Recent visitors to Centennial might have noticed a big gap in the middle of the vineyard in front of Cellar Door (see photo above). We're changing our varietal plantings, after learning which varieties best suit the growing conditions here.
Since planting our first vines in 1998, we've made a number of changes. Originally, we had a good selection of fuller-bodied (and later ripening) reds- Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz. We quickly found that these later ripening red varieties require more heat and light than we can provide in the cool, and often cloudy, Bowral climate. Additionally, Shiraz was far too vigorous in Bowral's benign conditions, growing lots of lovely foliage, but not fully ripening the fruit. Vines produce the best fruit when stressed, as though thinking that, if the vine isn't to survive a season, it had better ensure the health of the next generation, so putting all its efforts into the fruit. In the 'cushy' conditions here at Bowral (fertile soil, plenty of rain) the vine neglects the fruit and concentrates on growing foliage. So we very quickly grafted Shiraz over to Riesling.
We persevered with Cabernet and Merlot for a few more years, with a few excellent (warm and dry) vintages showing just how good cool-climate reds can be. But when things returned to normal, growing these later ripening reds here was hard work. In the cool Bowral climate, ripening slows down, and being late ripeners, the fruit doesn't naturally want to ripen until later in the season. The vines struggle to ripen the fruit to sufficiently by the end of the season to make a good wine, and the resulting wine was under-ripe, thin, green and stemmy- not good enough for Centennial, so we sold it off onto the bulk wine market. Eventually the Cabernet and Merlot vines were replaced with Pinot Gris.
Currently, the only red varieties planted here at Centennial are Pinot Noir and Tempranillo, which are both earlier ripening red varieties ('temprano' is Spanish for 'early'). Pinot Noir is working very well, Tempranillo not so. In a good year, Tempranillo makes a lovely, spicy, medium-bodied red, but this vine can be very temperamental. We have suffered from poor fruit-set after flowering over a number of years, greatly reducing the yield. Additionally, Tempranillo (like Shiraz) is a vigorous grower in our lush soils. So we have decided to change some of the Tempranillo vines to other varieties.
We've kept some Tempranillo, so that in those rare good-Tempranillo years we'll still be able to enjoy this lovely wine. We pulled out some of the Tempranillo vines and replanted with a new clone '667' of Pinot Noir. As Pinot Noir performs so well here, it will enable us to concentrate on growing our range of unique, "single vineyard" Pinot Noir wines, but more importantly to widen our "palate" of flavours to choose from, when putting the final blends together. One reviewer describes the 667 clone as '. lighter and more elegant; cherry aromas mingle with cranberry and pomegranate, with more allspice/ nutmeg/clove .'. It will be interesting to see what characters the Bowral conditions bring out in the 667 Pinot.
We've also grafted some of the original Tempranillo over to Pinot Gris, which has consistently worked well here at Centennial.