Izway winemaker Craig Isbel

Making wine amongst the crisis

At the conclusion of harvest each year I am usually eager and motivated to pen my thoughts on the quality of the wine we have made, reflecting on the challenges we faced and the flavours and structures that await us in a bottle in two or three years-time. 2020 is a different experience, and I am unsure where to begin… a scorching December? Bushfires? Drought? Tiny Yields…. the Virus? It is difficult to know which disaster to talk about first, however the weather and our Barossa Valley harvest do currently seem to pale in comparison to the challenges the world is facing. I think that is why it is important for me to focus on the wines; I want to provide you with something normal, tangible and relatable rather than the surreal hardships that are confronting many of our lives and businesses. After all I am a winemaker not an immunologist (although I am always an armchair expert!)

Before Harvest kicked off, there were already many questions being asked about the quality of the wine that we were endeavouring to make in 2020. It was no secret across the country that we were facing unprecedented challenges. For me, the season can be defined pre-New Year and post-New Year. Generally speaking, the yield of the harvest is set before New Year and the quality of the harvest is determined after New Year. The poor rainfall and incredibly hot and windy conditions we faced late in 2019 contributed to tiny yields throughout the Barossa Valley. However, the good news for us wine lovers is that the conditions from mid-January onwards were almost perfect, with cool nights, warm days, occasional rainfall, and no heat waves culminating in fantastic and delicious wines. The ripening period extended later than last year, and the wines look incredibly pretty, fresh, aromatic and vibrant. The colours are dark, yet bright and the natural acid levels are as good as I have seen for many years.

The pick of the vineyards this year was the Kleinig Old 8 Rows, a small parcel of fruit planted in 1895. We have been taking this fruit for five years now and this was as close to perfection as I have seen. We received 867kg of fruit off the one-acre parcel, and the incredible wine we have made will ensure that the 2020 Oscar & Matilda Shiraz will definitely be one to look forward to.

With yields as low as 25% of normal crops in some vineyards the wines will undoubtedly be in short supply. In 2019 we had an exceptionally low yield in our Three Brians Vineyard, where we produced around 360 bottles. This year we will produce about 90 bottles. At this stage it looks like we will also produce only 600 bottles of the Don Shiraz and both Harold and Bruce will be half the volume we normally make. I don’t think anyone knows what the world will look like when we release these wines in 2023, however I hope all our lives are affluent enough that the tiny bottlings of each of these will be allocated direct to your cellars!

As was the case in 2019, we have made the decision to pay our growers at a higher rate than normal for the fruit that we have received this year. We are incredibly grateful for their contribution to our business and would like to reiterate that without access to these extraordinary vineyards we would not be able to produce the wines that we do. As I type it is raining heavily outside, and most predictions are for average to above average rainfall this year. I hope this eventuates so that the growers can have a bountiful 2021 harvest we have one less thing to worry about during 2020.

Lastly, I would like to thank you all for the remarkable support that we are receiving at from you at this difficult time. We cherish every order that comes through our website and hope to be able to continue to supply you with the wines you love while we are all unable to head out to our favourite restaurants and bars.


Craig Isbel