Viticulture is our passion. We are vignerons first and foremost; growers of grapes to be made into wine. Our winemaking is a continuation of the work we put into vine-tending. Long before the first ferment begins, the potential quality of the wine has already been determined…by the decisions we made in the vineyard.
Perhaps the single most important decision we make in the vineyard relates to pruning and in particular; how many buds (and therefore potential bunches) do we leave per vine? While the figure varies with site, soil and variety, we generally err on the side of less buds. The equation runs something like this:
Less Buds = Less Bunches = Less Crop = Greater Intensity
In reality, this is only part of the story. Lithostylis Winemaker Dean Roberts, put’s it this way;
“It’s not enough to have a small crop per vine, it’s important that it’s a small crop as early as possible. Cutting off half the crop one month from harvest doesn’t have as great an effect as limiting the potential crop load at pruning. Hard-pruned vines produce a more intense and earlier ripening crop, as the vine has been channelling reserves from day one.”
This is why Lithostylis favours close vine spacings and unilateral cane pruning, particularily with Pinot Noir. Dean goes on to say;
“Underpinning all management practices is a desire to produce a naturally balanced, intensely flavoured crop at low-moderate potential alcohols. We favour practices which bring ripening forward to avoid the potential disasters caused by South Gippsland’s naturally high Autumn rainfall.”
Currently Lithostylis is lowering the fruiting wire height in its Pinot Noir vineyard in an attempt to heat up the vine microclimate without direct exposure from the sun, which is normally associated with leaf-plucking. Dean explains the thinking;
“Basically the red soils here are a vast radiator of the sun’s heat. The closer the fruit is to this radiator, the warmer it is and therefore the more rapid are it’s physiological processes. The key is that we can utilise this heat without the scorching direct UV rays of the sun. We still pluck leaves, but we pluck earlier and can afford to let the leaves grow back over the fruit in mid-summer when the temperature can hit 40°C.”
The end result says Dean, is earlier ripeness and better aroma retention.
“We also hedge our vines lower than what is considered normal in Australia, at about ninety centimetres. This limits the increase in sugar levels during late ripening, so that flavour ripeness develops at a comparable or faster rate. The challenge in Australia is to achieve flavour intensity and ripeness without the high alcohol levels associated with late-picked fruit”.
Hard pruning, low-training and low-hedging. Nothing new. The Burgundians have been growing vines this way for generations.