A Return to Order
I like to have lunch with my friend and old Professor from my University days twice a month. I asked him to propose a toast as we raised our glasses – “A Return to Order” was his response. Someone once told me that in order to be a Professor you have to have something to profess. As it turns out this One is still going strong. Calming and auspicious words after what has been a rather rude start to the year here at Iona.
I don't want to dwell on the January fires which were vicious, came from multiple fronts and were probably the most savage ever defended in the Elgin Valley. The fires are long since out and we were miraculously unscathed compared to some of our less fortunate friends in other wine growing regions who were also ravaged by vicious fires. But the aftermath left us tired and emotional, questioning many things; tempers seem to have been shorter than usual during harvest which is full of fun and games at the best of times. It was not a usual season.
A Lesson in Diversity
Record Keeping proved to be exactly that – Records which one Keeps – definitely not a guide, much less a hand book of rules which we could consult in terms of when and what to pick. When or what to irrigate. Yields were significantly different from farm to farm, up in some blocks and down in others. Having three different properties in the Elgin Valley was a lesson in diversity within a ten km radius which we have always known to exist, but never experienced to this extreme. Warmer and a lot drier than usual earlier in the season, yet not without the disease pressure which one would have hoped for.
Picking dates amongst varietals bore little resemblance to previous years with some Chardonnay being picked after Sauvignon Blanc. We found ourselves scratching our heads over many a juice analysis. Low alcohol conversions but also very varied levels of acidity. The jury is still out as to whether or not there will be any smoke taint in any of our tanks from the few vineyards that were exposed to smoke, the majority of the wines have completed fermentation and don't show any taint. All I can say is that no smoke tainted wine will go into Iona wines.
On that perplexing and exhausting note, one has no option but to gently attempt to restore order, whatever that might be. So we watch our wines more carefully than ever this year. Werner has out worried any mother with a new-born in keeping vigil on his wines this year and quite frankly looks like he needs a good night's sleep and a day off to ride his bicycle. No nodding off in the Garden of Gethsemane for this disciple over the Easter break.
We question why we still continue with this endeavour and what it is that we really love about our work here. We also take time to affirm what it is that we believe in and what is meaningful. The wine industry is so full of hype, smoke and mirrors and general nonsense as well as the seemingly relentless pursuit on the part of wine commentators and consumers to find something new, clever and different that it does well to remind oneself that this is not a circus act, and to focus on what it is that keeps one committed to producing the wine that we make.
A Valley called Elgin
I am an ordinary person with an enormous pull to the land and for me Nature will always be the Boss. So we can hop up and down on one foot, charm and entertain consumers and journalists, perform all the clever marketing tricks that we know, but when all these other games are played out, the heart, and the only constant, of our wines and of this business for me, still lies in the soils in which they are grown and the air that they breathe. This Elgin valley wherein lie our Iona, Langrug, and Brocha vineyards. No matter how old-fashioned sense of place and farming practices and vineyard ownership will become, especially for us in the New World who don't have Old World historical advantage to rely on, I realise that place and practice are the cornerstone of my interest and my belief in what it takes to grow great and consistent wine, and are ultimately what provide me with a sense of constant, coupled with the ritual of farming which create an order that I can understand and believe in, and which in turn mesmerise and challenge me to dig deeper
Having said all that, I am fortunate to have stellar people working with me who do, however, have the ability to connect with people, forge genuine relationships with consumers and customers who in turn show enormous goodwill towards us and our wines, and who know how to position Iona wines in the right sort of places and sell out each year, so it is really only because of Andrew, Elzette, Jacqui, Juliette, Karin, Karen and Charmaine that I am not in the Poor House!
As always it take the whole "village" up here to put wine in a bottle and to all our staff my heartfelt thanks. This year we had an additional labourer, Nik, aka Andrew's grandson from New Zealand who has spent the past three months with us doing everything from picking grapes to being a cellar hand to conducting tastings, scraping Andrew's new car, getting bossed around by everyone, to doing deliveries. He came with the added skill of being a superb cook who actually knew where the kitchen sink was located. And thank you to all those producers out there, who shared their passion with him, gave him tastings, tours and left him much inspired. Happy days for us.
So wishing you all well and hoping the rest of the year passes with less drama and that we do indeed return to order ...