Bug Eat Bug

A vineyard, especially at this time of year, is a beautiful sight, green, lush and bursting with life and the promise of grapes to come. As we explained recently, we need to be careful how we manage this natural system, and ideologically-driven methods aren’t necessarily the best. We implement ‘integrated pest management’, in other words, we look carefully at the ecology of the vineyard and the impact that any intervention has on the whole system.

One insect pest that we normally see at low levels in the vineyard, grapevine scale, has become a little more prevalent recently. Recent research undertaken here by a student from ANU suggests that the dry winter may be partly to blame – scale can tolerate frosts much better when its dry than when its wet.

Rather than spraying scale with chemicals that could also harm beneficial insects, we decided to release more beneficials, in this case purchasing ladybeetle larvae and releasing them onto the vines. This appears to have been a great success, the larva rapidly establishing themselves, feeding on immature scale and growing quickly.

However, there was a bit of a surprise as well – normally we don’t have much control of scale by parasitic wasps, but when Dr Paul Cooper, the leader of the ANU research team, came recently to collect some adult scale to infest vines for an experiment, he wasn’t able to find any that hadn’t been parasitised. So in one season we’ve been able to go from higher than normal levels of scale, to having the immature scale consumed by introduced ladybeetles, and the adults killed by parasitic wasps already here.

We’re left wondering if the change that we made to stop spraying elemental sulphur for powdery mildew control has been the factor that has allowed beneficials like the parasitic wasps to thrive just when we needed them. If we were an organic vineyard, we’d still be spraying sulphur and probably still killing the beneficials. Again, we’ll keep watching what happens and assessing everything on its ecological merits: there’s no room for ideology in a healthy vineyard.

Understanding the Vineyard

One of the fascinating things about wine is the people it attracts and the range of emotions it engenders.

For some people, it has to be organic, or even biodynamic, and we can understand where they’re coming from. Wine can be a beautiful product of the land, a sensuous experience that connects us to a time and place where the sun shone, the vines pushed their roots amongst ancient rocks and soil, and expressed it as a glowing liquid, aromatic, delicious and affecting. Naturally we want to know that this arises from care for the land and care for our health, and what could be simpler than to insist that it should be done without man-made chemicals?

The only hitch is that sometimes reality gets in the way. While all good viticulturists use a range of management techniques to reduce the threat of pest and disease, spraying is one of the tools that needs to be used. Organic growers still spray their vines, because after all, a vineyard is a thundering great food resource for something like the powdery mildew fungus. But instead of spraying a man-made chemical to control powdery mildew, they spray a ‘natural’ chemical, elemental sulphur. It’s this distinction between synthetic chemicals and ‘natural’ chemicals that’s the problem. After all, uranium, mercury and lead are all natural elements, but you wouldn’t want to use them where you grow food.

Elemental sulphur is a very good fungicide, with a complex mode of action against powdery mildew, making it hard for the fungus to develop resistance. Unfortunately it’s also a miticide, killing not only harmful mites in the vineyard such as rust mite and bud mite, but also the beneficial mites that normally control the harmful mites. Over a number of seasons at Mount Majura Vineyard, we observed damage to the vine leaves after hot weather, typical of sunburn caused by earlier damage to the leaf surface by rust mites feeding. Last year for the first time, we completely eliminated sulphur from our spray program, replacing it with synthetics that are designed to target just the powdery mildew fungus and tested for minimal activity against beneficials. The result was very encouraging: no rust mite damage, despite very hot summer weather that would usually trigger it.

So we’ll continue using whatever techniques we evaluate to be the most safe and harmless to our vineyard environment, regardless of ideology and simplistic rules. We’re here to nurture the land, and through that make those wines that express its beauty. What works well for one vineyard may be different to what suits another, so remember that the next time someone insists that wine should be organically grown, it might not be that simple, and it’s worth knowing more about who made it and how.

New bud open in chardonnay, our first variety to burst

New bud open in chardonnay, our first variety to burst

Clover in the vineyard helps provide nitrogen for healthy vines and later, healthy natural yeast in the winery. We now rarely use herbicides, instead slashing the sward under the vines, keeping the soil healthy and increasing its organic matter content.

Clover in the vineyard helps provide nitrogen for healthy vines and later, healthy natural yeast in the winery. We now rarely use herbicides, instead slashing the sward under the vines, keeping the soil healthy and increasing its organic matter content.

Viticulturist Leo Quirk moving wires and making final preparations for Spring growth

Viticulturist Leo Quirk moving wires and making final preparations for Spring growth

$16,000 for YouthCare Canberra

Paul Kane, Chair of YouthCARE Canberra, receiving the cheque from Frank van de Loo on behalf of the MMV team.

Paul Kane, Chair of YouthCARE Canberra, receiving the cheque from Frank van de Loo on behalf of the MMV team.

We're very proud to announce that the team here at Mount Majura Vineyard have raised $16,000 for our charity partner, YouthCARE Canberra, through the sale of a special release wine, NINO.

The money will go directly towards outreach services for youth at risk, in an effort to help those facing homelessness and violence.

The NINO project was a great deal of fun -- the wine was different to those we usually make and we learnt a lot from it in a technical sense. But what was even more fun, and taught us more, was forming the partnership with YouthCARE Canberra, and seeing what a difference our contribution could make.

YouthCARE Canberra are out in the street, helping young people who fall through the cracks. They don't get any government funding, and they need help to keep being able to do what they do. We're very proud that partly with our help they're able to continue their great work and have even been able to get another youth care worker on board.

No. 10 Red

No. 10 Red

Being able to hand over the entire proceeds from the sale of NINO was particularly pleasing, and for this we thank our generous sponsors who provided our supplies for free: Spinebill Design designed the label, which Multi Color printed, Grapeworks donated the crown seals and Vinkem Packaging donated the cartons. On top of that Jim Murphy's and Ainslie Cellars stocked and sold the wine without taking a cent. Thank you all!

Naturally we now want to see this become an ongoing partnership, so we've made another special wine, No. 10 Red. The first place to try (and buy) it is at YouthCARE Canberra's Rugby Dinner on August 30, which will be celebrating local rugby great, Steven Larkham.

We named it No.10, in honour of Steven’s playing number. He is a local Canberra boy who has achieved so much. He is a long-term supporter of YouthCARE Canberra and their Rugby Dinner.

If there's any left after that (only 128 six-packs were made) it will be available through this site, or you can order yours now.


2017 Riesling Released

Riesling is one of the most exciting varieties for a whole number of reasons, but one of them is that we can bottle and release it soon after vintage. A quick snapshot and first impression for you of how the season turned out. The vigour and freshness of the new vintage without any gloss or burnish from maturation.

So here is the 2017 Riesling, released in Cellar Door a week ago and already making many friends. We've tasted it in blind lineups once or twice, and we're struggling to suppress our excitement. Mind you, it will mature beautifully too (have a look at our vertical tasting notes).

Riesling has been a very successful variety for us over the last few years, with multiple gold medals and trophies, and some very lofty reviews. Our judgement is that the 2017 is one of the best yet, but of course we'll let you know what others think as the reviews come in. Meanwhile, don't be shy about getting some to try -- we're very confident you won't be disappointed!

It smells great in the winery #V17

The first fruit in for the vintage is always chardonnay and pinot for our sparkling, The Silurian. It's fortunate that its the first in too, when we're still energetic, because there is a lot of manual handling involved. Here you see Monica loading individual picking 'lugs' into the press after the grapes have been chilled overnight.

Vintage 2017 is well past halfway, with 60 tonnes of grapes already in the winery in various stages of fermentation. And it smells great! We've had good yields, and this early stage quality looks very good. We have some very fine and delicate sparkling base made, and some lively racy Pinot Gris filling the winery with lovely fruity aromas. Riesling and Tempranillo are about to start, and Chardonnay is already finished and beginning its maturation in barrel. We've started pressing the first red off skins today, so that adds to the heady aromas.

At this stage, that mainly leaves a bit more Tempranillo, the Shiraz and the late ripening reds -- Mondeuse, Touriga and Graciano -- still to come in. We haven't had too much rain yet, but we would appreciate some dry autumn weather right now!

Cellar Door now open 7 days a week!

We're very pleased to welcome Brooke to the Mount Majura Vineyard team. Brooke has taken over from Kate as Cellar Door Manager, so Brooke will be here from Thursday to Monday.

But Kate is not going anywhere! Kate will now work during the week, so that cellar door will also be open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. So finally, Cellar Door is open every day of the week. No more wondering if we're open today, just come along! Of course, check here first for public holidays, be we're generally open then too.

In other news, vintage 2017 has started, with the picking of some chardonnay for The Silurian yesterday. We're very pleased that the hot weather has moderated, and now we have wonderful ripening conditions.

Pristine hand-picked chardonnay gets chilled overnight before whole-bunch pressing for The Silurian.

Pristine hand-picked chardonnay gets chilled overnight before whole-bunch pressing for The Silurian.

And the Winner is...

Back in November, we announced that one lucky online purchaser of our Gold Medal six pack would win a three-pack of our best Shiraz vintages from the museum. Competition was admirably fierce, but the winner has been drawn. Congratulations to Jim of Griffith ACT.

Have a very merry but safe Christmas everyone, with thanks for your support during the year from everyone here at the Vineyard.

More Riesling Please

A riesling bud grafted into the trunk of a pinot gris vine and just starting to grow. The blue twine is in place ready to train up the new shoot.

A riesling bud grafted into the trunk of a pinot gris vine and just starting to grow. The blue twine is in place ready to train up the new shoot.

Each Spring in the vineyard, we take another small step towards the ideal combination of varieties in our vineyard. What that ideal is exactly, is of course a moving target, but over the years we've seen the planting of more tempranillo and the introduction of new varieties such as touriga nacional and mondeuse. Our overall vineyard area hasn't been increasing, rather this is a re-balancing of the composition of our existing vineyard. Some varieties have been tried and failed (merlot) and some varieties we simply originally planted too much (pinot noir).

Sometimes these changes of variety involve removing the original vines and planting new ones from scratch, but often we do it a quicker way, grafting or 'top working' one variety to another. 'More' and 'Riesling' are two words that are often found together, so this year we're grafting a patch of pinot gris to riesling.

Pinot gris is an important variety for us, and that's not changing, but we have enough of it planted to usually have some grapes left over for sale to other wineries. Riesling on the other hand is one that really excites and frustrates us: exciting because its one of the best wines we make, and frustrating because there's never enough. The 2016 Riesling is likely to sell out in January or February, before the next one is even picked, let alone bottled or released.

The top of the pinot gris vine has been chopped off, and the riesling bud starts to elongate into a new shoot, with a whole mature root system driving it.

The top of the pinot gris vine has been chopped off, and the riesling bud starts to elongate into a new shoot, with a whole mature root system driving it.

So how do you graft one variety to another? In the Winter, Leo took cuttings from our riesling vines and stored them in the fridge. Then in the Spring, our grafting contractor (grafting is an expert job) came and slipped a dormant riesling bud into the trunk of each pinot gris vine. The grafted bud forms a callus, knitting the tissues of the two varieties together, so that the sap from the pinot gris roots can flow to the riesling growing tip. After allowing a couple of weeks for this to take place, we 'chop the heads off' the pinot gris, leaving only a section of bare trunk with that one riesling bud to grow.

This is the moment of truth: either the riesling bud takes off and rapidly makes a new shoot that can be trained onto the growing wire for next season's fruit, or it doesn't 'take' and the vine descends into a mess of pinot gris suckers, desperately trying to keep the vine alive even though it is unwanted. When done well, there are few of these misses to be re-grafted the following year, but its a demanding job, requiring constant attention to maximise success and maximise the growth and re-establishment of the vine as a riesling vine.

So while the 2017 Riesling from the Pines block is likely to be just as limited in supply as the 2016, in 2018 there should be some Riesling from the North block, and the chance to compare the two patches, one from established vines (planted 2000) and one grafted onto established vines (planted 1999).

YouthCare Canberra

In 2016 the Mount Majura Vineyard team came up with an idea to make a charity wine. We wanted to make a difference locally and repay in some small way the fantastic support we receive from everyone who enjoys our wines and helps us continue to do the work we love so much.

While every charity deserves support, we wanted to get behind one where our small contribution could make a big difference. YouthCare Canberra was the choice. We met with Zack, their first case worker who tirelessly works to improve the lives of young Canberrans who have found themselves homeless, escaping violence and abuse.

Later in 2016 we met Richie, Youth Care Canberra’s second case worker, doubling the impact the charity has on the lives of at risk young people in Canberra. Both Zack and Richie provide hope, guidance and counseling to the kids in their care for a few weeks or many months, whatever is necessary to help them get back on their feet and coping with life’s challenges.

Since the beginning of our partnership with Youth Care Canberra every member of the Mount Majura Vineyard team has been touched by their stories and the work they do. We are proud to be able to help in some small way and grateful to know there are people like Zack and Richie out there on the streets looking out for Canberra’s at risk youth.

Noted wine scribe Max Allen wrote about our charity wine in The Australian in September:

‘Nino is the name of a new wine from Mount Majura Vineyard in the Canberra district. It’s a 2016 pet nat — petillant naturel, naturally sparkling wine — made from the juice of pinot gris grapes, and it’s delicious: full of the flavour of white peaches and lemon pith, crisp, refreshing, clean-tasting and more-ish. It was made with no additions at all — wild yeast, no preservatives — and it finished fermentation in the bottle, which means the wine is cloudy, thanks to the presence of the yeast lees (Nino stands for “nothing in, nothing out”). This makes it more delicious, giving the wine a round, caressing texture on the tongue.

‘It’s one of the best locally produced pet nats I’ve tried, but that’s not the only reason it’s worth tracking down. Mount Majura is donating all the proceeds from the sale of the wine to YouthCARE Canberra, an outreach service for young people at risk — and at $25 a bottle with 180 sixpacks made, that’s a fair chunk of useful cash to be raised.’

So not only is NINO a great source of summer refreshment, it's a great feeling to know that you're making a difference at the same time.

Canberra District and Hilltops excel at National Wine Show

Congratulations to our friends Alex McKay of Collector Wines and Celine Rousseau of Chalkers Crossing, dominating the results at the National Wine Show.

Congratulations to our friends Alex McKay of Collector Wines and Celine Rousseau of Chalkers Crossing, dominating the results at the National Wine Show.

Chalkers Crossing 2014 CC2 Shiraz from Hilltops, near Canberra, has won the Len Evens Memorial Trophy for wine of show (and three other trophies) at the National Wine Show. This followed the success of the same wine at the Sydney show and others. Its a beautiful wine, thoroughly deserving these results.

But the wine that was runner up for the Shiraz trophy was our very own 2015 Shiraz, which won the top gold medal in the 2015 Shiraz class, against 88 other shiraz wines from around Australia.

One of the other most prestigious trophies at the show, the Red Wine of Provenance trophy, was won by Collector Wines for their 2015, 2009 and 2005 Marked Tree Shiraz.

Altogether, these are stunning results for Hilltops and Canberra District, dominating the shiraz classes at the National Wine Show. As others have said before, we're seeing the rise and rise of cool-climate shiraz in Australia.


2015 Shiraz Released

Gold Medal six pack

Gold Medal six pack

Being one of our best varieties, from one of our best-ever vintages, the 2015 Shiraz was always going to be a wine worth waiting for. Rarely have we been able to release a wine with three gold medals already to its name, and yet this is a wine that is still to show its best. It would certainly be a worthy addition to the cellar. (Edit: the 2015 Shiraz has just won top gold in the 2015 Shiraz class at the National Wine Show).

Win three of our best Shiraz selected from the museum collection

Win three of our best Shiraz selected from the museum collection

Not only has the Shiraz been successful: rarely have we had such a set of highly-awarded wines on release at the same time. With six of our range currently sporting one or more gold medals, not to mention a few trophies, the obvious thing was to put together a Gold Medal six-pack. This includes one bottle each of our 2016 Riesling, 2015 Chardonnay, 2015 Noble Pinot Gris, 2015 TSG, 2015 Shiraz and 2015 Tempranillo.

To make this even more appealing, if you buy this six-pack online before Christmas (or while stocks last) you'll go into the draw to win a three-pack of our best Shiraz vintages (2004, 2007, 2012) from our museum collection.

Seeking Cellar Door Manager...

Many of you will know Kate, who has been our lovely Cellar Door Manager for the last five years. The good news is that Kate is not going anywhere, but as we grow, Kate is taking on some new challenges at Mount Majura Vineyard. So that means we're looking for a great new person to join the team and take over the Cellar Door Manager role.

Perhaps you're interested, or perhaps you know someone else who may be? In either case, we would love to get some applications. There are more details on the Employment page.

What’s happening in the Vineyard with all this rain?

Leo Quirk, Viticulturist

Leo Quirk, Viticulturist

Graciano inflorescences pre-flowering

Graciano inflorescences pre-flowering

That is question that everyone is asking when they look at the current weather pattern. So to answer this question let me give a few numbers and then explain how this is affecting us at Mount Majura Vineyard.

We have had approximately 710mm of rain in 2016 compared to 510 mm this time last year. This is 200mm more that last year. You can also compare this to our average rainfall for Canberra of 562mm (for this time of year) so we are well above the average.

Just like everything we do at Mount Majura Vineyard, it’s all about timing. So the rainfall through the Winter and Spring was most welcomed as it filled our soil moisture profile and gave our grapevines the best chance to grow strongly and develop healthy canopies.

However the rainfall through the spring, combined with very mild temperatures, has lead to less then expected canopy growth. This has produced less then expected disease pressure.

So in summary, the rain has not caused us too much worry. We expect that as the season warms up we will see the vines really start to stretch out adding a lot more vegetative growth to the grapevine canopy.

It is business as usual. We are currently training young vines up to the cordon wire, monitoring for pests and disease, doing our initial bunch counts to forecast the coming yield and keeping on top of the grasses throughout the vineyard.

Vintage in Germany 2016

Our Assistant Winemaker, Monica, has returned from Germany where she completed vintage at Reh Kendermann Winery in Rheinhessen. Rheinhessen is the largest winegrowing region in Germany, and whilst they produce the country’s flagship variety, Riesling, Monica also worked with other varietals including Muller-Thurgau, Silvaner, Scheurebe, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Dornfelder (a red hybrid developed specifically for the German climate).

Having very different growing conditions to what we’re used to in Australia, German vineyards are constantly striving to achieve ripeness before the pressure of disease sets in. The Riesling vines stand proud and tall, with little canopy protecting the naked bunches, to ensure maximum sunlight exposure. Quite different to our Pines Block where we manage the canopy to protect the bunches from sunburn, especially on the western side. Most German producers make a range of wines from sweet to dry. Monica was intrigued to learn that a wine with less than 7g/L of residual sugar was considered dry! As the fruit has very high natural acidity, even a little bit of sweetness helps to round out the palate on wines, without losing the minerality and drive of a German Riesling. Monica’s love for Riesling has only increased during her time in Germany and her only complaint is that we don’t have enough of it at Mount Majura!

Monica also visited a number of other regions and smaller producers in Germany, tasting as she went. We all benefited from a special bottle she brought back and shared at our staff tasting yesterday!

Mount Majura Vineyard Two Peaks Trail Race

Mount Majura Vineyard has been hosting the start/finish of this Mountain Run for about ten years, and each year is just as much fun as the last. The competitors perform incredible feats of speed and endurance, covering either 26km or 10km over Mt Majura and Mt Ainslie. This year's course was even more challenging than usual due to temporary closure of Majura Pines.

Very efficiently organised by John Harding of the Australian Mountain Running Association, the whole event is very laid-back. The runners all have great smiles on their faces, and all finishers receive a bottle of wine. At the finish line! It's our pleasure to hand this out as well as providing three-packs of our finest as prizes for the winners.

Congratulations to all finishers, but especially to the winners, Alan Craigie, Jane Gordon, David Osmond and Marnie Shaw. The results are posted at the AMRA website.

Riesling Challenge Trophy

Riesling is one of the best varieties in the Canberra District and one of our great favourites. It is fair to say that making excellent Riesling is one of the greatest challenges and most rewarding results for our team, both in the vineyard and in the winery.

Not surprisingly then, winemaker Frank van de Loo was very excited and proud to receive another trophy at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge, for best Riesling of the Canberra District, for the 2016 Riesling. The same trophy had been won for the 2014 Riesling (which also won the trophy for the best dry Riesling of show).

2016 ActewAGL Canberra and Region Wine Show

Judging began for the local Canberra show on Monday the 19th with results being announced on Friday 23rd September. There was a number of local (including our very own, Kate) and interstate judges, led by this year’s chairman of judges, Sebastian Crowther the head sommelier of the Rockpool Group.

Mr Crowther said while Canberra's signature varietals, shiraz and riesling, still shone at the judging, there had been a lift in the quality of other varietals such as chardonnay and pinot noir.

"I think one of the most exciting classes at the show is the alternative red varieties, these are like not the mainstream grape – your gamays, grenache, tempranillo. It's a catch-all category that has all these really delicious, really interesting stylistic wines in them which are very exciting."

We are particularly thrilled with the performance of our alternative varieties, tempranillo, graciano, and touriga, all of which scored silver or gold medals, while our Tempranillo landed the Trophy for Best Other Red!

With chardonnay, shiraz and our noble pinot gris also scoring gold medals, there are plenty of reasons to come and try the wines the judges loved so much! Aside from the 2015 shiraz, all of the wines listed below are currently available for tasting and sale at the cellar door, or if you can't make it to us, you can always find them in our online store. Don't forget, all online orders are freight free and there's no minimum order quantity.

Gold & Best Other Red Trophy – 2015 Tempranillo

Gold – 2015 TSG

Gold - 2015 Shiraz currently looking to be released later in the year, 2014 available

Gold – 2015 Chardonnay

Gold – 2015 Noble Pinot Gris

Silver - 2015 Graciano, 2015 Touriga, 2015 Little Dam Tempranillo & 2015 Dry Spur Tempranillo single sites Tempranillo's will be released on the 8th of October

Sunlight into wine... and power

Solar arrays facing East in the morning...

Solar arrays facing East in the morning...

And facing West in the afternoon, maximising energy generation throughout the day.

And facing West in the afternoon, maximising energy generation throughout the day.

Everyone loves sunshine, especially a winemaker thinking of Galileo's famous quote 'Wine is sunlight, held together by water'. But we have new reasons to value the sun, with the development of a large solar farm in our bottom paddock. As some of our least vineyard-suitable land, it was not being well utilised, but is now the site of Mount Majura Solar Farm, capable of generating up to a nominal 2.3 MW of power into the electricity grid.

The solar farm  has 7,340 panels , mounted on ‘self-powered’ single-axis tracking technology that maximises the sunlight intercepted. The tracking devices can improve a PV system’s output by up to 40% over a fixed-tilt system. The 'NEXTracker SPT' units have up to 120 degrees of rotation – allowing them to follow the sun as it moves east to west through the sky.

The solar farm will contribute to the ACT’s 100% renewable energy target, providing 4,500 MWh/year, or the equivalent amount of energy to power 615 Canberra homes. Two important steps remain in completion of the project. Installation of solar panels in a separate system on the winery roof will allow much of the winery's energy needs to be met sustainably. And landscaping around the solar farm will help screen it and maintain the rural character of our beautiful Majura Valley.

A second stage to the solar farm project could see an additional 1MW of capacity added as Australia's largest community-owned solar project. See Solar Share's website for more information.