By Fergal Gleeson
Vintage is the most important time of year for winemakers. It’s the finale of one year’s work when armies of backpackers descend on the region to help to pick grapes and start the process of turning fruit into wine.
Note the interview was conducted prior to the Covid 19 outbreak reflecting a typical vintage not the 2020 vintage but gives you a flavour for better times!
Firstly I caught up with Ben Cane, Winemaker at Cape Mentelle one of the region’s founding and most famous wineries.
“The town is alive!” Ben tells me “it’s a veritable Benneton ad of nationalities coming to have fun and experience the surf and winemaking culture. There are bands, live music festivals, parties with DJs on the beach and in the forests. There’s a great excitement at the impending harvest.”
“At Cape Mentelle we have French, Italians, Argentinians, Germans and British to name a few. The pickers can be from anywhere: Europeans, Asians, Kiwis, Americans, South Americans, Canadians, Tongans and pacific islanders.”
Ben is from Sydney originally but has recently returned to Australia after working in Sonoma, California for twelve years. I asked him to compare vintage in California versus Margaret River.
“The Cape Mentelle winery is set up very much like a US winery with lots of great winemaking toys like berry sorters, fancy destemmers and the soft low impact pumps. We also use small buckets to pick into to prevent juicing of fruit. This is all very similar to the US.”
“On the other hand we have vines on their own roots and clones that are unique to Western Australia such as gin gin Chardonnay and Houghtons Cabernet. We have roos eating fruit that need to be kept out of vineyards compared to pigs and foxes in other areas.”
“In Margaret River netting is required to keep birds out- they use boom guns elsewhere! We also have to be careful in preventing gum leaves from getting in to picking bins.” He notes that Western Australia has avoided major bushfires this year, though California also suffers.
Despite the fact that Cape Mentelle is now 50 years old they are still continuing to evolve and improve each vintage with trials in the vineyard and winery. Such is the pursuit of excellence in fine winemaking.
Cape Mentelle are picking across a broader range of ripeness to get more complexity into the wines and trying some new winery techniques for separating lees from clear juice for better quality.
Vintage is famously stressful and intense for winemakers. I ask Ben how he gets through it. “Make sure you rest, hydrate and sleep loads.”
But Ben is a social beast so catching a beer, a silent disco or a music festival are all part of his tonic!
“Have fun, it’s not surgery, we are making wine!” Ben laughs.
More at http://www.capementelle.com.au
Thanks to Aquabumps for photography
From Your Margaret River Region Magazine