The grapes are coming into Belvedere, the large commercial winery that R Wines calls home, by the truckload. Capable of handling 20,000 tons of fruit, Belvedere is a monster, but still small next to Wolf Blass’s 250,000 ton facility down the road. We will be crushing about 5,000 tons of fruit, merely a drop in the ocean, but we have the whole run of the place. This means we can make sudden decisions without upsetting anything or anybody. Plenty of tank space, a full time staff, pristine conditions, and a full lab means that we have a level of luxury most winemakers would kill for. It’s ideal for a young company tripling production levels. Thick chimney red hoses are carrying juice, chugging along, unpredictably twitching like spastic snakes, from the cavernous press to the large white shiny fermentors.
There are switchboards reminiscent of those set to operate major city subway systems. The place seems deserted at times, due to its size and our mild input, which is nice, since after living in NYC I appreciate not bumping into somebody every second. And did i mention how big the sky is? Montana meets South Africa.
There is a tension in the air, a quiet before the storm, as the winemakers and viticulturists try to predict harvest dates. Having the whites crushed and in tanks feels nice, but everyone is waiting with baited breath to see when the premium reds reach ripeness: most likely all at once. Everything is maturing early, 5 to 6 weeks in some areas, and the growers are caught with their pants down, some still in the process of tuning up their harvesters. It’s like the stock market and everybody is buying NOW. The grapes for R Wines aren’t estate grown, so the fruit is coming from dozens of growers in McLaren Vale, the Barossa Valley, Riverland, and Langhorne Creek, and there simply isn’t enough quality to go around. It’s been fascinating watching how the winery negotiates with the growers. Most days we sample pressed fruit and survey vineyards to schedule harvest dates. Last week, the inimitable player of hard ball, Trevor K offered a father and son grower duo 700US$ a ton for 100 tons of shiraz and they turned around and got in their pick-up truck and drove off. That was impressive. It would have made Chopper Read proud (please google this individual), but they eventually agreed to 730$. McLaren Vale fruit, being from a younger, less prestigious region, is less expensive than the Barossa, and Langhorne Creek fruit is cheaper still, and, not surprisingly, the least attractive place to live. This is Belvedere’s domain. Land is cheap, and it goes on forever.
I sleep lighter now, all you New Yorkers might find this interesting. There is a noticeable weight that has been lifted off my chest. I wish them well at Bouley, but I am never going near that lifestyle again. On an even lighter note, we have a Koala family living in our backyard in Belair. This one goes out to the all the ladies. And hunters.