In wine terms, “Vintage” is the harvest of the year’s grape crop and making it into wine. It’s like the Grand Final for wine producers. All the hard work during the year, nurturing vines and managing the health of the soil and vineyard culminates in a few mad weeks of picking, fermenting, crushing, racking, and all the things that go into making that precious juice.
For the Crittenden family, wine is the passion of generations. From Garry planting the first vines in 1982, to son Rollo who is now chief winemaker, daughter Zoe who is the marketing manager, and now grandson Oscar whose passion for endangered turtles inspired Garry to make an Arneis to raise funds for the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre in Cairns.
It’s the passion for the land and the pursuit of quality that has led Garry, Zoe, and Rollo on a journey in the 17 or so years. In an industry where the often-uttered maxim, “Wine is made in the vineyard” is always true, the family addressed what they perceived as a slow decline in the balance of their wines by bringing balance back to the land with sustainable farming practices. The replenishment of the soils and encouragement of microbial growth came through a radical re-understanding of viticulture. The 11 hectare property now produces outstanding wines that the whole family is right to be proud of.
The old ways of harsh chemicals to kill all non-vine material under the vines, and mowing the grass to bowling-green perfection removes critical nitrogen and microbes from the precious soils. In an industry that has a term describing the unique properties in a wine that are from the influence of soil and climate, distinctive “Terroir” is lost to the killing of natural influence and the addition of clumsy supplements to try to regain balance. The Crittendens stopped using chemicals, started spreading compost in the rows, and growing cover-crops between them.
The results came quickly. Fruit was better quality, the whole vineyard was more disease resistant. The vine-health through a difficult growing season like the 2021 vintage, makes the years of effort worthwhile. This year the crop has been plentiful and the quality through the roof. There is no need for harsh chemicals to combat mildew from the wet growing season. Wines from this year look spectacular already.
Rollo says the 2021 vintage, despite challenges in the growing season, is looking like a benchmark year. The yields are good, and the long slow harvest has afforded them the luxury of concentrating on each variety as it ripens and is harvested. Not that previous years are not paid the utmost attention, just that this year there is a nice flow to the way things have turned out, and in this region at least, winemakers have been able to fully appreciate the quality of each variety as it has come in.
A visit to Crittenden is a definite must. The sit-down tasting experience feels like a luxury compared to the busy tasting bars of large wineries in days gone by. It’s the way things have always been down at Crittenden. Personal attention is afforded to guests who are walked through a paid tasting at the table inside the gorgeous cellar door or in the picturesque courtyard.