Justin and Pip Jarrett
Frost, hail, heatwaves and drought:
all part of the challenge for Justin and Pip
Farming, no matter what you’re growing is a difficult business, but when Orange City Life caught up with local vigneron Justin Jarrett of See Saw Wines, he said this past growing season was one particularly full of challenges.
Justin and his wife Pip own three vineyards with a total of 175ha under vine. The majority of the vines are located on properties between Orange and Cargo.
The Jarretts planted their first grapes in Orange in 1995, four years after relocating from their cherry and sheep enterprise at Young. Over the years they’ve tried their hand at growing lettuce, tomatoes, canola, cherries and chickens, but wine grapes have been their main business.
“We wanted to have a product that we could value add, that suited the block of land we'd bought, and grapes kept on coming up as something we could really do that with,” said Justin.
“Jarretts of Orange was our first label — some people may still remember it — we made the first one of those in ‘99 and in 2007 we swapped everything over to See Saw.”
The Jarretts are currently three weeks into picking their 2019 vintage, having already harvested pinot noir and chardonnay for sparkling base.
The grapes are looking and tasting good, said Justin, but getting the fruit to this point hasn’t been easy.
“It has been a really hard season to work through,” he said. “We had the driest start on record for this area, we've had a frost and two hailstorms, we've had high disease pressure at times and low disease pressure at other times, then we've had the hottest January on record ever and we've had a drought. So, it has been a tough year.”
The frost in October left the vines ‘singed’ but thankfully not damaged, he said, but the January heatwave was something they’ve not had to contend with before.
“It all went on and on for a pretty hard period of time,” he said. “We've never had those conditions here before, that length of heat and the nights being that warm, that has never happened in Orange. It obviously happens elsewhere, but we're not set up for those types of conditions really. We were required to do a lot more sunscreens on our grapes than we normally do.
“That is not so say the wines won’t be great, but we've had to work really hard to make sure we get what we want. It is just that we have had to use all our tools to get the crop off.”
Given our changing climate, Justin is well aware that the hot, dry conditions he faced this season could become the new norm and he is already taking steps to plan for a warmer future.
“We've started to do full investigation on drought tolerate root stocks, so vines that require less water. We are looking at different varieties that can handle heat and we are also looking at planting further up the mountain… new varieties that won't suit at 700 metres, but in 20 years’ time will be right at 900 metres,” he said.
“People need to be really wise about where they plant and what they plant”
Despite all those challenges, Justin still believes there is an even bigger future ahead for Orange as a wine growing region.
“There is definitely room to grow. People need to be really wise about where they plant and what they plant, but Orange still has a lot of potential to be a significantly larger region but also a really significant, quality producer of top fine wines,” he said.
“I think Australia has finally realised that there are some really interesting wines out there that go better with food than big reds that in 40-degree heat don’t taste that good. We are heading into a trend of lighter reds, Italian varieties, fruit-forward wines of lower alcohol and fortunately, those trends suit Orange to a T.”