In June 2014, I arrived at a farm in Darling where I was met by a very grumpy farmer. And for good reason I soon learnt. I had bought bits of grapes from the farmer during that year’s harvest (which all turned out really promising) and was doing my annual post-harvest farm visit with a fresh barrel sample for the farmer to taste.
One of his grape clients had previously persuaded him to farm a little Cinsaut vineyard by method of minimum intervention. Not in a organic kind of a way, but more towards a 300% leave-the- vineyard-to-be kind of way. Now if you taste my Syrah 69.99999 2016, you will be able to taste the resilience that some wines made from organically grown vineyards have, especially in difficult years like 2016.
However, there needs to be a balance between nature and the work of man.
To make a long story short, due to many contributing factors, all the grapes of this little Cinsaut vineyard ended up going to the pigs and he was blaming his minimum intervention 300% leave-the-vineyard-to-be client for all of this. To make matters worse, for the 62 years prior to this, the vineyard hardly produced grapes sufficient to produce wine with. You see, his grandfather planted the vineyard in 1951 and had still used a horse to plough the land. The vineyard is on the edge of the mountain in a little valley and the only food source around. So as the berries accumulated sugar, the birds would hop from bunch to bunch pricking the berries with their beaks, causing them to rot. And by the time the grapes ripened there weren’t much left. Now things like this interest me. I asked him if we could give it one more try.
He reluctantly agreed on the basis that he farms the block the way he believes one should. I, in turn, agreed to buy bird nets to cover the vines and we had a deal. So mid 2014 the vines were neatly pruned and he took care of the weeds. That spring, after bud break, the first soft green shoots appeared. Everything looked good! Then, one Sunday afternoon, I received a photo on whatsapp. It was the vineyard in question with about 20 odd sheep feeding in the vineyard and no sign of the newly formed soft shoots – only brown stumps remaining as the vineyard celebrated it’s 64th birthday. Late that Friday night his sheep had broken through the fence and ate everything green in colour. So there went another crop and the farmer got even more despondent.
But he didn’t give up and so, in June 2015, he raised the fence. In early November we covered the whole vineyard in bird nets. Finally, in February 2016 (for the first time in 65 years!) the vineyard survived the onslaught of wild animals roaming the hillsides of Darling and we picked a very small, but healthy, crop.
And this is the result:
Retirement@65 2016 – It is a radical red wine, only 12% in alcohol with this very natural vibe to it, driven by perfume rather than fruit, fresh and drinkable. Far removed from the style the new world is typically known for. The first wine from the block ever making it into bottle in the 65 years of existence. Ironically coming to life at the age of Retirement… Added to the Cinsaut is a little dash of Grenache and Syrah from the same area. And the label: A linocut I made to celebrate the fact that we won and the sheep lost.