The vineyard was established in 1997 with 5 short rows planted in a 2 x 2 metre spacing. These vines where trained up to a cordon wire 2.3 metre high to provide a nice shady canopy under which we can plant ourselves on a chair and enjoy the view from a shady spot. By 1999 we had expanded plantings to 2 Ha. The first few years were difficult as water for irrigation was in short supply and weed control required a great deal of manual digging out and vine-row mulching. I manage our vineyard with safe organic horticultural practices using minimal sprays of wettable sulfur and copper hydroxide. Fortunately the weather here does not cause a serious mildew problem and with regular monitoring of the vineyard we can apply our sprays sparingly.
To control weeds we have cultivated the vine inter-rows and sown a mixture of plants including rye-corn, oats, green feast peas, strawberry clover and ‘Blockout’ (a mixture of fesque and rye grasses). When slashed down in late spring to early summer the rye corn provides plentiful mulch on the vine row which reduces soil moisture loss and encourages worms and microbial growth in the soil. The fesque and rye grass was introduced early on and provides a permanent cover throughout the year and only requires mowing occasionally.
By late January 2002 a reasonable crop was just starting veraison and looking like producing our first commercial harvest. Unfortunately due to a fast burning grass fire early in February we lost almost every grape and suffered an enormous set back. All the irrigation lines were melted and looked like twisted licorice they had to be replaced ASAP so we could maintain water to the vine roots. About 80% of the vines were scorched and lost all of their foliage from the radiant heat. Many vines were cut right back to two buds at pruning which meant retraining and tying up (a chore that I find monotonous). The original five rows suffered the most as they were heavily mulched with horse manure and sawdust from our horse stables, the sawdust smouldered for ages and charred most of these plants close to the ground.
Now more than 16 years later on and after plenty of remedial work one would hardly know that the fire had happened. In March 2004 we harvested a fair crop making three hogsheads of terrific wine. In 2005 and 2006 about 2.5 tonnes was harvested and produced 5 hogsheads, the quality just gets better and better. Subsequent vintages have produced excellent fruit and I am particularly impressed with the 2010, please read my tasting notes on the 2010 Shiraz including our first single vineyard release with our new label ‘Ton Up’ Shiraz.
The original five rows have only half the number of vines remaining which have grown extremely well. It’s been amazing to watch them grow back from tiny buds, they looked totally ruined in 2003 and only grew slowly, I really didn’t have much hope for them after the fire, but when you see them now they have performed strongly and it’s a nice spot to seek shade.
The first 5 rows adjacent to the driveway were planted to Merlot (which have never really performed well), over the years the little amount of fruit that we did harvest has been blended into the Black Label Shiraz. Last August I cut most off at ground level and have ordered Riesling rootlings to be planted in November 2019.
From the 2014 fantastic vintage I made a very special barrel of Shiraz produced from selected vines in 6 special rows, released under the Blue Label. A serious Shiraz destined to be a Clayfield Classic! This vintage sold out quickly but don’t despair the 2017 is not far away.