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    CHEERS: Norton Estate business owners Sam and Chris Spence toast a positive year ahead, with quality and quantity of the estate’s grape varieties exceeding previous years. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

AgLife: ‘Cracking’ year for Norton Estate


A Wimmera winemaker has confidence 2021 is shaping up to be a ‘cracking’ year in wine production as his grape varieties start approaching a ripening process. 

Norton Estate business owner Chris Spence is one of many grape growers in the region preparing for crush season, which he says is likely to start late February. 

Mr Spence said he expected quality and quantity of his grape varieties would be far better compared with last season, which he described as a ‘disastrous’ 2019-20 harvest. 

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The family-owned winery grows cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc and shiraz varieties on a farm at Lower Norton, 15 kilometres southwest of Horsham. 

Mr Spence said a wet spring in 2020 coupled with mild summer temperatures was contributing to steady growth at his vineyard. 

“The season started off perfectly with a wet September and first half of October. We saw great growth in the vineyards, where the buds shot away really well,” he said. 

“The bunches seem to be forming really well and we’re actually two weeks ahead in development compared with last year.

“But we haven’t quite seen any form of ripening as yet.”

Mr Spence said warm weather, like what the Wimmera experienced at the weekend, would likely hasten the ripening process.  

“We’re starting to see those warming spells so the ripening will likely happen very quickly, I’m predicting,” he said. 

“Relatively dry summers, cool nights and warm days make for perfect ripening weather.” 

Mr Spence said consistent high temperatures and low humidity contributed to poor yields in the last crush season. 

“Last season was a disaster for the whole southeast of Australia due to that December heat wave,” he said. 

“This year we’ve had a cool summer and cool spring. This has allowed the vines to develop good bunches, berry sizes and hold good leaf.

“We also had six weeks’ more rain, which has given the vines a massive boost in their fertility – it should be a cracking year this year.” 

Mr Spence said the winery was also preparing a rare American variety called Norton. Only one other winery in the country has Norton growing. 

He said the family planted the vines four years ago. 

Horticulturalist Daniel Norton first cultivated the variety in the 1820s in Richmond, Virginia. “This variety didn’t make its way into many other countries due to being very difficult to propagate,” he said.  

“We’ve had 68 of these Norton vines growing for four years now, and they’ve proven themselves.  

“We’ve had to be very patient in waiting for the first vines to be propagated, then planting and training them up.”

Mr Spence said the flavour shared qualities of European wine varieties. 

“It’s an American vine but it’s very European in its flavours – like a sangiovese but with the tannin base of a cabernet sauvignon,” he said.