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Growing Pedro Ximenez in the Swan Valley

 Growing Pedro Ximenez in the Swan Valley

Pedro Ximenez grapes grow readily in the Swan Valley in Western Australia. Pedro Ximenez is a white wine grape best known for the sweet sherries of Spain.  Pedro Ximenez comes to the fore as a fortified wine either as a Sherry style, or as a fortified single-variety wine known as Pedro Ximenez (PX).

Here are made the great sweet dessert wines of the world. Once called sherry in Australia, and now called by its varietal name as the Europeans own the name Sherry.

We have 300 Pedro Ximenez vines planted in our organic vineyard. Situated at the top of the Swan Valley, 29 km from Perth, Western Australia is the organic vineyard and winery. This 3 ha of land is the only certified organic in Perth.

The vines cover an area of 1890 square metres. They were planted in 2002 as part of our efforts to continue making our great unfortified and preservative free dessert wines. However the clone of our Pedro Ximénez is unknown and here they are grown on their own roots and do well.

The vines are planted with 2.1 m spacing. The rows are 3.0m apart. The vines are trained to the wire at 900mm high, and are rod pruned to 6 buds per rod. The vines are trained on VSP trellis to 1.8m above the ground.

During spring the vines are sprayed with wettable sulphur after rain and bordeaux mixture before any rain events.

The vines are continually maintained with summer pruning. After fruit set the vines are leaf plucked on the south side so that fruit thinning can be performed at veraison.

To reach the highest sugar levels the un-irrigated vines are only allowed to have one bunch of fruit per shoot. This leaves 6-8 bunches per vine and approximately two kilogrammes per vine at 25 Be’.

Site characteristics

Pedro Ximenez is grown at an elevation of just 19m above sea level. Situated 30km from the Indian Ocean, the vineyard is flat, as is the surrounding Swan Valley land. The Pedro Ximenez vines are planted east-west direction in soil that comprises a duplex sandy loam over clay. In January, the site experiences a mean maximum temperature of 33.2°C and a mean minimum temperature of 17°C. The average annual rainfall over the last 10 years has been 650mm dominated by 140mm averages for June and July. The site doesn’t experience frosts while winds are predominantly south-west in the afternoon, with some easterly gales in spring and autumn.

Trellising and canopy management

The row and vine spacing of the Pedro Ximénez is 3m x 2.1, respectively, and is trellised to a five-wire Vertical Shoot Position (VSP). We practise leaf plucking on the south side of the vines, trimming around Christmas time, shoot thinning, shoot-positioning when putting the wires up in November and bunch thinning to carry the fruit through to 25Be.

Irrigation and soil management

The Pedro Ximenez vines are unirrigated. Between rows, we grow lupins, vetch and a mixture of wild radish, soursobs and capeweed to increase soil carbon and nitrogen. Strip digging and ploughing the vine rows in spring produces a dry earth mulch. This helps to conserve soil moisture and help manage weed growth.  Wood chip compost is spread out along the vine inter-rows to act as a fertiliser in autumn.

Pest and disease management

Pedro Ximenez is more susceptible to downy mildew than the other varieties grown here. To reduce its susceptibility, we prune the vines late in the season so that budburst is up to two weeks later than the other varieties. Budburst this year occurred on 10 October.

Pruning

We hand spur-pruned the Pedro Ximénez to two-bud spurs as recommended by the Handbook of Horticulture and Viticulture of Western Australia, first published by Adrien Despiessis in 1895. ( When my own 1921 second edition of the handbook by the Western Australian Department of Agriculture started to fall apart, I undertook the task of re-printing this wonderful book on behalf of others as well as myself in 2007). We have the intent of producing a small amount of PX fruit at 25Be for a PX sherry liqueur. After 5 years of spur pruning I have changed the pruning method to cane pruning. This reduces the amount of time required for hand thinning of the shoots during Spring.

Future methods of management

Changing from a four-wire to a five-wire trellis helped reduce hedging time, and increase the verticality of the shoots and changing from spurs to canes, to reduce shoot thinning hand work.

Harvesting

At veraison all excess fruit is removed leaving only one bunch per shoot, i.e., about 12 bunches per vine. A typical analysis of our Pedro Ximénez at harvest: Sugar (Baumé) 25, Acidity (TA) very low with a pH of about 4.0.
We harvest less than a tonne of Pedro Ximénez per year.
Average phenological timing:
Budburst early October
Flowering November
Fruit set December
Veraison late January
Harvest usually about 1st April, sometimes can stretch out to May

Winemaking

Pedro Ximénez fermentation  is carried out on its skins for a few Beame’ before pressing. The fermented juice is returned to tank, prior to fortification. Once fortified with certified organic neutral brandy spirit it is racked and allowed to settle for a few weeks before racking to barriques. Ours is an organic fortified version, fortified with certified organic brandy from the only organic distillery in Australia. Matured for many years  in our underground cellar, the Pedro Ximénez is packaged in 375ml bottles.

Biggest challenge in producing Pedro Ximenez

None really, it’s a matter of learning more about the variety and the terrior as the vines become more mature, although it does require a lot of hand work, particularly fruit thinning to improve flavour and ripeness.

Advice to other growers

For best results, the more hand work the better.  Love your vineyard and the vines will perform for you.

Crown thinning Pedro Ximenez
Crown thinning Pedro Ximenez
Autumn Pedro Ximenez
Autumn Pedro Ximenez.