Vintage 2018… good, bad or ugly?

With vintage 2018 well and truly behind us, it’s time to take a look at how regions across Australia and in particular, the Adelaide Hills have fared this year.  I might even drop a few hints on which 2018 wines you should add to your cellar (wine fridge, spare room wardrobe, kitchen cupboard…).

The big picture…

2018 was a pretty good year!

Growing conditions across most of the country were favourable, with disease pressure low. And that is because it has been so dry.

The Bureau of Meteorology reports that the January to April period was the seventh-driest on record for south-eastern Australia! And total rainfall for Southern Australia was the third lowest on record for April. That probably explains why it seemed like we were endlessly watering our gardens this year!


2018 was one of the shortest vintages on record in Tasmania, but nonetheless, yields were at or above average. The quality of 2018 whites are set to be genuinely outstanding – particularly Riesling and Chardonnay.

New South Wales

The first region to kick off the 2018 Vintage in Australia was the Hunter Valley – picking started in early January. The dry growing period resulted in high-quality grapes, with Chardonnay, Verdelho, Semillion and Shiraz the varieties to look out for.

Western Australia

Western Australia had an exceptional vintage. Good rainfall during spring and early summer and an extended period of sunny but cool weather through February, March and April. The result was optimum ripening conditions with very low disease pressures.


Quality of grapes was excellent but a wet December caused some yield losses in parts of the state due to downy mildew. While vintage looked like being early, fruit ripening slowed towards the end with harvest extending out until mid to late April.

South Australia

According to the Wine Grape Council of South Australia warm, dry weather produced exceptional grapes with intense colours and flavours, across all regions. Go SA!

The whole state seems to have produced great quality grapes with limited disease and great ripening. It’s definitely a year to invest in some South Australian wine!

And the Adelaide Hills specifically?

Hamilton Viticulture provides the region with a comprehensive season review as a part of CropWatch SA. Here is an overview of this vintage’s review:

Despite extremes in weather during the vintage 2018 growing season, the final stages of both flavour development and sugar ripening combined to result in wines that will reflect the advantages of growing grapes in the Adelaide Hills.

Dry conditions in June 2017 threatened depleted soil moisture levels, not seen since the drought conditions experienced in the late 2000’s. However, welcome rains in July corrected this deficit which was fortunate as the growing season rainfall was only 69.1% of the Long-Term Average.

Bud-burst was late for the vintage 2018 season, almost as late as recorded in the wet and cold conditions in the unusually late vintage 2017. However, soil temperatures rose steadily resulting in an even bud-burst, although shoot growth was significantly slower than usual. For the second consecutive season, the fruit zone was compact and shaded, and it was not until the second week of November that the rate of shoot growth returned to normal. Fortunately, from a disease viewpoint, rainfall was below average and most vineyards reported minimal disease pressure.

Fruit set throughout the region was average to above average. Canopies developed to be as large as vintage 2016 with full capacity to ripen crop loads.  January, February and April were the warmest recorded in the last eight seasons. Fortunately, a cooler than average March enabled ideal night temperatures for colour and flavour development. A long slow ripening, particularly for red varieties, resulted in wines that will be remembered for their depth of flavour and colour.

In other words… get yourself some fabulous vintage 2018 Adelaide Hills wines!!


Fifty vintages and still going strong…

Vintage 2018 was just one in a long history of vintages for Rob – this year marks fifty of them in total!

Next week I will be interviewing Rob and providing you with an insight into the highs and lows or fifty years of winemaking.

What would you ask if you were me?

Post your questions in the comments and I’ll ask for you!

A complex task for a simple organism

… and no! I am NOT talking about Rob!

It’s time for the yeast to do some of the hard work. While we’re all busy satisfying our sweet tooth over this Easter long weekend, the yeast cells are doing the same!

The role of yeast in fermentation…

Primary fermentation is the conversion of the sugar in the grape juice to alcohol and carbon dioxide by specifically selected yeast. The strain of yeast selected by the winemaker based on both on its ability to conduct the fermentation efficiently and also on the sensory features they add to the wine. For example, some yeasts produce compounds which add to the fruity and estery characters of the wine, while others are more neutral, allowing greater expression of varietal characters.

At the peak of fermentation there will be around 100 million yeast cells in one ml of the fermenting liquid!

(Source: Australian Wine – from the vine to the glass, P. Iland & P. Gago)

Temperature is also an important aspect of the fermentation process. The optimum temperature depends on wine variety, style, speed of fermentation, type of yeast, etc. etc. Let’s look at this in more detail in a future blog post.

The strain Rob chooses is nice and clean, reliably ferments all the sugar and almost always creates those attractive estery aromas.

Sauvignon and Fumé Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc fermentOur Sauvignon Blanc is about 70% through fermentation and is fabulously aromatic.

The Fumé Blanc portion has been split off with some nice “fluffy” (a technical term!)  lees and put to barrel. The lees addition will set it apart from the other Sauvignon Blanc by giving it extra weight and body.

How does Rob know that a fermentation is “70% of the way through”?

You may remember when we talked about Baumé in this post, I mentioned there were two applications for this measurement. Given that Baumé is the measure of the amount of sugar in the juice, then we can use it here to determine how much of that sugar still remains. The idea is that when fermentation in “complete” then there is 0 sugar (or close to) left in the resulting liquid (or wine).


Chardonnay fermentIt is still very early days for the Chardonnay. You may remember that the Chardonnay started out cloudy like this – and yet last week if appeared crystal clear and golden! The grape solids had settled to the bottom, rendering it lovely and bright. Now it’s cloudy again – not because of grape solids this time, but because it is now chock full of yeast cells.

Fermentation has been progressing slowly, but it has lovely clean full aromas.

Rob is very happy with it so far (as is Heather!).

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir Rosé is about halfway through fermentation and is ticking along nicely. The colour is lovely and pale (just the way Rob likes it). Although at this early stage, the aromas are quite subdued, they will start to lift closer to the end of fermentation.

Pinot Noir fermentPinot Noir fermentPinot Noir for our dry red was “pressed” on Monday and the free-run wine and pressings have been blended together. It was then transferred into barrel where the last bit of sugar is now fermenting away quietly. Rob thinks it looks terrific!

Free-run is the liquid part of the ferment. The remaining skins and berries are then pressed to release any additional juice. Sometimes these two components are kept separate (depending on the type of wine you’re aiming to produce) as the pressing liquid has more tannin and astringency.

Rob always puts the pressings back with the free run, as he likes the weight and “mouthfeel” it provides and the tannins help protect the wine’s colour. Sometimes winemakers keep the free run and the pressings separate, especially if they’re trying to make a simple wine that’s going to be released for early consumption.

Want to see it in real life?

Purchase tickets now to our April event: 

Meet Somerled’s Newest Wines: Rob Moody and the entertaining Hugh Armstrong pair up again, bringing you so much knowledge and behind the scenes secrets when it comes to winemaking. They’ll pour these in-process Somerled wines to hold up against our current vintages and – as always – will pour a special wine for you at the end with commentary from Rob! All presented with a sumptuous platter luncheon including Manchego, terrine, pate, crusty French loaves, locally churned butter and all manner of sides. $65pp includes luncheon, book here.

April 8, 11:30-1pm, seated event.

It’s All So Quiet …

Everybody’s been holding onto the edge of their seats all vintage.

Everybody that is, besides Rob! It’s his 50th vintage – nothing to see here!

2am starts, 2am finishes, midnight call-outs, checking Baumes around the clock, no sparkling, extra-stunning rose, sauvignon blanc in, chardonnay in, pinot noir in, destemming, crushing, pressing and now …

Shh ..!  A week of quiet.

What have our ‘wines’ (juices) been up to in their tanks?

Well, you may remember that this was what our sauvignon blanc looked like one week ago:

And this is what it looks like now!

Whoah how did that happen?

Why, it did it all by itself!

We chilled the sauvignon blanc juice right down (you can see how cold it is in the photograph) to ensure that it doesn’t start fermenting on its own and mess up the balance of flavours. Since then, gravity has allowed the solid material to sink to the bottom of the tank which is fantastic.

Solids in the juice give to the wine a coarseness and bitterness that needless to say Rob does not want, so for delicate wines like the sauvignon blanc, it’s critical to get them out of the way as soon as possible. We can then easily rack the wine (carefully pump it off the solids and into the fermenter). Next we warm up the clear juice ready to add the yeast for primary fermentation.

Indeed we’re adding the yeast to this clean, clear juice right now! In 10-12 days it will be our new, fresh, Somerled 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, complete with the beautiful aromas and green tints that Rob saw the very minute the fruit was pressed!

Want to see it in real life?

Purchase tickets now to our April event: 

Meet Somerled’s Newest Wines: Rob Moody and the entertaining Hugh Armstrong pair up again, bringing you so much knowledge and behind the scenes secrets when it comes to winemaking. They’ll pour these in-process Somerled wines to hold up against our current vintages and – as always – will pour a special wine for you at the end with commentary from Rob! All presented with a sumptuous platter luncheon including Manchego, terrine, pate, crusty French loaves, locally churned butter and all manner of sides. $65pp includes luncheon, book here.

April 8, 11:30-1pm, seated event.

What are our other newbies up to?

Chardonnay 2018 is on its way! Our chardonnays always differ so much in colour from the sauvignon blancs. Take a look! This shot was taken by Rob (holding the glass) a matter of hours ago. Instead of bright green tints, we have mellow golden hues. You can also see how the solids have sunk to the bottom in the chardonnay as well – great work, chardonnay juice!

As soon as Rob started describing its “lovely rich, buttery juice” he had everyone ready to pour a glass then and there! Why wait for it to become wine? (In related news, Heather has reported that she is thus far satisfied with Rob’s work on her favourite variety).

If you were to taste this juice right now, it’d be quite a bit sweeter than the sauvignon blanc because the chardonnay is picked at a higher sugar level (Baume) to create a slightly richer wine. Yeast is being added to this clean juice as we speak and it should come in around 12.7% alc/vol – as opposed to around 11.5% for the sauvignon blanc.

Pinot Heaven

And how about this pinot noir – do you recognise it? And the masterful hand that’s filling the glass? This is Rob just last night, after lifting the cap on the pinot noir 2018 fermenter. Here is what a 3-day old pinot noir looks like:

It’s not exactly comparable in texture to our fermenting white wines is it? A tad ‘chunkier’ perhaps?

We start fermenting the reds on their skins so that the juice can extract the required colour, flavour and tannin from them. The carbon dioxide produced by the fermentation has lifted the skins to the surface – it’s maybe 150mm thick. The juice underneath will probably be removed Monday, as we’ll have extracted all the colour and flavour we want, and it will have had its fill of nice tannin by then. It is at this stage that many may keep the juice with the skins longer, but we prefer to keep our pinot noir distinctly delicate.

We’re all pretty smug about the wines this vintage (what is it about pride coming before a fall? Should we settle down?).

But we always get excited about creating a whole new family of wines each year for you to eventually place on your dinner table, share with those closest to you (only those who deserve Somerled) and to warm your soul.

Thanks for being nice to me while Maree’s away … cheers for now! Lucy

The vintage 2018 story continues…

So, last week I suggested that Rob’s most hectic day of vintage was behind him. I’m not going to say that I jinxed him, but perhaps that prediction was a little premature!

Sauvignon Blanc in the vineyard at Summertown in the Adelaide Hills
A beautiful Adelaide Hills morning in the Sauvignon Blanc just before picking

Another big day for Rob…

Our sauvignon blanc grapes were hand-picked last Friday and Rob was very happy with the fruit. Although it was a very warm day, after a few hours in the cold room, they had cooled down and were loaded into the press at about 5.45am Saturday morning – of course, Rob was at the winery to oversee this. Who needs sleep?!

Why do the grapes need to be cool before they go into the press? The fermentation needs to be slow. So, if the grapes start out warm then the ferment goes too quickly, and it won’t develop the flavours Rob is looking for.

Sauvignon Blanc juice from the press The press


Freshly pressed sauvignon blanc juiceThe Baumé was lowish (11.2) and that is exactly how Rob wants it. The juice is perfect with lovely aromas and flavours, and such an attractive green tint. All up 3000 litres of juice came out of the grapes. This will be used for both the 2018 Somerled Sauvignon Blanc and the Fumé Blanc (in quantities yet to be determined by the winemaker!).

Since then the juice has been chilling while all of the solids from the grapes are settling to the bottom. This leaves 90% of the juice nice and clear. It will then be “racked” off the lees, yeast will be added, and it will be wine in a couple of weeks. Easy right??!!

The last of the Adelaide Hills fruit makes it to the winery…

Chardonnay grapes

This week sees the last of our fruit from the Adelaide Hills being harvested.  This is happening as I type at Kim Anderson’s vineyard in Charleston. It started this morning (Friday) at around 2:00am.  Chardonnay is first (see picture), followed by Pinot Noir for dry red.

The chardonnay was at 12.2 Baumé a couple of days ago. It should be ideal by the time it gets to the winery (Rob likes it to be around 12.5). The pinot was tested at 13.8 Baumé. This is as high as Rob would like to see it go… the colour and flavour look terrific.

Both these varieties are machine harvested. While machines are definitely faster, they aren’t as gentle as human hands, so some of the berries may be inadvertently crushed during the picking process. This is something you want to avoid with sparkling and sauvignon blanc. However, with Rob’s chardonnay and pinot, a bit of skin contact with the juice is no disadvantage. It was a nice chilly night here in the Hills last night, so perfect conditions for picking.

Also, because it has been machine harvested, the Chardonnay will need to be destemmed and pumped straight into the press.

The Pinot Noir will be put through the crusher/destemmer and pumped to a little open fermenter, where yeast will be added. It will ferment away in contact with the skins for around a week. Don’t forget that all the colour is in the skins, so this gives maximum opportunity to extract all the colour and also tannins into the fermenting juice.

Pressing versus crushing – what’s the difference? When making white wine, the fruit is usually pressed before primary fermentation. This is a gentle process which minimises the amount of skin contact with the juice. For red wines though, the grapes are first crushed to maximise the amount of skin contact (for colour and flavour) and pressed after fermentation to squeeze out the remainder of the juice and remove the skins and seeds, etc. Of course, there are many ways to make red and white wines, so you will see variations on these processes depending on the style.

All of Rob’s hard work has, quite frankly, worn me out… so, I’m off for a week of R&R with the family. But never fear! Your guest blogger, Lucy will be taking the reigns next week. Go easy on her!

Gelati Party!

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something to do on Sunday 25th March you should plan a trip to Hahndorf and our Gelati Party! It’s “Crush Take 2” (with, fingers crossed, much cooler weather this time) where Somerled, Scott & La Prova Wines and Hersey Vineyard will be joining forces on the lawn (behind the Scott cellar door at 102 Main Street, Hahndorf) for a celebration of cool jazz music, delicious dude food, amazing wine and, of course, Gelati!

I mean, why wouldn’t you be there?


What a week!

Rob has been a VERY busy boy this week with Vintage 2018 AND bottling of a number of our wines starting all at the same time. Let’s just say, he has definitely earned a glass (or two) or something this week!

Let’s start with what has been happening on the bottling line…

Last week we transferred 2015 Shiraz, 2017 Pinot Noir (dry red), 2017 Fume Blanc and 2017 Chardonnay to Boutique Bottlers in Stockwell in the Barossa.  Boutique Bottlers is a great, small (as the name suggests) bottling operation run by Kym Burgemeister and his family.  We use them because they do everything really well and given that bottling is about the last point at which something can go dreadfully wrong with a wine, it’s reassuring to know that Kym and the team are looking after it all.

However, that doesn’t mean that Rob puts his feet up and lets them take care of the bottling process. Nothing could be further from the truth! His day started at 8am yesterday when he went to check that the wine arrived safely and to ensure that there hasn’t been a mix up with any of the wines. He also checks that the carbon dioxide and dissolved oxygen levels are within specification. Despite all the care and attention, it’s a rather nerve-wracking time for Rob… it’s for this reason that he always leaves the wine for a week or two before tasting it after bottling.  And there’s no doubt that the wine does change due to all the handling prior to and during bottling… but then it settles down and usually looks better after a while than it did before it was bottled.

Have a look at this little video of our Fume Blanc on the bottling line…

Fume Blanc Bottling Line Video

Oxygen can have a significant impact on wine style. Low oxygen levels typically lead to wines displaying elevated fresh fruit attributes, an absence of developed characters, and a tendency to form undesirable reduced characters. On the other hand, too much oxygen can lead to subdued fresh fruit characters, the development of stewed and cooked fruit along with other developed attributes, the absence of reduced characters and the early onset of undesirable oxidised attributes.

Oxygen’s impact is so dramatic that the same wine exposed to slightly different oxygen levels at and after bottling can result in completely distinct wines.

Controlling oxygen levels at bottling is also important because oxygen can cause the onset of wine faults and also determines wine shelf life.

(Australian Wine Research Institute, AWRI)

So, all of the wines were bottled yesterday except for the Shiraz. Why? Because we were sent the wrong bottles! See why it’s important for Rob to triple check everything? The correct bottles should be arriving tomorrow, so the Shiraz will go “down the line” (a bit of technical talk for you there, you may borrow it if you wish!) then.  But, there is a silver lining to every cloud…  as Rob didn’t need to stay on to oversee the bottling of the Shiraz, this gave him just enough time to zip home to Hahndorf to get ready to join his lovely wife, Heather at the one and only Adelaide Festival show they had booked for this year (of course it HAD to coincide with the busiest week in the winery!). Phew!

“Awwww”… I hear you all say, “what a lovely end to a hectic day”. Well, as it turns out, it wasn’t the end of the day for Rob. After the show, he got a call from the winery to let him know that the pinot noir for Sparkling had been pressed. So, off to the winery, he goes…

The beginning of vintage 2018…

If you’ve tried Rob’s wines, then you don’t need me to tell you that he’s pretty picky about the styles of wine he makes. This means that he needs to be very picky about the fruit he uses. While Rob has great relationships with growers of all the fruits which goes into the productions of Somerled wines, he has never locked himself into any contracts with these growers. And our first story of vintage 2018 is a perfect example of why he doesn’t.

By the time the pinot was picked and pressed, the Baumé (take a look at last week’s post for a review of what this is and why it’s important) was slightly higher than Rob would like it to be. These things happen. So, instead of compromising and producing a style of Sparkling wine that just isn’t Somerled, Rob has agreed to take only half of the 4 tonnes of fruit that was picked and to use this instead, for our Rosé. And what a beautiful Rosé it’s going to be!

Disappointingly, we’re going to miss out on a 2018 vintage of the sparkling, BUT, never fear… we have healthy stocks of other vintages which will see us through.

It’s now 2am and Rob can finally put, what we hope will be the busiest day of vintage 2018, behind him. But, in this unpredictable business, who knows? You’ll just have to keep reading to find out…!

And so it begins…

Vintage 2018 that is! Even though a few wineries in the region have seen the first fruit picked and into the press this week, we still have at least a couple of weeks to wait. Rob sources the grapes for his wines (except the Shiraz) from some of the highest vineyards in the Hills… it’s for this reason that it takes a little longer for vintage to be well and truly underway for Somerled.

Early veraison in pinot noir grapes at Paul Henschke's vineyardThat said, there is still plenty happening…

At Paul Henschke’s vineyard in Summertown, where Rob will get the Pinot Noir for our Sparkling and Rosé, we’re only just seeing the first signs of veraison in some of the younger vines (see photo). At this stage it won’t be picked until the second week of March.

Things are a little more advanced in Charleston at Kim Anderson’s vineyard. Veraison is close to 100% in the Sauvignon Blanc (this will be used for the Fumé as well), the Chardonnay is at around 50% and Pinot Noir (for our dry red) is somewhere between the two… in short, lots and lots of fully coloured berries, but low in sugar and high in acid. Still a little way to go, although Kim will do the sugar level test on samples of the fruit on Monday next week.

For a recap on what veraison is, visit our post here.

Even though we’ve had some hideously hot weather of late, the nights have been nice and cool (down to 5 degrees some nights!)… this is a bonus for grape flavour and wine quality as it minimises the overall stress on the vine.

Another positive for this vineyard is that it’s looking really healthy. How do we know? Well, there are a couple of telltale sign of a healthy vineyard…

Pest free – There is no sign of Light Brown Apple Moth or scale insects

Insect pests are luckily quite uncommon in Australian vineyards but the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM) caterpillar, a native, can feed on the young berries, leaving scars for bunch rot fungi to enter the fruit.

Scale insects are sap suckers which also produce a honey dew which is the favourite food of sooty moulds, damaging the fruit.

Beneficial insects – There are really high populations of beneficial insects such as the Trichogramma wasps, lacewings, ladybirds etc.

Beneficial insects are the species which prey on the pest species eg LBAM and scale, keeping the pest numbers below the damaging levels.

Disease free – The vineyard is free from powdery mildew.

Grapevine powdery mildew, caused by the fungus Erysiphe necator, is a common fungal disease which can render the vine leaves dysfunctional. It slows photosynthesis and it reduces yield and quality of grapes and the resulting wines.

The canes and leaves of the vine (collectively termed the ‘canopy’) also give us an indication of overall health. Ideally the shoots have stopped elongating by this stage. However the youngest leaves must remain green and active so that the energy is directed towards moving sugars and all the lovely flavour precursor compounds towards the fruit which form the basis for what we’ll be tasting in the finished product. The older leaves have done their work by now and it’s ok to see a few of these yellow; after all they did emerge back in September!

We need your help!

We are very close to launching a new initiative for our friends who don’t live in Adelaide or who are unable to visit us at the Cellar Bar when we run special events.

How would you like to be involved in tastings run by Rob and special guests from the comfort of your own home, surrounded by your friends and family (or on your own if you ‘re like me and don’t like sharing!) and some delicious wines?

Sounds too good to be true right? Wrong!

Our first “Virtual tasting” will be available to you very soon, but in the meantime, we’d like you to have a think about what topics you’d like to see pop up throughout the year. Would you like to see a comparative look at Shiraz across different regions? What about a vertical Chardonnay tasting?

We’d love to hear your suggestions… so please leave us a comment below.

And for any suggestion which becomes a tasting, we’ll dedicate it to you! That’s right… It will be forever known as the “John Smith Somerled Shiraz vs Penfolds Grange comparative tasting”! PS. This particular tasting may cost you a little extra…