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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.

Trousseau comes to the Swan Valley.

Trousseau comes to the Swan Valley.

This is a story about Trousseau. When I started in 1998 in the Swan Valley Western Australia, my organic vineyard was not established. I wanted to purchase grapes from good Swan Valley growers.

I was introduced to Bill Vinicombe who’s family owned the old Socol property on the eastern side of the railway line in Herne Hill.

Trousseau in the Swan Valley
Trousseau in the Swan Valley

Bill had three vineyards, one on the red bank along the Swan River, another in Herne Hill beside the highway and the rest east of the railway. On Great Northern Highway the block contained Muscat a petits grains rouge, pedro ximenez and a few alternate varieties. Bill called one “black riesling”.

Bill was so fond of the variety that he grafted a row of cabernet savignon over to this unknown variety on his home block beside the Swan River.

Over the years several knowledgeable persons had looked at this variety regarding identification. At one stage petit verdot and petit merceau we discussed, however the grape matured to high baume and much earlier than cabernet sauvignon. These were discounted.

Further identification in 2007 with the leaves and fruit  matched against the pictures and description in the book ,” Wine Grape Varieties” by Kerridge and Antecliff I identified this as Bastardo.

Winemaking

In 2005 Bill gave me half a tonne of grapes to process into wine. The wine was made in a French style, ie minimal intervention, natural yeasts, fermented warm on solids and matured in an old barrique for 6 months prior to bottling. Most was sold in 2006 at cellar door under the label LEDASWAN 2005 Petite Verdot.

Later in 2012 a young French winemaker Kevin Mazier came to experience a Swan Valley vintage with Harris Organic Wines. He brought with him two bottles, one of which was a bottle of Cotes du Jura, Domaine des Ronces, 2010 Trousseau.

Upon opening, I was intrigued to note that this was a wine that I had seen before. I remarked that it was like the variety bastardo I had seen in 2005. Luckily there were two bottles of the 2005 left in my cellar to taste against the younger 2010 bottle.

Then Kevin confirmed that even with age difference, these two wines were made of the same variety.

References

There are numerous references to the variety bastardo and trousseau being similar varieties. Robinson, Jancis (2006). The Oxford Companion to Wine, third edition. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198609902 mentions  ampelographer Comte A Odart.

Wikipedia sates:

Bastardo (Trousseau Noir, Trousseau) is an old variety of red wine grape. It is grown in small amounts in many parts of Western Europe; most famously it is used in Portuguese port wine. It makes deep cherry red wines with high alcohol and flavours of red berry fruits.

Why would it be Trousseau?

Many years a go there was a French man in the Swan Valley who’s name was Joseph Millard. He  lived in Guildford, he would ride his horse to the vineyard each day and ride home again. He had a vineyard of many varieties. Some of these were brought directly from France when customs clearance was not an issue.   To be continued.

Bastardo – Swan Valley

Bastardo comes to the Valley of the Black Swan

What is Bastardo and Trousseau and why is it in the Swan Valley?

As you may recall, I was investigating the origins of a wine grape varietal called Bastardo found in the Swan Valley. I discovered a cache of a grape referred to locally as Black Riesling. Having identified the variety as Bastardo, I decided to make some Rose’ with it. It sold out quite quickly. I gave the mystery little thought thereafter, being preoccupied with establishing my organic vineyard and winery.

The variety Bastardo is not only Spanish for bastard, it is also an Italian Town in the Perugia province. Bastardo is a baseball player (Antonio Bastardo) for the Philadelphia Phillies, an Ibiza artist, and a music single by Charlotte Hatherley.

Bastardo Swan Valley
Bastardo Swan Valley

Jura, France

Then, in 2012 a young French winemaker named Kevin Mazier came to stay with us. He came to complete an Australian winemaking internship.
Kevin wanted to include Bio or Organic winemaking in this experience. Kevin’s family are viticulturalists and winemakers in the Jura, in the north east of France. Kevin brought with him two bottles of wine. One of these bottles was a Cote du Jura, Domaine des Ronces, 2010 Trousseau, a lovely red wine similar to a light dry Shiraz!

The region of Jura, by the way borders France and Switzerland.  Jura gave its name to the Jurassic period of prehistory. Upon tasting,  I was transported to the making of the red wine Bastardo vintage I had made. I had a very strong feeling that I had tasted this wine variety before!

Fortunately, there were two bottles of the red 2005 “Petit Verdot” wine still left in my cellar. Upon tasting, young Kevin agreed that despite the age difference, it was doubtless that the French Trousseau and the Swan Valley Bastardo were indeed the same variety. Further, this was confirmed upon research when I discovered that indeed, Trousseau Noir (Trousseau or Bastardo) is an old variety grown in small amounts in many parts of Western Europe. This includes the winemaking region of Jura.

In Australia a small amount of Bastardo is grown under the name Gros Cabernet; so the must thickens. This variety is also famously used to make Portuguese port red wine. So, how did the French Bastardo come to be in Bill Vinicombe’s little vineyard in the antipodean valley of the Black Swans?

Where from here

Mr. John Kosovich OBE a friend and neighbour and another Valley vigneron who was born and grew up in the Swan Valley commented. He said that in the early to mid 20th century there was a French Canadian man who owned a vineyard in the Swan Valley. Joseph Millars was his name and he apparently resided at Margaret Street, Midland Junction.

His vineyard was about 40 rows and possibly just 5 acres, containing nonetheless over 20 unknown grape varieties. I myself have 5 acres under vine and grow 8 varieties in my organic vineyard, so it is not especially unusual.  Mr Joseph Millar’s story is not known.  It may never be known from where this gentleman procured the cuttings for the Trousseau or Bastardo. If this vine could speak, what stories it could tell!

Organic Wine in the West

Organic Wine in the West

By Louise FitzRoy; “We’ve created a niche and people come to us for that niche.” Harris Organic Wine in Western Australia is the only certified organic distiller in Australia making brandy and vodka for the national and Asian markets. Owner Duncan Harris says, “We sell a lot of wine and spirits online and have just started exporting our certified organic brandy and organic vodka that was released in 2010 to Asia.” read more about our organic wine blog.

Organic wine maker
Organic winemaker in the Swan Valley

“It is proving extremely popular with Asian countries and here in Australia. Our spirit is used in making the only Australian fortified organic wines, which are winning medals at the Swan Valley Wine Show. We were producing spirit for our fortified organic wines, so thought we’d make the most of it. Vodka has the same spirit base used to fortify our ports.

Selling Direct

“All our sales into Asia are done with online sales. No intermediary; no wholesalers. We ship direct, door-to-door, with no import duty for Hong Kong.” In 1998 Duncan Harris bought a property in the Swan Valley – the oldest wine region in Western Australia and about 30 kilometres from Perth – and started establishing an organic vineyard. Their first vintage was in 1999 using Swan Valley grapes from a neighbouring dry grown vineyard.

Duncan says, “Most of our handmade produce is sold at the cellar door, which opened in 2000, besides one bottle shop in Perth. We prefer to sell “cellar door” as we are able to give seated tastings, build a relationship with our customers. This develops our brand. We don’t need to worry about competing against other organic wineries in established wine states in Australia.” “We have no desire to sell interstate because the wholesalers want 30 per cent markup.

This means we would have to make twice as much wine for the same income. “We are looking for more markets in Western Australia however. Some years ago we sent out a survey asking our customers where they would prefer to buy our wine. People asked us to supply bottle shops in the city.  We asked a few stores about their range of customers and whether they would like to stock our organic product and most were not interested. This has been disappointing considering how close we are to Perth. “I’d also like to target more overseas markets, but you have to consider whether the effort of doing so is worth it.

Overseas markets

Duncan would like to sell his wine to an organic, all-natural wine bar in New York or Paris, but with the continual trips required – not to mention the import and export permits that are necessary – you’d spend a whole year doing it and may not even end up selling any wine. You would need to be there several times a year to service the customers, the wholesalers and the importer. Personally, he would prefer to be at home driving the tractor.”

According to Duncan, there are only about 10 organic wineries in Western Australia. “We are the only certified organic winery in the Perth area. We became certified with Australian Certified Organic in 2006. There’s a big enough market for more than one of us, however, not many wineries want to venture into the organic industry. It starts with the vineyard. There are only a few viticulturists that have the energy and passion to get out and dig weeds and walk vineyards day after day.”

The environment, social aspects, customs and economics are four important elements of Duncan’s sustainability plan. “I built an underground cellar for naturally cooler storage temperatures and we bottle our wine in recyclable glass and cork. We use very small amounts of electricity in producing a litre of wine. This is low compared with the average usage for most other wineries in Australia. We also use low amounts of preservatives and additives.”

Pricing

Being an organic producer in a state well known for producing high quality wines has not influenced Duncan’s price point.  I add up the production costs plus margin, but being organic doesn’t mean that I need to raise the price point. My wine is competitive with other high quality wine in the country. He says the business’s online presence,  continues to be very important to its growth and viability.  This includes being on Facebook and Twitter. This is where people look for answers and this is how many of our customers have found us. You’ve got to be on line, otherwise you’ll miss out.

Chemicals

People in general are not aware of the herbicide, pesticide and chemical fertiliser residues found in wines. More marketing of the differences and health benefits will increase the awareness and the demand for organic wine.”

Events

It’s not unusual for Duncan to host the occasional ‘Brandy evening’ at the winery. This gives him the opportunity to educate people about his products, enabling guests to ask questions about organic viticulture. “To make a supply chain work, it’s like building a brick wall. Do it one brick at a time.” Harris Organic Wines is the only certified organic winery and vineyard in Perth’s Swan Valley.

“We believe that the organic wine movement is a world-wide trend because smart consumers are demanding to know exactly what is going into their foods. It represents a social backlash against corporate monopolies who are fundamentally only interested in extending shelf life and profits, rather than human life and ecological sustainability. We say: think biological welfare – not warfare… it is the way of the future.

Wine Fermenting on Solids

Organic Wine Fermenting on Solids – blog

Fermenting on Solids

  “Secrets of fermenting on solids” by Australian Wine Research Institute  (AWRI).
Duncan Harris at Harris Organic Wines  ferments his white wines on “solids”, while most Australian winemakers ferment off solids, what does this mean? read on.
organic grapes
Preying mantis after organic grapes

Fermenting white grape

organic grapes fermenting on solids
organic grapes

Grape juices containing high levels of grape solids can result in increased hydrogen sulfide production during primary fermentation. However, excessively clarifying juices may result in fermentation difficulties. Attenuated or stuck primary fermentations resulting in elevated levels of volatile acidity may occur.

Text books

Well says wine making text 101. While there is a lot to be said about wine making 101. For Winemaking 101, previous work by the (AWRI)  has revealed that fermenting on grape solids also results in significantly more polysaccharides in white wines.  This is due to more than extensive skin contact, using pressings, and even more than  partially fermenting white juice on skins. Higher levels of polysaccharides are thought to positively contribute to white wine mouth-feel. Polysaccharides also enhance both protein and cold stability resulting in less bentonite fining and lower refrigeration costs.
While juices will naturally clarify under the action of gravity given time. Commercial vintage logistics dictate that the settling process be achieved as quickly as possible.
“We never say we have plenty of time, it’s vintage”.  We don’t say this.  Adding pectolytic enzymes achieved fast clarification.  Adding enzymes, which within minutes, ‘mulch down’ the juice polysaccharides that inhibit settling.  This hastens clarification. Alternatively, settling grape juice can be sped up by adding bentonite as its charged surface helps to agglomerate grape solids into heavy particles which precipitate more easily.
Meanwhile, the AWRI investigated the effect of different types of juice clarification (natural settling, enzyme and bentonite assisted settling) on the macro-molecular composition of white wine.
Clarification  methods and the time taken to achieve various levels of clarity are being investigated. Polysaccharide, protein and phenolic composition levels are also being investigated by AWRI. For more information about fermentation of our wines, please contact me by email in the first instance.