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Hard day

AT THIS stage, Vasse Felix’s Clive Otto would rate the 2001 vintage as very good, with both reds and whites looking promising. However, it is still a little early to rate the vintage uniformly as not all the fruit is quite off the vines and God could still send a message in one form or another. As they say - so far, so good. Apart from bird damage across the region and too many varieties ripening at the same time, most winemakers in Margaret River agree it looks like yet another cracker vintage from the world’s greatest region. Voyager Estate winemaker Cliff Royal even went as far as to say that the colour and flavour he has seen in the fruit suggest that this will be the best vintage ever.

I thought that readers should be informed as to what vintage conditions have been like this year. Are the grapes that are pouring into the wineries in and around Margaret River living up to expectations that we, the wine-loving public, have come to expect from one of the premium grape producing areas of the universe? So, dedicated to the task at hand, I spent a week at wineries across the length of Margaret River investigating the 2001 vintage harvest in full swing. For this week’s column I got my hands dirty at Vasse Felix with Clive Otto, trying to dig up the dirt about this vintage and do a little investigating about chardonnay.

What better way to get under the skins of the 2001 crush (this is winemaker jargon for what happens to the grapes once they get tipped into the giant crusher) than to spend a day amongst the action in the Vasse Felix winery. My mentor for the day was Clive, who along with Will Shields will oversee the production of the Vasse range of wines, seemed more than happy to create a demanding schedule for the day ahead.

Most days for the dedicated team at Vasse begin about 6am or 7am depending on the fruit coming in and whether they are on nightshift or not. Over the vintage period two teams work 24 hours a day. My day began after a relaxing cuppa about 10am. This was far more practical as I had only finished my in-depth research into the area’s produce in the early hours of that same morning - demanding research it is.

Our first task of the day involved drinking. Now I know what you are thinking, “This is the job for me”.

But I can tell you that this was to be dedicated, hard work. I would estimate that we had to taste through at least 20 batches of wine/juice in the morning session alone. Mind you some of the grape juice was delicious, only recently having been crushed so I didn’t have to spit that out. Due to health and safety requirements, I can assure you if it wasn’t juice - splat! - out it came, straight down the drain in the winery. You better believe that this task of sampling is an integral part of the production and is testing the wines for any signs of faults that can sometimes appear while fermentations are occurring. Most faults are easily fixed with a range of treatments that can be used at this stage of the process. At the same time that you are smelling and tasting the juice, you are also recording the sugar level and temperature which allows you to follow the fermentation process of the juice/wine. This task is carried out at least once a day and often twice. I did volunteer for overtime and night shift, true dedication!

One of the wonders of this world famous region is chardonnay and I was particularly interested in looking at the chardonnay juice at Vasse Felix and its evolution once you get it off the vine and into tanks or barrels.

Unfortunately, most of Vasse’s chardonnay had been processed and was already bubbling away in the fermenting vat (I was hoping to be able to capture the dynamic smells of crushing chardonnay).

However, they were crushing Semillon the day I visited and the winery was filled with the pungent herbaceous

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