The 2023 vintage at Austin’s winery proved to be another year of exceptional quality, despite the challenges faced during the growing season.
The beginning of the season
As with previous years, the season began with heavy rainfall in June, marking the start of a cold and wet winter. The abundant rainfall throughout winter ensured that the soil moisture levels were optimal, providing an ideal environment for successful budburst and the early stages of growth.
To maintain low weed and grass levels, we employed sheep once again, and pruning was completed in mid-August across the vineyard. Our newly planted Mendoza clone Chardonnay at the Cellar door showed promising growth and quality, as it established itself on the trellis wire.
The budburst occurred later than usual, indicating that harvest would also be delayed. Each growth stage during the season lagged behind the average by about two weeks. Despite the persistent rain during the growing season, our vineyard team diligently managed disease control, even facing difficulties in accessing certain blocks due to heavy rainfall. Their efforts in spraying and canopy management resulted in healthy vines free from disease.
The First Pick
From July to November, consistent rainfall kept the soil moisture levels high, and we only needed to start irrigation in January. Thankfully, extreme heat conditions were scarce, and the slow progression to veraison was accompanied by some sunny weather in February, along with cool nights that aided in ripening. In a typical Austin’s vintage, the first pick would have been in mid-February, but in 2023, we began with Pinot Gris on the 10th of March.
All our Chardonnay grapes were meticulously handpicked, commencing on March 14th with our Woolshed block at the cellar door. This early pick contributes to the Austin’s Cuvee, showcasing bright lime and lemon curd flavors, accompanied by a steely natural acidity and impressive length.
The older Chardonnay blocks were harvested on March 22nd when the flavor profile balanced between citrus and grapefruit notes, as well as riper tropical peach and apple characteristics. The majority of the Chardonnay underwent gentle pressing and settling, with 15% of the juice containing full solids going directly into oak. In total, we ended up with 30 barrels of 2023 Chardonnay, producing different styles for Austin’s Chardonnay:
- Four barrels featured full solids, where the juice ran directly from the press to the barrel, fermenting wild with malolactic fermentation. These barrels offer enticing aromatics, a slightly fuller structure and depth.
- Eighteen barrels (25% new) underwent wild fermentation and malolactic fermentation, adding complexity, palate weight, and length.
- Eight barrels (25% new) were fermented but stopped before malolactic fermentation, providing crunch acidity and texture.
I am incredibly excited about the diverse range of flavors and the blending opportunities that will arise as these wines mature in barrels.
Moving on to the Pinot Noir grapes, the first harvest for our Rose took place on March 18th and extended into early April. The Pinot bunches were small but exhibited good counts per vine, resulting in concentrated plush flavors. The highest quality fruit delivered in 2023 came from the MV6 and 115 clones. Here are some highlights:
- Austin’s Dam Block (clone MV6) was handpicked, with 20% whole bunches included in the open fermenter. After gentle plunging and pumpovers for 14 days on the skins, the wine was pressed directly into 25% new French oak barriques. Early indications show lovely chalky blueberry and pastille characters, with a solid backbone of plum and violets and a vibrant finish that showcases a delightful cab mac character.
- Austin’s Block 1 (115 Clone) was handpicked and gently destemmed with only whole berries and juice in the fermentation process. Kept cold at 8°C for six days before allowing natural warming and wild fermentation to begin, this Pinot was gently plunged twice a day and remained on the skins for a total of 21 days. It exhibits delicate raspberry and blueberry aromas, with soft and subtle tannins. This Pinot Noir is also maturing in lightly toasted French oak (20% new), acquiring secondary spice and complexity.
Following a two-week break, the last Pinot Noir pick concluded, and we commenced harvesting Shiraz on April 18th, with three separate picks to finish our block. Here are some of the highlights from our Shiraz harvest:
- Handpicked Shiraz grapes designated for Austin’s were destemmed directly into our concrete egg (520L) for wild fermentation, with two plunges per day over 14 days. After pressing, the wine will mature in seasoned new and one-year-old French and Croatian oak. This medium-weight wine offers abundant flavors, including our traditional tapenade, olive, and white pepper character, along with generous fruit on the palate.
- A batch of selected harvested Shiraz was fermented in a five-tonne fermenter, displaying bright raspberry and plum characters. After pressing, this parcel was transferred to a full stainless steel tank. We plan to release this preservative-free Shiraz early, showcasing the purity of fruit and the freshness our vineyard delivered.
As for what’s next, our white wines have completed fermentation and are currently aging in barrels or stainless steel tanks. The Chardonnay barrels and Pinot Gris are undergoing lees stirring until they reach the desired depth and weight. Typically, the Chardonnay spends nine months in oak before we blend the best barrels for Austin’s Chardonnay prior to bottling. Our 6Ft6 Rose has undergone sulfur addition and will soon undergo cold stabilization, preparing for bottling in July.
All the Pinot Noir and Shiraz are securely aging in oak barrels, with regular topping and sulfur addition to protect the wines during their maturation phase, lasting nine to twelve months. Additionally, a preservative-free Shiraz batch is currently stored in a tank at a cold temperature, without any sulfur added. We plan to bottle this wine as soon as possible to capture the bright fruit flavors and the excellent balance delivered by our Shiraz vineyard, without the influence of oak.
Dwayne Cunningham – Head Winemaker, Austin’s Wines