BY CHIEF VITICULTURIST BART MOLONY & CHIEF WINEMAKER VIRGINIA WILLCOCK
A mild season with no extremes, where yields, bunch weights and balance are a great news story. The growing season began with a cool dry spring, similar to the 2022 vintage. This delayed vine development timing by about 2-3 weeks, time we used to open canopies, especially to provide maximum sun exposure and warmth for red varieties, which paid off come veraison. When the heat finally did arrive in January, it wasn’t as severe as last year. Happily, the consistently dry and warm conditions saw the vines catch up nicely on their development. White veraison was delayed by 2-3 weeks, while Cabernet timing was approximately one week later than average. This year, veraison was quite a quick process; the Cabernet’s two-week transition was excellent for ripening fruit flavours evenly through the bunches. Overall, vineyard plots have shown excellent balance with more fruit and canopy, reflecting vine health and minimal heat stress from a milder season.
Following a dry winter and spring, sensible and sensitive irrigation intervention was implemented to assist some vines with carrying their crop and helping to build their capacity and resilience for the summer. Dry grown blocks have displayed great health. Chardonnay harvest began on 14 February with a hand harvest in the Home Vineyard. Chardonnays held bright acidity and developed sound flavour and ripeness. Chardonnay yields saw a dramatic increase following the past few vintages, particularly last year. This is the culmination of a major focus on reworking vines over the past few years, resulting in excellent vine health and berry size, especially for our Bernard clones. In addition, the first meaningful crops from young Gingin clone plantings were harvested in our Home and southern vineyards, and are showing significant promise for the future. The Chardonnay expression this year is a highlight for Virginia, but we don’t want to say too much, too soon!
Sauvignon Blanc was slower in its development and continued to be more delayed than Chardonnay. It was harvested with excellent flavour and good acidity. Healthy bunch weights were a highlight. Semillon yields were down slightly but quality is excellent. The warm and dry conditions have been great for red varieties, which are displaying very juicy and concentrated berries, that are very “edible” at early stages of ripening. Shiraz from our Walcliffe based was harvested beautifully ripe, showcasing the classic Margaret River Syrah style with incredible vibrance and spice.
Cabernet is thoroughly enjoying this mild and moderate ripening. There has been no Marri blossom this year, resulting in the largest netting program since 2019 at Vasse Felix, often requiring us to assemble multiple teams to remove nets in the 24 hours before harvest. At the start of the season, it wasn’t Silver Eyes, but rather parrots, wattlebirds and kangaroos that were hungry for our grapes. However, heading towards Cabernet harvest time, the Silver Eyes were everywhere.
“A little drizzle once a week and you’re laughing,” says Bart Molony when it comes to rainfall during vintage. His weather control skills seem to be improving, with three small incidents in consecutive weeks in March. The most
significant was well-timed, the day after the white harvest was completed. The mornings, evenings and nights have been cool, and the peak temperatures during the days have been relatively small windows, so all in all, a very moderate season, ideal for gentle, consistent ripening, with no disease pressure due to dry conditions.
The majority of our Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec plots were harvested prior to 10 April, and remaining small plots sat through some lovely Easter days and were harvested in a fine weather window between 10-14 April, living up to their predictable ripening pattern. Fruit is vibrant, with classic Margaret River Cabernet palate weight and tannin ripeness.