30 Mar 2020

Some things stay the same even as we grapple with coronavirus and its impacts. The sun still rises. Shades of red and gold still colour autumn leaves. Australia’s winemakers still harvest grapes and embark on vintage, hoping the wine they bottle will be enjoyed in a safer world. 

Yangarra Estate Vineyard general manager Peter Fraser has found recent weeks to be a time of mixed emotions. Here, the Tasting Australia ambassador talks about how he and the Yangarra team are facing the new normal – and why wines from 2020 are set to be particularly special.    

It has been a harvest full of mixed emotions, some of feeling lucky, other of distraction and anxiety. In McLaren Vale we were feeling blessed to be not affected by the bushfires directly. As the ripening season progressed and we started measuring sugars and picking bunches, we soon realised our bunches were about fifty percent of their normal weight. We halved our yield estimates, and as the blocks have come in, the yields have been half of our revised estimates in many instances. Many blocks are yielding less than three tonnes per hectare. On the upside, the weather during the key ripening period has been incredibly mild, giving rise to slow sugar accumulation and great acid retention. If we play our part right in the winery, the little wine that we will make, will be of outstanding quality.

On the human side, I’ve observed the stress on people’s faces, the uncertainty in their eyes. We have had two international winemaking interns that had to leave early to get home before borders closed. We have an Italian winemaking intern that is dammed if he stays and dammed if he goes, although as I write this, he is yet to be able to find a flight to get home. As we had closed our cellar door quite early, we took the opportunity to be able to take our cellar door staff into the winery to fill the void left by the whole circumstance of this horrendous situation.

And personally, when I’m feeling down about all this, I think about all our friends and colleagues in hospitality, and the growers that are facing a burnt-out vineyard or smoke-tainted fruit. Then also the desperation of everyday people managing their next rent payment, or worse the next grocery bill. The isolation of this pandemic doesn’t hit home when you’re in a vintage bubble, or at home with a house of toddlers.

We work hard on developing our culture at the vineyard and winery, and it’s times like this when our values of wellbeing, cohesion and resilience are really going to be even more front of mind.

Visit yangarra.com for the latest from Peter and his team.