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Day 21 of Clare Valley Vintage - The old vs the new

Published:  23 July, 2008

G'day Folks. If my memory serves me correctly, the last vintage I was dragging hoses around in such a fashion was around 1998 and so ten years on I gotta tell you my body is asking a few questions.

As someone who is doing a damn fine impersonation of a cellarhand I would've struggled to employ in a former life, I'm beginning to believe the experts when they told me that my vintage 1973 was perhaps not one for the long haul. I'm exhausted.

After realising I was suffering from a minor case of cabin fever on the weekend, I took meself and me trusty Ma off to see Rod Stewart in concert on Sunday night. It got me thinking about mixing the old and the new. In the right blend that's a force to be reckoned with.

I remember when I was studying winemaking as a young whipper snapper and I was ready to take on the world and change everything. My Grandfather Jim told me to ensure that I learnt as much as possible about the history and pedigree of a business to make the informed decisions to ensure a stronger future. Like all great wines, it's about finding the best balance.

I had a wonderful chat today with Robert Crabtree one of the great characters of the Clare Valley when we were turning the Shiraz ferment. Talking about Rod's great stage performance that connected all generations, lead Robert and I to discuss marketing demographics, winemaking techniques and wine style fashions. I learnt about the old hand cranked wooden basket press and where it was purchased at auction in the early 80's. The old girl only presses a couple of tonne after shovelling skins all day but the extraction is slow and sensitive and cannot be rushed.

I learnt about the cold room that came down from a dairy in the mid north of South Australia that was the first one in the district 20 years ago. Robert also told me how he managed to convince the owners of a 160 year old Muscadelle vineyard to hang onto their vines and not rip them out when everyone else around them was planting Shiraz by the hectare.

There's such a history in some of our resources that can never be replaced. After travelling to the UK and many parts of Europe I know that perhaps your old and my old may be more than light years apart, but really is it any less important? The concept of creating today's coveted individual vineyard wine styles by adopting hand picking, open fermentation, basket pressing and fine barrel selection must make the old timers giggle. Let's be honest here the techniques are not new.

If I have a choice when it comes to red fermentation, I will always select the hands on artisan approach. Why? Maybe I'm old at heart but I feel like I have more control.

Crazy really considering the modern fermenters often have all the mod cons built in. Perhaps it's something about getting your hands dirty but I love to give the grapes the time and energy they deserve. Like anything you've got to give to receive.

Nowadays the industry has cleverly engineered upgrades to the old classics and that's really exciting. Stainless steel basket presses, oak seasoning techniques, improved bottling lines and closure systems just to name a few have all been making wine related headlines here in Oz.

So whilst rockin Rod's bod may too be asking a few questions of him, there's something that tells me he's still got it. It seems that everything old is new again.

Kerri Thompson is winemaker/director of KT & The Falcon