That old cliché... You could see it on the back-label of that bottle you just bought, you might hear it at a cheesy wine gala award night, and you can even read about it in those over-priced glossy wine magazines.
'You can’t have good wine without good fruit’
That old chestnut.
Some clichés are just stereotypes, expected and predictable. But some are simply true. This one is the latter.
So if fruit is so darn important, tell me this, when a wine top scores in that same glossy wine magazine, why does the winemaker have the double page spread interview? Or perhaps when a wine picks up a trophy at the latest wine show, why is it that the winemaker always makes the speech? Why is it always their name in lights on the back label?
All the while, the humble grape-grower, sits in the shadow, like a drummer, hidden behind the drums in your favourite band. You probably don't know the drummers name; you probably don't even know what they look like behind that overgrown fringe. They are always in the background of every album cover or poster. That is, if the show-pony front man mentions the photo shoot to them at all. Sure, the lead guitarist can have their self indulgent solo riffs; the front man can crowd surf shirtless if he wants. But the drummer is always there, covering their mistakes, preventing musical havoc. The drummer keeps the band moving, the life blood of the band, the heart which keeps the rhythm and holds the beat.
The humble grape grower is no different. An unsung hero, who are there keeping the beat of the season, keeping their vines in tune. To me, there is a distinct rhythm to vine growth. Sure the vintage might be the final epic, distortion laden crescendo to the season’s song, but each task in the vineyard is equally important to the overall music piece. And none more important than what is happening right now. Pruning.
Here at Xanadu, while I sit dry behind a computer screen, our legendary vineyard team are bracing the winter rain squalls and icy southerlies, (and some unseasonal glorious 20 degree bluebird days I might add) to prune each grapevine with some tender-lovin’ care. It’s far more technical than standing out in the rain all day chopping small pieces of wood in to even smaller ones. With every diligent decision and cut they make they are crafting the next vintage and even the vintage after that. It’s a hugely important task. It’s repetitive, but the rhythm of pruning vine to vine is almost meditative, maybe akin to a funky bridge interlude in the symphony of the season.
At Xanadu there are two main types of pruning that we use to prune our vineyards. Traditionally, spur pruning has been the quickest and cheapest type of pruning, where not all of the old wood is removed off the wires. Along with these advantages this style of pruning does suit some varieties such as Semillon. The remaining hectares are cane pruned, whereby all the old wood is removed. This re-vigourates the vine, increasing both yield and fruit quality. However, traditionally there was a catch, it is a more time consuming and expensive task and thus customarily targeted more premium parcels of fruit. Nevertheless, with the aid of some new cane mulching technology (unfortunately, from New Zealand) it’s now also a relatively quick vineyard operation. After some subtle re-engineering of the existing wires, the gang has used the new machine firstly for the Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. And just last week it was buzzing through our Chardonnay. This is left as late as possible to delay budburst, and consequently sparing those tender shoots from frosty late winter fronts, which means more tasty, healthy bunches crammed into your next glass of Xanadu.
Like the very best drummers, the vineyard team here at Xanadu doesn’t always follow the tradition beat. The constant implementation of these innovations by the vineyard team has help made once a tedious task ever so efficient and enabled them to cane prune far more of the vineyard than once possible. They are never shy to veer away from engrained Margaret River viticulture techniques, using a number of other techniques to get the best out of every block of vines. It could be sacrificial canes tied down to the dripper wire in the high vigour areas, a sprawling canopy or a ‘lazy lift’ of the wires. It might mean that some vines might not look ‘picture perfect’ like in those travel brochures, but rest assured, the fruit quality is paramount and always at the foremost part of their minds.
So next time you open your next bottle of your favourite Xanadu vino, raise your glass to the humble grape-grower. The meat behind the beat. Sure we winemakers are one-hundred a penny, but a good grape-grower is dime in a dozen. And here at Xanadu we have some of the best going around, and I’ll drink to that!
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