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The hard work and early hours is starting to have an effect on Business News’ intrepid source on all things ‘wine’. It’s hoped David Pike doesn’t reach his use-by date and have to take a break from the Devil’s Lair team before vintage end.

FOR many, the romantic side of vintage doesn’t show its colours until the reds start coming into the winery. Reds, for some reason, create more interest and, in general terms, when you are asked how vintage is going, most aren’t referring to the fantastic whites that could have been produced, but are seeking a referral to just how good the reds are going to be. So I have begun a romance with tonnes of juicy black pearls that will determine the result of 2002 vintage. The first of the reds hit the winery platform at Devils Lairs late last week, with merlot the first cab of the rank.

Vintage is a serious business. Many of the decisions made over the vintage period will determine the final outcome of the wine being made. So, while there are plenty of serious faces patrolling the winery floor, you also need much less serious times. Many of those moments occur when one of the vintage staff does something worthy of a six-pack fine, or when you read recent comments in the press about use-by-date on wines that are intended to be drunk early.

Almost 90 per cent of wine is drunk with in seconds of it being purchased and most wineries sell out of their products that would fit the description of early drinking wines. So why would you bother? Even without the encouragement of a use-by date, it is not as if a bottle of wine is like a banana.

For most, a bottle of wine is simply put in the fridge to get it cold enough to drink. In my view, a use-by date is a redundancy on a bottle of wine. Honestly, when was the last time you threw out a bottle of wine because it had being hanging around too long.

Maybe we all should start drinking better quality stuff.

Now, back to the vintage. There was a flood of activity at the end of last week, given the long-term weather forecast, which predicted a big drop of rain was heading into Margaret River. Those still waiting for their crop of semillon to hit desirable levels were frantically booking harvesters or organising hand pickers. Unfortunately there were just as many people looking to get reds off the vine for the same reason, mechanical harvesters were running almost round the clock for much of Easter.

Fortunately the rain that has fallen thus far has not really made an impact, a fact welcomed by many growers and winemakers. The warm conditions last week have given most of the red fruit at Devils Lair the hurry on and we are in for a busy week of harvesting and processing this week.

The fruit flavours I have tasted have been very good, especially the old block of cabernet sauvignon. While it has not hit its desired sugar and acid levels, the fruit is showing some complexity in the berry.

The first of the red fruit into the winery was some merlot that was machine harvested, crushed and, as will be the case with nearly all the reds here, pumped directly into a fermentation tank. The reds, simply by the nature of fermenting quite warm, will ferment almost dry within a matter of a few days, unlike the whites I have been following, which are only now hitting their final stages after around 15 days.

Although, when crushed, the grapes begin to show a pink tinge through them, the ink black colours in reds we all love come from contact with the skins. By plunging the skins that have settled on top of the juice you begin to extract the desired colours for red wine. We are doing a little hand plunging here (another of those jobs everyone tries to avoid), however the less labour intensive method is a process called ‘pump-overs’. This is where the grape skins, juice, and anything else hanging around in the tank is sucked out of the bottom of the tank and pumped up and back into the top of the same tank. This process is usually done every eight hours, but each winemaker will have their own thoughts, and timing may vary. The colour intensifies and every drop spilt leaves its mark, which makes it very hard to cover any spillage mistakes thus avoiding

a six-pack fine.

With reds beginning to ripen I though that I best investigate a few of the local drops

Evans and Tate 2000 Margaret River Shiraz rrp $29.99 rating16/20

After the extremely successful 1999 vintage I was expecting more of the same from this vintage.

The wine shows aromas that are quite savoury with some perfume and briary fruit undertones.

The palate delivers more of those savoury characters with tight briary fruits, some cassis, ripe black cherries with a touch of green capsicum running through it.

The oak is playing a significant role at the moment and I just wonder if the fruit will get on top of the oak.

In the lineup this wine showed the least varietal, and for that matter the least regional, characters.

The wine, however, has appeal for those not chasing masses of sweet fruit.

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