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Day 57 of Clare Valley Vintage: The final curtain

Published:  23 July, 2008

G'day Folks. The concept of wild yeast is one of the great wine industry oxymorons.

My vintage is officially over after pressing the last of my reds today. Can you see me smiling? A little out of left field this year I embarked on producing a Grenache for KT and The Falcon.

I've always been rather critical of Grenache from Clare so for totally self indulgent reasons, I decided to set myself the challenge of producing something to inspire. Feeling rather despondent about this old swarthy beast over the years, I agreed (with myself) to undertake the opposite of all past Grenache winemaking decisions. This was going to be exciting - the fact that my past experiences have not been particularly successful also meant I had little to lose.

Drawing upon my wine world experiences I wanted to pursue a more savoury and textural style as compared to the syrupy block busters that Australia is renowned for. Part of my strategy was to surrender to the natural world and let the ferment take control of its own destiny. I like to think that this was mainly due to the benefits gained from building a greater textural layer to the wine, but of course by me relinquishing control, also meant that I had something else to blame. This was a totally hands off approach.

Often as winemakers we have the propensity to want to interfere in everything. What I've learnt this year is that some parcels of grapes know exactly where they're headed and as their custodians we need to stand back and support them steering themselves.

With the natural yeast taking control, my Grenache was on skins for three and a half weeks. Over this time, there was a slow and steady drop in sugar level, with a deliciously savoury backbone of tannin building. The wine is not at all what I would consider a normal Aussie Grenache. It's lifted with violets and cherries and shows a silkiness in the middle palate that builds with every sip. It's an elegant wine that may not knock your socks off but it has drinkability and juiciness and is layered with masses of brooding personality.

At any other time, I'm sure I would have panicked when the sugar wasn't dropping as quickly as standard practice. I perhaps would have built up some packet yeast to throw in and took back control. I would've chucked a tantrum, cursed a lot and needed something strong to calm my precarious vintage pressured nerves. Just the thought of it is embarrassing.

Those of us who embrace them in our winemaking will know that there's not a great deal wild about them. In fact they're rather chilled out and in the chaos that's been vintage 2008 - that's some of the calming influence I've needed.

What initially seems like a rollercoaster ride, soon becomes very stable. There's a kind of calmness in surrendering control. When you've made the leap of faith and found confidence in your direction, there seems to be an invincibility to it all. You and your babies in the natural world just seem to work well together. It's wild really.

Kerri Thompson is winemaker/director of KT & The Falcon