The sound of tractors and semi-trailers grumbling down the roads after midnight. The purple birdshit on the hood of my Jeep, and the sweet smell in the air of rotting grapes on the vineyard floor. These are just a few of the signs that vintage is here and in 2008 it has hit South Australia’s McLaren Vale with a vengeance. Recent heat surges and a mid summer downpour have pushed sugar levels up at a rapid pace and has left many growers once again begging winemakers to harvest their grapes. The vineyards have rebounded with an abundant crop after last year’s low yields. In fact, many small winemakers are struggling to find the space to take in the fruit. Just yesterday Wirra Wirra, one of McLaren Vale’s top producers, had a major collapse of their stainless steel fermenters. Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured.
It has been over one year for me living down under. During that time I have met some great people, taken some trips, and now represent a McLaren Vale vineyard and wine called Thorpe. The Thorpe family has been in this region since the first settlers came in the early 1800’s. That type of staying power commands respect. The owner of Thorpe Wines is Nicole Thorpe. She also presides over the family’s primary business which is a water drilling company called Kangarilla Drilling(KD). There is an ironic element at play here. As a vigneron, a position historically notorious for heavy water usage, she has the power to supply water to a drought ravaged country. Townships have been known to line the streets clapping as the Kangarilla Drilling convoy arrives to begin drilling. These people are thirsty. KD is consistently in demand from grape growers who need water for their vines, as well, which explains why her company is booked 12 months in advance. Most other drilling rigs have headed to the mines up North, but she and her staff have remained to pick up the lion’s share of the bore drilling business in South Australia. The planned arrival of a new drilling rig will only make her company stronger.
Thorpe Wines has made a few changes to its team since I jumped on board. None of which have made me very popular with the locals. The purchase of a flash new red Jeep has turned a few heads in the district. We replaced the previous vineyard manager with Peter Bolte, one of SA’s brightest minds in the vineyard. This is Peter’s 32nd vintage in the region, and he knows these vineyards like the back of his hand. It’s always a challenge to wisely irrigate vines in this hot climate, and Peter understands the needs of the vine as well as anyone. We’re lucky to be one of his private clients.
We also changed winemakers to a young Kiwi named Tim Geddes. Tim has made himself a solid reputation as the man behind the scenes of the now defunct Wayne Thomas Wines. He’s now out on his own with his own “Geddes” label. His range of “Seldom Inn” reds and Geddes “Another Shiraz” are balanced and delicious wines. Exactly what we’re looking for here at Thorpe. We are very excited to see what he can do with the 12 acres of shiraz and 5 acres of cabernet off the ideally situated Thorpe Vineyards.
The vineyard itself is a beauty. Within 5 klicks of the ocean, we get plenty of cool breezes to keep the mildew at bay and cool off the heat from the sun. We got all the fruit off the vines last week and safely crushed at Geddes winery in the Vale. Harvest time was at 4am 2 of the 3 days, which allows for cooler grape temps. The cooler the better, since you don’t want things to begin to ferment before they get into a stable zone, meaning a ferment tank. It’s a relief to see the fruit safe and sound for the moment. The juice is rich, but still has all those earthy elements that make Thorpe Wines taste like it came from Thorpe Vineyards. Progress of the 2008 vintage will be closely watched.
I’m heading to NYC at the end of March to introduce some wines from New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia. Things are moving along down here, in ways that seem out of my hands. There seems to be an external guide in life shepherding us in its own inscrutable direction. By occasionally losing control of your life, it’s quite interesting and frightening to see where it takes you. Cutting myself loose from the NYC base camp and floating downstream has opened up a new world of surprisingly endless abundance.