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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in Pinot Noir | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in In the Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

It’s Not Just About Pinot Noir

It’s great fun to be involved with Peter Mitchell’s Heartbreak Grape course on the Mornington Penisula. Learning about and making Pinot Noir from this beautiful premium winegrowing region is a great privledge.

I have to confess that I have “a bit on the side”. Since 2013 I have been making Heatchcote Shiraz.

My 2016 “MYGARAGE” recently achieved a silver medal (17/20) at the Eltham & District Winemakers Guild Wineshow. I have to agree with the judges. I do feel this is my best Shiraz to date. Judge’s comments

“Perfumed – black fruit. Sweet mid palate. Black tannins (what does that mean?), cinnamon and spice.”


Chinamans Bend Vineyard 2017

Chinaman’s Bend Vineyard, Heathcote, December 2017.

This is Chinaman’s Bend Vineyard. On the Eastern slopes of the Colbinabbin Range, north of Heathcote.

The Vineyard is next to Shiraz Republic where I have previously bought Shiraz Grapes.

In 2018 I plan to upscale my endeavours. A tonne (1,000kgs) of Shiraz will be purchased. I have also purchased a new French oak barrel and will use 2 other barrels. The wine will be made with the expert oversight of Sam Scarpari.

So fingers crossed for great weather between now and vintage for all Victorian wines regions. Remember you can’t make great wines unless you have great fruit to start with.


Posted in Other Wines | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Tasmanian Trip 2017

On Friday 28th July past and current students along with Peter Mitchell and myself flew out to Hobart, Tasmania for a long weekend of wines and food.

Our first stop after the airport was Bangor Wine and Oyster Shed.

Freshly shacked local oysters offered both natural and with a variety of sauces. A good choice is the Bangor Wine Tasting Platter, four tasting of various wines and an accompanying platter, great value.

After lunch we continued to Tiger Bay Retreat on the Tasman Peninsula. http://www.tigerbayretreat.com.au

Tiger Bay Retreat consists of two houses, Semaphore House (which was also an old convict hospital) and The Surgeon’s Cottage just across the road but up a hill overlooking the bay below.


The Kitchen and Dining area at Tiger Bay Retreat, Semaphore House.

Semaphore house was our meeting place to have breakfast and dinners. The Kitchen, dining area reminded me of a similar room at Monet’s house at Giverny, France.

A warming fire in the fire place ran throughout the weekend.

Saturday we had to earn our keep and we assisted with pruning in a newly established vineyard near Saltwater River a few minutes away.


Old shed in front of the new vineyard at Saltwater River

We pruned for a few hours then broke for lunch. After lunch it was back to the vineyard for about an hours work.

We pruned cordon pruning, leaving a single cane on the downward slope of the vineyard.

Dinner that night was a whole roast pig accompanied by a range of Pinot Noir. Divine!




Sunday we headed to Richmond about an hours drive through some pretty spectacular landscapes. We arrived at Pooley Wines for a tutored tasting featuring  their 2016 Riesling, best Riesling at the 2016 Royal Melbourne Show ( I think our group bought it all but you could get the 2017). Two single vineyard chardonnays Cooinda Vale and Butcher’s Hill. Four Pinot Noir, the Estate, Cooinda Vale, Butcher’s Hill and Reserve. All wines are of very high quality, but I could not buy then all so I bought a bottle of the Riesling and the Butcher’s Hill Pinot Noir 2016. If I had room in my luggage I would have bought the Cooinda Vale Chardonnay.

After Pooley we headed to Tea Tree Valley in the Coal River region to visit Third Child Vineyard. this vineyard has recently been purchased by a long term student, Mark, who is about to embark on a new adventure. We were able to taste a number of past vintages that show this is a very special vineyard that has produced some special wines. All the best Mark.

Some on the trip stayed longer to either enjoy more time at Tiger Bay retreat, others were staying in Hobart for a few days or just using their last day to visit MONA.

I returned the mini  bus (designated driver) and flew back to Melbourne on Monday.

Looking forward to a return visit in 2018.






Posted in In the Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pruning Dromana 2017 and Tasting

Today we pruned our rows at the Dromana Estate Vineyard. We have 10 rows each with 40 vines.

Where possible we cordon prune. That is we keep 2, 1 year old canes and tie these down along the fruiting wire. Easier said than done. Sometimes we are faced with little choice and spur prune and hope that next year there will be suitable canes to lay down.

As everyone turned up today (thanks) we were able to complete pruning in about 4 hours.

After pruning we tasted 12 wines. Some from Northern, flatter regions of Mornington Peninsula (Tuerong) and some from the Eastern regions, Merricks and and Balnarring.

I found many really attractive wines with my highest scores going to Hurley Hommage 2015, Ten Minutes by Tractor Balnarring  2015 and Dromana Estate 2016. This shows what many have said, that 2015 is a very good year for Mornington Pinot Noir.

There where a few wines that were disappointing, finishing short and some with harsh finishes. Not a characteristic one wants to see in Pinot Noir.

Interestingly the Dromana Estate Pinot Noir has won this tasting a number of years previously coming 1st in tasting held in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015. This wine is often overlooked by consumers who gravitate to higher priced but better known wines. why not get down to Dromana Estate and taste this wine at the cellar door and decide for yourself.


Posted in In the Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Tastings, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pressing Vintage 2016

On Sunday 20th March we pressed the wines at Dromana into barrel and demi-john. Unfortunately I did not take any pictures. However today we pressed the wines from the Advanced course grown on the Winbirra Vineyard.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment