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David Pike isn’t topping the “fines” list among the crew involved with the Devils Lair vintage but there’s still time for him to make his mark.

I FEEL right at home. Just three weeks out of Perth and it seems the city has come to me.

At least that what it feels like. Take the dawn patrol last Tuesday, for example. The Bussell Highway felt more like Loftus Street in peak hour. Nearly all the early risers would have been wine industry people heading off to various vineyards in the area. It felt like Easter traffic heading back to Perth.

My luck changed towards the end of the week when my shift changed from pre dawn to hours my body is more in tune with – a 10am start working through until around 7pm.

This week things around the winery are getting a little more active. The white grapes have started to gain momentum and by the end of next week most of the whites Devils Lair uses will be off the vines (except semillon, which is still approaching the home straight). With the increase in activity the fines system at the winery (a six-pack of beer) is beginning to gain some impetus. While I am a contributor to the tally I am not yet leading the fines count. It is basically a reverse of the Brownlow system – the more stupid things you do the more votes you get. If the ‘King’ was working down here he would be advised to look at buying a brewery.

I am continuing to follow the vintage of Devils Lair’s premium block of chardonnay V1. The fruit has now all been hand picked. The hand picking enables the winemaker to ensure that the fruit arrives into the winery in the best possible condition.

With the fruit arriving in top condition, the winemaker is able to process the fruit using a technique called ‘whole bunch’ pressing. Whole bunch fruit pressing is a process where an ‘airbag press’ is used to delicately press the berries, obtaining the best free-run juice before separating it and pressing the berries almost dry. Only the premium free run and light first pressing are used in the Devils Lair Chardonnay. The wine is allowed to cold settle overnight before being racked off (pumped) into a blend of new and one-year-old French oak. Yeast is then added to begin the fermentation process.

Being the new kid on the block it was suggested that, before I added the yeast under instruction from the winemaker, I might like to run a trial of types of yeasts and how they affect the fermentation process. Thinking that this would be a fascinating exercise, I eagerly took up the offer. I am now regretting that decision, as the total number of fermentations occurring throughout the winery must be measured each day, effectively doubling my workload. It is, however, an interesting exercise.

The different strains of yeasts should bring out slightly different flavours in the wine, which will be interesting to look at and ascertain their influences in the wine.

As for the other white varieties I have seen coming into the winery, the sauvignon blanc looks like producing some stunning wines around the Margaret River region. Much of the fruit I have seen looks pretty exciting. The long, relatively cool vintage has given the fruit wonderful acidity and flavours more akin to cool climate regions such as the Adelaide Hills.

One of the fermentation tanks of sauvignon blanc I have been checking daily has wonderful pungent flavours of passion fruit, slight grassy hints with good natural acidity and is quite aromatic.

It seems most winemakers in the region agree that sauvignon blanc is looking very good. Voyager’s winemaker Cliff Royal has also suggested that semillon could be the surprise of the vintage, explaining to me that the flavours in the fruit at Voyager are some of the best he has tasted.

As for some of the other regions around Western Australia, Houghton’s winemaker Larry Cherubino sent me an in-depth email during the week explaining that, like Big Kev, he was “excited” with how things were progressing thus far. Angelo Deletti from Castle Rock wines in the Porongurups told me that he was looking to start picking his pinot noir towards the weekend, which was around three weeks later than last year. Angelo has also suggested that crop levels are “considerably lower that last year, while small berries across the board should result in good flavour concentration”.

Leaving the West behind, I contacted Neil Pike, winemaker at Pikes wines in the Clare Valley, South Australia.

Neil explained that they are “at least three or four weeks behind an average vintage. Yields, although a little difficult to tell just yet, seem a bit patchy, with riesling, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz down a little”. He said a few unkind words to the effect that merlot has struggled and would be lucky to pick five tonnes from what would normally be a 30 tonnes crop.

“Quality is a little difficult to predict until we get stuck into vintage, however an indication from field sample have shown that acids are ideal, which is a good sign,” he said.

Neil added that this vintage had the potential to “fantastic”, given that the correlation between late and great vintages in the Clare is very strong. He is keeping his fingers crossed.

I thought I should include a wine review this week looking at one of the local products. Why not? Maybe it will encourage more punters to come down south and enjoy all this great part of the world has to offer.

Happs Three Hills 1999 Nebbiolo rating 18/20 points

An amazing wine that I picked as Italian. I was close but would have suggested it came from the hills surrounding Piedmont.

There is not much of this wine around but, for those interested in exploring ‘new’ varieties, then you must follow the Happs Three Hills label.

This wine surprised with its savoury, spicy aromas with brambles, touches of wild red berries and earthy complexity. The palate was full of intrigue, again a savoury feel with some sweet fruits and drying tannins with plenty of length and mouth-feel. Well worth seeking out.

Only one barrel, a French puncheon was used to mature this delight and I was surprised to learn that it is in its eighth year of use. It is produced only in 500ml bottles and no Nebbiolo was made in 2000.

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