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As vintage comes to an end, David Pike reckons he’s been playing for the right team all along ... the night shift crew.

VINTAGE is finally over for the team at Devils Lair. I was beginning to wonder if I would still be cleaning out the crusher as we approached grand final day in September, but last Saturday the night shift team once again cleaned up after day shift and crushed the last of the harvested fruit from the 2002 vintage.

Rain that began during the middle of last week brought the decision to pick some batches of fruit forward a little but, on the whole, the rain was more of a hindrance than a problem.

My job description of “working vintage” didn’t include the sub clause ‘working in the rain’, so it is just as well that vintage has finished as the skies have opened up. I do pity those with fruit still on the vine.

Working outside when the sun is shining certainly livens up the spirit, and filling barrel after barrel after barrel as the drizzle continues to fall isn’t my idea of having a good time. So, as the weather takes a dive, I find my time at Devils Lair drawing to a close.

I have spent the past couple of weeks on night shift, which has actually been a lot of fun, as the winery takes on a new light as the sun goes down. Alliances formed with co-workers decrease the opportunity of the six-pack fines as there are far fewer people to bribe in your defence of stupid mistakes. The most common of these are moving the press with out unplugging other gadgets that are attached, or overfilling a visiting tanker. Night shift is without question the shift that ensures that day shift is set up ready to go. Night shift workers are the well-oiled part of the Devils Lair team, picking up the pieces of the day shift’s efforts.

Among the nation’s wineries, night shift is considered the backbone of any vintage team.

It would be unfair to begin a look at the 2002 vintage without visiting and tasting through the wines from other wineries from Margaret River.

First up I’d suggest you can expect to see some very good chardonnay. Across the region there has been universal praise for chardonnay, despite vastly reduced crops. Edward Tomlinson from Lenton Brae suggested to me that his chardonnay was probably the best they have had.

Reports from Leeuwin Estate, Cullen and Vasse Felix are along the same lines.

Many reports are saying that the reds are also looking very good. Predominately they are wines with very structured tannins and acidity and elegant fruit flavours. From what I have seen and heard, the fruit is not overly ripe, yet has plenty of flavour. 2002, it seems, will bring you wines with subtle fruit flavours and wines that will age well.

The dark horse in the race is the exciting talk about sauvignon blanc – never really exciting in my mind, but this vintage seems to have produced some pretty good fruit.

As I have settled into life here in Margaret River and immersed myself into a life surrounded by a number of wine-half back flankers, I have found that many of these players are more often than not exploring wines outside their own town.

At dinners during my time in Margaret River there has been a distinct lack of local wines presented – and not all the wines were expensive. What it did show was the diversity of the cellars that some people keep.

While not all of these listed wines are currently available, here is a selection of some of the wines I have been lucky enough to try. Some you may already have in your cellar biding time and others you may want to look at getting rid of.

Coriole 1996 Shiraz

No need to hurry to drink this if you still have any in your cellar.

Showing no signs of ageing just yet. The tannins have softened just a little but you will find masses of rich damson and bramble fruits that shine right through the palate, with extraordinary length.

Petaluma Tiers Chardonnay 1997

What an enormous disappointment, I thought that the first bottle was simply bad luck but it seems I had a box of bad luck. Not one of the six bottles opened of this Australia’s most expensive Chardonnay were worthy of its price tag.

The oxidative nature of the wine left you with little flavour, no length and struggling to find a positive.

Opening a bottle of the 1996 you found a little more interest but again were left struggling to understand this wine.

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 1997

From the much-lauded 1997 vintage this wine looked very impressive until compared with a German wine from the same vintage. In comparison the Grosset was beginning to look tired.

There were plenty of aromatics with a slight lanolin character yet still showing a citrus tinge. The palate was starting to show development and had slight sweetness running through the wine, which showed plenty of length but at the same time was a little more advanced than I had anticipated. Pretty good all the same.

Reynolds Yarraman Shiraz Hunter Valley 1999

A wine I had never tried before that certainly showed a distinct Hunter sweatiness running through the palate. Fantastic aromatics, almost raspberries, entwined with distinctive damson, cherry and blackcurrant fruits. The palate backs up with soft and supple fruit weight dusty integrated tannins and lively acidity. Would love to see this wine again in 20 years, okay I have a bet on that it is an ageing wine, but 20 years?

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