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2021 Vintage Wrap with David O'Leary

We all know great wines are made in the vineyard; a product of the unique soils and weather conditions surrounding the growing season. One-off risks when growing beautiful fruit is that we can’t control what Mother Nature throws at us. Early in the growing season it’s frost and hail which can damage the young shoots, and of course rain, which we greatly appreciate early in the growing season - but not so much a few weeks before harvest.

The 2020/21 growing season was really special because we had no problems with frost or hail, and very good winter rainfall, which we haven’t had for two years; I would compare these conditions to the vintages of 1998 and 2002. Winter rainfall is essential in most districts in South Australia because it recharges the soil profile and sets the vines on course to start a new growing season. Each variety matures and grows at different rates; from the winemakers' point of view, we like to encapsulate varietal character, fruit flavour and purity of the grapes off the vine. The slower ripening and the longer growing season and mild weather conditions combined to produce wonderful varietal characters in both Riesling and red varieties, and outstanding middle palate development in our Rieslings, Shiraz and Cabernet.

One of the fascinating things to me about the near perfect season is how the subtle differences show up from vineyard to vineyard. In general, the great vineyards always come up trumps, but it’s interesting to see the different characters developed in each and how these are reflected in the resultant wines. For example, our 2021 Watervale Riesling has more powerful lime characters, with kaffir limes and citrus, whereas the Polish Hill River Riesling has a gorgeous bath powder and floral musk perfume - a very pretty wine with great intensity and length of natural acidity.

Of course, each growing season and vintage is different - and that’s what makes our job challenging and fun. To actually pick the fruit at the optimum ripeness and character is tough, and probably one of the hardest calls during vintage - shall we pick now, or shall we give the vine another week to gain an extra 1% character? All the '1%-ers' add up. Many who pull the trigger too early are left to wonder, "Did I miss it?" - it's what keeps us awake at night!

- David O'Leary, Winemaker