travel the world and seek to learn everything I possibly could on how best to express this cruel mistress. It is the wine that has both confused and beguiled me, defying my concept of depth and power through its delicacy and detail. It is also the variety I believe has so much potential and that we are only just scratching the surface with here in Australia.

Together with Riesling, these were the reasons I wanted to seek a cooler climate and aim to create one of the finest examples found anywhere in Australia. That, and the desire to keep Sarah happy being able to sample pinot as we had done so easily and widely in California! The Great Southern wine region was described to us as what Margaret River was 15-20 years ago: a frontier region of great diversity and potential with hungry, excited and passionate winemakers who were ready to carve out something superb.