Ripe for the Picking – Cape Mentelle

Ben Cane, Winemaker at Cape Mentelle

By Fergal Gleeson

Ben Cane, Winemaker at Cape Mentelle, loves vintage time. “Harvest is the culmination of 12 months of work and the start of the wine’s life. There is a certain energy especially at sunrise. You are up early and out late.”

“The decision of when to pick is the single biggest style decision for the wine. We hand pick the majority of our fruit and bring the grapes to the winery in guilded gloves!”

Ben is Australian and spent many years making wines in Sonoma, California but he couldn’t resist the offer to join Cape Mentelle, one of Margaret River’s most iconic wineries.

Given the timing of the pick is so critical to the finished wine how does Cape Mentelle decide when to harvest?

“Our Technical Director Frederique Perrin says ‘The grapes tell you when they’re ready!’ They have a clear and present voice. They virtually shout to you,” Ben jokes.

“You’re not just looking at numbers,” Ben tells me. “At Cape Mentelle we taste as a panel with the viticulturist, the winemakers and the Technical Director.”

“We look at physiological ripeness such as the seed colour, the pulp’s firmness, the skin ripeness. The absence of greenness is the start of the window and then you are thinking about the style you are after. Richness versus leanness?”


“During the winemaking process we taste the juice every day to see if the juice has tannin and structure for reds. We are looking to preserve freshness and vivacity for whites. Our size allows us to leave the reds to ferment for up to 110 days to develop tannins and to pick the moment of when to press the grapes.”

Cape Mentelle is owned by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH). Being part of LVMH gives Cape Mentelle access to some incredible research and technology.

They use a scanner, which is mounted on a vehicle, called Physiocap which maps the whole vineyard capturing statistics on the density and vigour of each individual vine.

“This was originally used in the Champagne region,” Ben tells me “where the soils are poor and the slopes are steep so there is a lot of variability in the vines. Using vine vigour, soil mapping and drones we are able to understand the vineyard better.”

“In some ways, the technology echoes old world winemaking like in Burgundy where the winemaker will know each vine and each vine is treated individually.”

For some of Cape Mentelle’s older vines the yield is as low as one bottle per vine so you can see why the detailed analysis is valuable.

Not only is there bespoke management of each vine but for the flagship Cape Mentelle Cabernet they typically do 8-10 passes through the vineyard to pick the grapes at their best. Having recently returned from California, Ben can see that Margaret River Cabernet is significantly under-priced compared to Napa Valley’s.

This is something that Australian wine drinkers can feel pretty happy about!

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From Your Margaret River Region Magazine


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