John Lethlean, The Weekend Australian Magazine
March 21, 2020
By 6.30am the nets are off, the buckets are out and the lingua franca of the vineyard is softly spoken French, filtering through the trellised rows of vines like dappled sunlight. With a smattering of English, Spanish, Italian and German.
All over the district, on hundreds of vineyards large and small, the picking teams – travellers, mostly, from the northern hemisphere or Latin America – are out among the rows. The viticulturists are on hand making sure the fruit they’ve worked hard all year to nurture is handled properly. The vineyard hands buzz around in little banana buggies distributing empty buckets, collecting filled ones. In some cases, even the managing directors are driving the tractors that ferry the picked fruit back to the winery.
In the winery, harvest is an exciting, more-balls-in-the-air-thanusual time of year for winemakers. On top of everything else they must get that fruit into tanks, or pressed, now. There’s very little romance about forklifting palettes of cabernet sauvignon into a destemming machine, which in turn pumps whole berries off to cooled tanks for the slow process of fermentation to begin. It’s hard, urgent work. And it’s all happening at my back door. Within 10 minutes’ drive from home are probably 10 wineries; within 20, about 100. It’s a significant part of the local economy but you can wake up in a wine-growing region and not be aware of it. The estate agent next door takes his kids to school; the builder three doors down has already left for a job. But just out of town, on hundreds of properties that employ thousands of people – from crews of pickers to managing directors, with viticulturists and winemakers somewhere in between – it is the most important time of year.
Vintage. Eight weeks of the year, give or take, when super-important decisions are made about when to pick the various plots of fruit and get them into the winery, the vineyards come alive. At Fraser Gallop Estate, where my wife works, you can see the classic Australian wine business at work. It’s difficult to think of any other Australian agricultural model where something is grown, processed and valueadded on site, marketed and distributed, all on the one property.
The typical Australian wine brand, built around an estate, represents a cluster of diverse talents within usually, a fairly small business by most standards.
Vintage is the business cycle’s apotheosis, the money shot. For a lot of poor souls along the eastern seaboard, the summer bushfire crisis has wrought varying degrees of havoc on their fruit and/or vines. Margaret River hasn’t had the same issues, although yields are down and the vintage itself earlier than many in the industry remember.
By 11am, the cabernet picking is over. It’s harder than it looks if you want to make a few bucks. In the
winery, that fresh-picked fruit is the first priority, but it doesn’t mean constant technical evaluation of
previous days’ work stops. Or the plunging, the pumping, the liaison with clients (if your winery contracts
to others); the cleaning up; the readying of everything for tomorrow’s 6am start when the Frenchies return. There’s a methodical sense of purpose to it all. And winemaker Clive Otto is smiling. “The yield is down,” he says “but the fruit is brilliant. It’s a great time of year.”
Winemakers predict high quality, but not quantity
by Jackson Lavell-Lee
Augusta Margaret River TimesThursday, 13 February 2020
A warmer than average year has resulted in a mad rush for grape pickers in the Margaret River wine region, with some vineyards so desperate they will offer extra pay for employee referrals.
The hotter weather has put pressure on wineries for more pickers and harvesting machines, while space to store ageing wines is premium.
Despite this challenge, experts have predicted exceptional quality, with Fraser Gallop Estate winemaker Clive Otto likening his grapes to the global award-winning 2007 vintage.
“In my 30 years in Margaret River, this is even earlier than 2007, which was a short turnaround, so I would say the cabernets will be greater than the chardonnays this year,” he said.
“We have very high acids and high sugars this year and that combination is about getting the balance right and getting it picked quickly.
“We can see the colouring up evening of the cabernet, which is going to be fantastic, and the chardonnays have a lovely bright acidity, which is a good thing for long life.”
Fraser Gallop Estate Managing Director Nigel Gallop (left) and Winemaker Clive Otto (right). Photo: Jackson Lavell-Lee
Wineries across the region are reporting quantity is down but quality is up, with no disease. Margaret River Wine Association chief executive Amanda Whitehead said early reports were positive.
“For most vineyards in Margaret River, the 2020 vintage began one to two weeks earlier than an average year, and two to three weeks earlier than last year across the region due to the early season temperatures and heat accumulation,” she said. “The abundant marri blossom, little to no bird pressure and lower yields are all contributing to the quality looking exceptionally good.”
Harvesting is usually a six-week process, yet the 2020 vintage will mostly be picked over a two or three-week period.
Blind Corner director and winemaker Ben Gould said the promising vintage was “possibly the earliest we’ve picked”.
“Early reports are showing yields could be a little lower on average, so far about 20-40 per cent less,” he said.
“In January we had the grapes change colour quickly with a high sugar accumulation and flavour development. There are always challenges but this year has been good with lots of flowering and no damaged bunches.”
Mr Gould said the organic and biodynamic practices he employed, which were widespread in the Margaret River region, had ensured a sustainable and consistent quality.
Plenty to celebrate at Fraser Gallop Estate
by Emma Kirk, Busselton-Dunsborough Mail
Fraser Gallop Estate have plenty to celebrate in 2020 - it marks 21 years since the Wilyabrup winery planted its first vineyard and 18 years since their first vintage.
Fraser Gallop Estate Managing Director Nigel Gallop (left) and Winemaker Clive Otto (right)
Owner Nigel Gallop said they were big milestones and he could not believe they were celebrating 21 years.
"To quote Winston Churchill, it is not the end of things and it is not the beginning of things, but it is the end of the beginning," he said.
"It is the end of the first stage of being a major wine producer of Margaret River.
"It has taken 21 years to really establish ourselves with a reputation for wines of great quality and reasonable prices.
"To me that has been achieved to a large extent and it is now the end of that stage and now we are entering into a phase of continual improvement.
"Perhaps not quite as dramatic, it is time for us to really look for the small things where we might improve.
"We have an innovative winemaker who is not afraid to try new things and and an owner, who might get a bit nervous about a few things at times, is happy to let Clive do these things."
Mr Gallop said it was extremely satisfying to reach these milestones and he was certain choices he made 21 years ago were the right choices.
"It has really taken all of this time to prove the choices we made were all good ones," he said.
"The vineyard today and the wines we produce are evidence I picked the right: location; varieties; clones; methods of non-irrigation; cane pruning and all the other things that lead to great quality in wine.
"They are all small but they are incremental, over 21 years we can now see all those things we chose to do are now paying dividends in the wine."
Mr Gallop was formerly in the software industry and spent a lot of time in California's wine region where he became interested in the industry.
"It always appealed to me as a way to live and something that would give great satisfaction, and of course I had always been a very enthusiastic consumer.
"I do not hold myself up to be a great expert of wine at all but I have always been a builder of things.
"When I was in the software industry, the company I had was founded upon code I personally wrote then wound up manufacturing and selling those systems in the US and Australia.
"I have always been someone who likes doing things from the beginning, the wine industry appealed to me from that point of view as well, it was something I could start from scratch.
"For all those reasons when I came back to WA, going to Margaret River and doing all those things was very appealing to me and I certainly have no regrets."
Mr Gallop said one of their greatest milestones was the year they won the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2009.
"It was for our 2007 Cabernet, it was said by Decanter to be the best Cabernet or Bordeaux blend in the world," he said.
"It was the first vintage our winemaker Clive had made here at Fraser Gallop Estate.
"I thought then in 2009 when we one that award, gee maybe this is going to work - where can we go from here? That was a great moment and there have been a lot of other great moments and lunches here."
Fraser Gallop Estate chief winemaker Clive Otto said when he started working at Fraser Gallop it was on a different scale to other wineries where he had worked.
Winemaker Clive Otto racking the 2020 Parterre Chardonnay
"It was very much hands on and everything was done without any shortcuts," he said.
"At Fraser Gallop there was much more of a focus on quality."
Mr Otto said winning the 2009 Decanter Award was a significant milestone for him, along with winning best red wine at the Margaret River Show.
"We have also introduced new styles of wine that have never been done before in Australia, things which have actually worked out for us, such as the Iced Pressed Chardonnay and the Palladian Cabernet.
"I try to think outside the square and don't follow the herd.
"I especially like wines with elegance, I don't like big, over extracted, concentrated wines.
"I like wines people can drink more than one glass of, I prefer to make a wine people can drink a bottle of, with a meal."
To celebrate the winery's milestones, Fraser Gallop Estate is hosting a sundowner on the terrace of its house from 4.30pm to 7pm on Saturday, February 22.
Tickets to the event are $120 per person and includes Parterre wine, canapes and live jazz music by The Riverbugs, and can be purchased online at frasergallopestate.com.au/product/Parterre-Sundowner-2020.
Mr Gallop said they only opened their home for events a few times a year, which in the past had included Gourmet Escape and a palladian dinner overlooking the gardens.
"It is an uncommon event and quite a unique opportunity for people to enjoy the environment of the house and being on the terrace," he said.