The 2017 vintage season at Passel Estate can be summed up as supremely challenging yet ultimately rewarding. We held our nerve, risking all by waiting for the ‘Indian Summer’ at the end of a long and difficult season, and were rewarded with tannin ripeness and the retention of the most beautiful fruit perfumes at relatively low sugar levels. Our winemaker Bruce Dukes predicts “2017 will become known for fragrance and softness.”
Viticulturalist Andy Ferreira reckons “2017 proved to be the most challenging vintage in 20 years.” The season ended three weeks later than the average harvest time of the past 5 years. Spring was slow and cool, Summer was moderate with no heat spikes, and wet weather persisted throughout March. Thankfully April dried up and we were blessed with the ‘Indian Summer’ that had evaded us in previous years.
The vines produced an unusually high number of bunches in Spring and bunch sizes were looking to be about 50% larger than average. These conditions were a direct result of the extended time between fruit set and veraison, when the berries are going through cell division. This unusual situation was recognised by Andy and his team in late November and an action plan was quickly put into place to counter excessive crop loads.
Fruit removal started in early December on red and white varietals to get crop loads back to optimum tonnages for fruit quality. This is a very manual task and had to be repeated several times owing to the ever increasing bunch sizes. Care was always taken to keep individual bunches well separated so that they could dry more quickly under wet conditions. Leaf plucking and lateral shoot removal was also undertaken for the red varietals to ensure favourable sun exposure.
With the wet weather experienced in March, the decision was made to remove our bird netting to minimise the risks of humidity in the bunch zone. This was a nerve-racking time and we naturally started to worry about crop damage from birds.
According to Andy “it was a case of sitting on the edge of disaster and excellence”. The region was seeing great flavour development and good tannin structure at much lower sugar levels compared with past vintages, owing to the extended hang time. Yet, with disease running rampant in some pockets of the district, the challenge was to hold your nerve as long as possible.
We’re pleased to say that at Passel Estate we held our nerve; we kept pushing out the harvest dates to see what more we could extract from the welcome April sunshine. Thankfully, the hard work that we put into the vineyard early in the season rewarded us well. The lovely healthy hand-harvested Shiraz bunches pictured here are testament to this. These will form the basis of our new “Lot 71 Reserve Syrah”.
Our vibrant purple red wines are now maturing in French oak, along with our Chardonnay, while our aromatic new Sauvignon Blanc is not far off bottling. Time will tell but Bruce is smiling when he describes the 2017 Passel Estate wines – “these are going to be elegant wines, characterised by verve, texture and personality!”