First things first, I want to address the elephant in the room – smoke taint.
Whilst the unprecedented bushfires across NSW earlier this year did not directly impact any vineyards in the Hunter, it is true that many vineyards were impacted by the smoke that drifted into the Valley from the west.
Most winemakers in the Hunter (myself included) went to extraordinary lengths with pre-harvest micro-fermentations and submitting grape samples to the Australian Wine Research Institute for smoke taint panel analysis. Clearly, we needed to do our due diligence to make informed decisions on which vineyards were clear and which proposed too much of a risk to even consider harvesting.
From all the data that we as a region collected, it became evident that the physical location of each vineyard within the region dictated the level of potential issues associated with smoke. In particular, many of the vineyards out at Broke that were surrounded by fire were most highly impacted, and those vineyards tucked in closer the Brokenback range within central and southern Pokolbin were also impacted, albeit to a lesser degree. It seems the smoke tended to ‘hug’ the range at its thickest, and those vineyards further away were impacted by a much lesser or to no extent at all.
The downside of this (the bad news) is that I did have to make the difficult decision to walk away from some of our favourite vineyards this year, both Semillon and Shiraz. As a result, my production this year is down by about 60% of what we would normally expect to bring in. Of course, the ongoing drought conditions had an influence on this also. The flip side (good news) is that the small volume of fruit I did pick this year was excellent, as are the resultant wines I have made from them.