What a grape harvest.
The earliest.
The quickest.
The hottest.
The biggest!

An early start to the grape harvest

It had been a hot dry summer. Just a couple of days over 40 degrees. Mostly it was mid to high 30s. Ideal ripening weather. Several warm nights also accelerated the ripening. We started with what we thought would be a trial pick on the 14th February, before starting in earnest on Thursday 18th February . We knew the crop was ripening nicely but thought it was just below the Baume’ we were waiting for. While I had been testing a random sample of berries each week since veraison, it’s not until you pick and crush all of the bunches on a number of vines that you are confident that you have an accurate Baume reading. We also wanted to get a better idea of how many grapes we had, so by picking 18 vines in various patches across the vineyard we thought we would also be able to predict to with some accuracy the likely total yield. To our surprise and consternation the sample pick was all in the range of 13.3-13.5 Be. Surprise, because it was ready to go. Consternation because we had booked our casual workforce for Thursday 18th February and were unable to get them any earlier.

Lessons Learnt:

  • Do our trial pick even earlier
  • Identify early recipients
  • Hope that our new 5 acre planting running east-west will ripen slower
  • Research ways to extend the season out a week or two

Pickers – Casual Labour

Access to pickers was to prove a sticking point throughout the season. Of course it wasn’t just us who were having an early season, other vineyards were in the same boat, but so were tomato growers, peach and apricot growers and the factories that processed the peaches etc. We have a very loyal core of local workers, but we need to supplement them with staff from contractors. Some days I’d ask for 10 pickers and get 5. Some days I’d ask for 16 and get 10. Contractors were trying to look after their customers by giving everyone some workers, but it made it hard to plan. But at other times they were trying to look after their workers and one day when other vineyards had finished their picking we asked for 16 workers and got 24. All workers got some work, but at times we didn’t have enough picking buckets, tractors or trailers.

Tuohey's Picking

Lessons Learnt

  • Invest in more picking trailers
  • Enhance relationships with picking contractors and work to have priority for picking staff

Grape Harvest

Quantity Delivered by ZoneThe fruit was very even, small berries, small bunches and no disease, mildew or mould and a yield of about 2.5 tonnes/acre. The dry summer meant that we had only sprayed with Sulphur once, just before flowering in November. This was low intervention fruit at its best. We were delighted to add Peter and Claire Tuohey’s vineyard to the Republic. It’s a bit like Tasmania, a little island of great fruit a little further up along the Colbinabbin Range. Great red soils, 20 year old vines and produced some wonderful fruit.

All fruit was hand picked, mostly into our custom made waxed cardboard boxes. These are continuing to work extremely well. There were a couple of requests from citizens wanting to use their own bulk containers. This remains a very difficult exercise due to the restrictions regarding disease control (Phyloxera) and the difficulty in getting the bins delivered prior to picking. We made one attempt at transferring picked grapes from our bins to another bin. It was time-consuming, messy and wasteful (we ended up with a 150 kg that got wasted).
The early fruit was near on perfect with Baumes’ of 13.5 – 13.8 and pH 3.5. There were a few problems with earwigs in some of the fruit from one block, but it seemed to have no effect on the wine. The hot weather was relentless and the fruit ripened much quicker than we would have liked. The season lasted barely three weeks, but by the end Baumes’ had gone out to 15+ and the acid had dropped off to around pH 4. Not an ideal ending, so we will have some big wines in 2016.

About 30% of the grapes are collected from the vineyard, including 10% which are self picked. Apart from a small quantity that goes interstate the rest of the deliveries are spread pretty evenly around Melbourne. There is a growing interest in citizens making their wine onsite. This seems to be driven by a number of factors including disruptions at home (eg. renovations or moving house), a trend to apartment living and smaller blocks, and an interest in making wine commercially.

Lessons Learnt

  • identify citizens who are able to receive fruit mid-week (eg. retired, self-employed, work from home)
  • establish more meeting points for Northern, Western, Southern and Eastern Suburbs
  • investigate “hub and spoke” delivery options.
  • encourage those who can to pick their own and/or collect directly from the vineyard

The Heat

The heat during the harvest and lead up to harvest was relentless. The season just kept setting records for above average temperatures and low rainfall. It is hard to convey the toll on workers of day after day in the direct sun picking. A big thank you to those who were there from beginning to end and all those who contributed to the task of trying to get the vintage picked and packed. We filled 152 separate orders in 18 days of the harvest.

In Review

We are always into continuous improvement. Our aim is to be deliver the best grapes to our citizen winemakers. With more people wanting lower Baumes’ and with the seasons getting earlier this create extra challenges in terms of our ability to pick and deliver, but also to get the attention of our citizens to be ready.

Dream Factory

  • investigate having some spare bulk bins available for people who want bulk delivery (Establish costings)
  • investigate building a new shed to accommodate on-site making and storage (Establish costings)

Overall it has been a very good season.
Sorry to all those who missed out. We were still getting requests for order three weeks after we had finished. Maybe next year.
Thanks to all who have made it enjoyable. We look forward to swapping a bottle.
We’d love to see you at the vineyard, our cellar door is open 7 days a week.

Cheers
Brian

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