Pruning at Dromana June 2018

With 20 students undertaking the Heartbreak Grape course at Dromana Estate we had plenty of hands to undertake the pruning of our 400 vines.
We Cane prune our vines. A laborious method that takes twice as long as the alternate Spur pruning. Cane pruning is the best type of pruning the cooler maritime climate of Mornington Peninsula but requires both more time and greater skill than spur pruning.
With Cane pruning the, 2-year-old cordon is removed, and a new 1-year-old cane is laid down along the fruiting wire. Canes that are thicker than a pencil, but not too thick are preferred with spacing between the buds of about 10cm.
Occasionally there will be vines where the crown has risen above the fruiting wire. Here we sometimes make the decision to cut the trunk back below the wire so that it will better structured for coming years.






All hands on deck


Attention to detail


Sacrificed for next year

We prune after the leaves have all fallen and the vine has shut down after Autumn, with carbohydrates stored in the trunk and roots. Avoid wet weather either during or just after pruning as this can cause or spread disease in the trunk of the vine.
Work done during pruning can manage crop size and reduce congestion in the vine.
For vineyards it is one of the most expensive labour tasks, but well done set the vines up to perform well not just in the coming vintage but also the following years.

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Am I as good as a Wine Judge? (Not Yet).

In Late May 2018 I was thrilled to be able to be a steward at the 18th International Cool Climate Wine Show held on the Mornington Peninsula.

The Judges tasted a range of Cool climate wines over 2 days and I assisted in stetting up sections prior to the tastings and pouring wines for each panel.

I was fortunate to be able to taste all the wines in the Rosé section and observe judges discuss and review wines.


Glasses set up for judging at the Mornington Racecourse.

I shall, on another post, more fully detail the procedures for judging. The judges are looking at awarding medals as appropriate, Gold (94+), Silver (90-93) and Bronze (84-89). There is some group discussion, but at no time do they know the identity of wines they are evaluating.

Wines are awarded medals based on their score and not their final relative position, several wines can receive a given medal, though the judges do look for a Top Gold. For the Rosé class this was awarded to a local wine, Myrtaceae Mornington Peninsula Selwyns Fault Rose 2017 ( I do not think this vintage has been released for sale yet).

In the Rosé class 3 Golds were awarded, 3 Silver and 9 Bronze. 15 out of 25 wines entered. It was a strong class with many good to very good wines. You can check out all results on the website

I was a bit tougher awarding only 1 Gold, but 6 Silver and 8 Bronze also 15 wines. My scores matched the judges on 6 wines and was within a range of 1 for 2 others ( I may have awarded a Silver to a wine that was awarded a Gold for example).

I guess I have some room for improvement to get closer to where judges were scoring but I was not way off. More practice required. I hope to be back in 2019 for next years Show.

If you are able to attend there is a Public tasting on the evening of the last day of the show, a great opportunity to taste a wide range of wines, see if you can pick some of the winners.

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Vintage 2018 Heartbreak Grape at Dromana Estate

On Saturday 10th March 2018 we commenced picking our Pinot noir at Dromana Estate. The nets had been removed a few days earlier as the rest of the vineyard was picked on Thursday.

Fortunately there was little bird damage to the grapes and students were instructed to remove any berries with signs attack. Another problem was some patches of botrytis on a few bunches. Again, because we hand pick we are able to sort bunches in the vineyard and discard any showing signs of this mould. There were a few raisined berries but overall the quality of fruit was excellent. Fruit came in at a little over 13 Baumé, perfect.

We have conducted tests for the pH of the juice and there was a discrepancy between the juice that was foot crushed and batches put through the crusher destemmer?

This year, rather than foot crushing and hand destemming all the fruit we processed half using a crusher destemmer. This saved a considerable amount of time and allowed us to focus on getting all fruit picked by about midday. As the day progressed the temperature rose and we were all glad for to be in the shade of the winery for the final stage of vintage.



With plenty of fruit this year we have to make between 2-3 barrels. Also students have processed some of their fruit in bins. in about 2 weeks we will be back to press wine off the skins and into barrel and demijohns.

Over the next few weeks students will press down the cap twice daily.

Once ferment is over and the cap falls we will press of the wine.

Stay tuned.



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Vintage Approaches

Coordinating Vintages across 2 regions is going to be interesting and hectic.

Two vineyards for the Heartbreak Grape course are due to be harvested. On Saturday we will harvest Dromana. Testing today showed grapes at 12 Baumé. with a week of sunny and warm (if not hot) weather all should be ready for picking on Saturday. Winbirra will be harvested the following day.

The fruit at Dromana may need acid adjustments but we will test on the day.

Shiraz at Heathcote is at 12.5 Baumé, we are looking at picking in about 10 days time.

Weather looks perfect for the coming days.Heathcote forcast March 2018

Exciting times.

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Bunch Thining and final tasting

As Vintage approaches we are back in the vineyard. Our first task is to remove bunches to ensure remaining bunches will ripen to their best.

“Pinot Noir is a variety which appears most susceptible to overcropping: high yields per vine appear to result in poorly coloured and poorly structured wines”

This quote comes from Di Davidson’s book A guide to growing Winegrapes in Australia.

Small green bunches are removed as these will not ripen yet will take energy from other bunches.

Bunches that have many green berries ( those that have not gone through verasion). are also removed.

Finally if there are 2 bunches on short canes with reduced leaf one is removed.

Some bunches that appeared to have some bird damage were also removed as these could lead to increased Volatile Acidity in the final wine.

We next took random samples of bunches at various locations throughout the rows. We also counted the number fo bunches , again from a random selection of vines. Weighing the collected bunches and calculating an average number of bunches per vine allowed us to estimate yield.

The collected bunches were crushed and tested for sugar levels. About 9 Baume was the final reading. As we aim to pick around 13 but below 14 baume we think vintage will be in 4 weeks depending on weather.


Crushing bunches to test for sugar levels. This was done with both a hydrometer and a refractometer.

After work in the vineyard we headed back to Dromana Estate Cellar Door for our last tasting of the year.


10 wines were tasted, the top wines of previous tasting and a few extra wines including 2 Burgundies.


A few of the Pinot Noirs well received at our last tasting

I personally like 2 Degrees from Central Otago, Dirty 3 from Gippsland and Third Child from Coal River Tasmania. My bias is showing as each of these three wines have higher levels of oak, but it is good oak and the wines are balanced and complex. The Bourgogne from Hudelot Noellat was another favorite lots of flavour and complexity but requiring time to show at its best. The Eldridge was silky and very fine


Looking forward to vintage in March 2018.

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Bottling Winbirra 2017

Australia Day 2017 and we drove from Melbourne, up Red Hill to Bellingham Estate where we make and bottle wines from two vineyards.

Winbirra is only a 10 minute drive from Bellingham on Point Leo Road, Red Hill South.

After picking at Winbirra we transport the grapes to Bellingham for winemaking and maturation. We return prior to the next vintage, pump wine out of barrel, add sulphur (minimal) and bottle and cork by hand.



A lot of standing around but the work gets done.

The 2017 crop was not large at Winbirra, we struggled to get enough for 2 barrels. we were a bit extravagant last year and bought a brand new French Oak barrel (St Martin). this was bottled separately after pumping out of barrel. We also had a small volume of wine stored in a variable capacity tank and some shared with a part barrel of Bellingham wine.


Bottling and corking by hand.


Our new barrel rack with rollers allows us to clean barrel ready for next vintage.

Each student received a dozen of each wine, 2 dozen in total.


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Leaf Plucking and Bunch Thinning. Also tasting of New Zealand Pinot Noir


On Sunday 7th January our time in the vineyard was spent leaf plucking. This involves removing some leaf that is shading the bunches.

This allows more exposure of the grapes to sunlight and allows better airflow within the canopy to reduce disease pressure. We remove leaves only on the eastern side of the row so that, dappled, morning sun can reach bunches. We do not remove leaf from the western side of the row as the afternoon sun can be very strong and on hot days grapes can be burnt.


Vine after leaf removal

As you can see we have a pretty large crop this year. There are plenty of bunches along the fruiting wire. We removed any secondary bunches that were growing higher up in the canopy.

We also removed any bunches that were on short or broken canes with few leaves. These will not ripen anyway and just take energy needed by other fruit to ripen.

In a few weeks grapes will start to change color. we will assess the amount of fruit and perhaps drop bunches to ensure a suitable size crop, of well ripened fruit.

After work in the vineyard we tasted 12 New Zealand Pinot Noirs. Overall a disappointing tasting, many wines lacked real Pinot Noir character, they were too high in alcohol, too ripe and lacking fresh fruit.


Te Kairanga Pinot Noir, the entry level wine from this Martinborough producer was one a the wines I enjoyed on the day. Surprisingly it was often the lesser priced wines that were true to Pinot Noir in character and style, without excessive oak and overworked characters.

“Cherry, spice and some minerality. Bright, good acid, some autumnal characters. Attractive and will be even better in a year or two”

This producer has performed consistently over many years at our tastings.


Many of the Otago wines tasted on the day scored poorly being overripe, high in alcohol, lacking freshness and having hard dry finish. These were often the most expensive wines of the day.

No really great wines on the day, but some good value wines, Te Kairanga, Yealands and Babich. high price does not guarantee a great wine.

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