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Vintage 24′ blog

Vintage is underway at TarraWarra Estate, with the first grapes being hand picked on February 9th from our South Block (Chardonnay) and ‘N’ block (Pinot Noir). For our vineyard team, this marks the culmination of many months of hard work that began with pruning in June. For our winemaking team, things are really just beginning, as they enter a period of intense demand and they bring the 2024 wines to life. During this time, both the vineyard and winery teams lean on each other to deliver the best possible wines – it’s all hands at the wheel so that no detail is missed and every opportunity to maximise quality is taken.
So what might a typical day during harvest look like for our people?

The vineyard team are onsite at daybreak to prepare for the day’s pick. Our bird nets are removed and depending on the day, up to 50 pickers will assemble for instruction. We pick all of our fruit by hand, in the cool of the morning because this is more gentle and results in wines of greater quality and definition. 

As the fruit begins to be collected, one of our senior staff will inspect each bucket and remove bunches not deemed perfect. This is often Stu Sissins our Vineyard Manager or it could be our Viticulturist Chris Beard; Tillie Johnstone our Gembrook Vineyard Supervisor will also jump in as needed. Either way, our most experienced people ensure only the best product ends up in the winery.

Meanwhile, the winery team are setting up for the day’s fruit processing. There is a lot of specialist equipment that is fastidiously cleaned and prepared. They only get one chance to handle each batch of fruit so things are checked and rechecked to ensure nothing gets missed.

Head winemaker, Sarah Fagan will be checking fermentations, tasting samples and making decisions about the handling of each parcel of fruit. These are fast, real-time decisions that rely on years of experience and confidence. Each fermentation needs to be carefully managed by Sarah and her team. 

By mid-morning our most important work begins – vineyard observations and sampling. This is how we determine which grapes get picked when. Getting the timing right requires a delicate blend of science and art. Grape samples are taken the previous day which gives the team some hard science around the sugar level of the grapes (measured in Baume) and the pH, which gives an indication to the relative acidity of the berries. These numbers will give them a ‘hit list’ of blocks to inspect more carefully as they near maturation.

Sarah Fagan, Stu Sissins, Chris Beard, George the Jack Russell and Ned the Kelpie pile into the ute for a closer look at the vineyard. George sits on Stu’s lap and tries to climb out the window and Ned runs like a greyhound behind the ute, barely working up a sweat.  Once in a block they will each taste an assortment of different berries straight off the vines. What flavours can they taste? Are they underipe/ripe/overipe? How is the acid level? Do they like the profile of tannins within the skins? Data such as Baume and pH can indicate ripeness but it can never replace the human element of analysing flavours and assessing tannin (phenolic) ripeness. Great wine is possible when art and science coalesce.

This tasting will prompt a discussion amongst the vines. How is the vine canopy looking, can it sustain the crop for a few more days? What is the weather forecast? Do they need to beat a heat wave or big rain event. If it’s not ready to be picked tomorrow, when might the perfect day be?  Ultimately, Sarah has the final decision but this collaboration and sharing of ideas is central to how Tarrawarra produces quality wines. Collectively, there is over 60 years of experience between those three and 66 if you include the dogs!

Once back at the winery the decisions go onto the planning board and tomorrow’s pick starts to take shape. At the end of the day the team will look over the board and final discussions will be made having a cold beer. The dogs are usually asleep on the floor and tomorrow, we do it all again.  

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We are thrilled to announce that the incredibly talented Yarra Valley winemaker Sarah Fagan will commence as the Tarrawarra Estate Winemaker on Monday 11th September.

Sarah brings twenty years of winemaking experience and a love for our beautiful region from a long and loyal tenure at De Bortoli Yarra Valley, where she joined as a casual vintage worker in 2003 and progressed through the ranks to her most recent role as Senior Winemaker.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my journey at De Bortoli and I am proud of the wines we have made over my time of working with their vineyards. TarraWarra Estate has always carved its own independent path here in the Yarra Valley and I look forward to continuing this tradition and embracing change and the development of TarraWarra Estate into the future”, says Sarah.

Tarrawarra Estate, was founded by Eva and Marc Besen in 1983 and the family philosophy has always been rooted in respect for excellence, provenance, and sustainability, with the vision to ‘produce wines of great quality and integrity, amidst a location of beauty and welcome.’

Sarah will be responsible for all aspects of Tarrawarra Estate winemaking and winery operations. As an experienced wine judge, with a refined palate and particular appreciation for cool-climate winemaking from regions all over the world, she is perfectly placed to deliver on the philosophy and drive Tarrawarra Estate’s wines to a new level of success and recognition.

Samantha Isherwood, General Manager, says:
“We are absolutely delighted that Sarah has chosen the Tarrawarra Estate role as the opportunity to spread her wings, we welcome her to the production team and look forward to seeing her personal stamp on future Tarrawarra Estate vintages.”