Meet Jim, a shiraz grape vine from France, who's named after an alpine goat.

Jim belongs to winemaker Rob Howell, from Jeir Creek wines at Murrumbateman, on the southern tablelands of New South Wales.

Winter is over and Jim is just waking up .

Rob says the 12-year-old vine has been going through an identity crisis.

"He was a merlot, a clone of merlot that we selected but then we had a change of heart and decided to make it into a shiraz.

"So about 350 milimetres up from the ground we cut the old merlot off and an old water shoot grew."

"We trained that old water shoot up to the vine and grafted in a shiraz bud into it, which then took over as shiraz."

Rob and the ABC's 666 Canberra rural reporter, Lucy Barbour are tracing Jim's journey from budburst to the bottle.

Over the next few months, we'll see how Jim changes, what challenges he faces and what he needs to produce good quality wine grapes for vintage. 

Budburst is when new plants start to show at the beginning of a growing season.

The vine runs up from the ground and its arms are wrapped around a fruiting wire.

Last year's growth has been pruned back to just about two buds.

"It's the previous growth that provides the fruit," Rob explains.

"So each of those little buds that are bursting there, they will grow a long cane.

"And on the first two buds of that new cane, they'll be fruitful. We'll have bunches of grapes on those."

At this stage the buds are small, with hints of pink and green. 

The buds have burst about three weeks earlier than normal due to the warm winter.

That's left some wine grape growers worried about frost, which is common in October.

Rob Howell's vineyard is on a slope and his vines are protected from frost.

"There's a primary a secondary and a tertiary bud dormant over winter," he explains.

"And the first one to burst is the primary bud.

"If that primary bud remains undamaged, the secondary and tertiary buds will remain dormant.

"But if that bud gets knocked off or frozen or damaged in some way, you'll end up with the secondary bud taking over, which is fantastic but the secondary buds are only about 60 per cent as fruitful...and the tertiary buds are only about 30 per cent as fruitful (as the primaries)."

The irony is that while wine grape growers are desperate to protect buds from frost, they sometimes freeze them by spraying the vines with water. 

"The latent heat protects the delicate green tissue from the burning effect of frost," Rob explains.

"Work that one out!"

We'll visit Jim the shiraz vine in six to seven weeks, when he'll be going through a stage of growth called inflorescence.

It's about three weeks since we last saw Jim and the Canberra region has just had one of the coldest October nights on record.

Wine grape growers in Murrumbateman woke up on the Friday morning to find that frost had caused extensive devastating damage in their vineyards.

Leaves were wilting and later, shoots began turning black.

Some growers have reported crop losses of 50 to 100 per cent in the low-lying areas of their vineyards and it will cost the local industry millions of dollars.

Other vines survived unscathed and one of them was Jim, our 'Budburst to Bottle' shiraz vine at Jeir Creek.

Jim's grower, Rob Howell, is delighted.

"Not a bit of frost damage in sight," he said.

"Look at him, he's looking so healthy and fit," Rob exclaims.

"I think he's just done a personal training session by the look of him!"

Rob isn't surprised that Jim and his "buddies" survived the frost.

"We're quite high up here, so we have a situation where the cold air drains away and creates a local, partial vacuum if you like, where the cold air flows like water and that draws down the overlaying warmer air and saves our bacon," he said.

"I was just fortunate in the 30 years ago time period when I selected this land that I knew basically that an elevated sight with good aspect was required, but I didn't know just how good this site was."

Jim has now reached a growth stage called inflorescence; it's the pre-flower phase.

On the vine, the inflorescences look like tiny, light green bunches of grapes.

"They will flower in the next month or so," Rob explains.

"They'll show these beautiful little flowers and each little flower will form a berry.

"And a little bit further out from the fruit we have the growing tips showing their pink, healthy shiraz look, so I'm very excited."

Rob says the most important thing now is to protect Jim's inflorescences from mildew.

"So the idea of mildew impacting at this stage, and when the flower forms a little further, (is because) it can be potentially devastating as far as reducing the crop goes.

"So a few days ago I put on my nice gentle sprays of sulfur and Mancozeb to cover downy mildew, powdery mildew and phomopsis, (a fungal disease).

Provided everything goes smoothly, Jim will be ready for his next visit in four weeks time, when he'll have just started flowering.

"I think flowering's a lovely time," Rob smiles.

"Not only does it look really attractive but all those little bees and flies are cross pollinating and the scent is subtle but gorgeous."

Seven weeks have passed and so much has happened to Jim.

The vineyard has transformed from dry, bare canes to lush, leafy vines and Rob Howell is proud of Jim's progress.

"He's an adolescent!" Rob smiles.

"He's back to the seventies and he's got that long, very beautiful green hair."

Jim has started to flower and he's showing all the signs of good health. The smell of the little flowers is fresh and subtle.

They're speckled along thin, bright stalks and look like tiny berries.

"You can see the little sepals of the little flowers, they're white," Rob explains.

"So we've gone from inflorescence to the actual flowering stage.

"We're not getting vastly far into flowering but far enough to see exactly what the potential for the vine is going to be.

"In a one metre length (of vine), I'd like to see about 20 bunches and we've achieved that there, so this vine is healthy, it's producing."

At this stage of the season, wine grape growers have to ensure that the vines have enough moisture and don't become stressed.

To check that Jim is healthy, Rob sandwiches one of the leaves between his hands.

"It feels cold," he says.

"It feels cold because it's transpiring, so I'm happy with this vine's health as far as the moisture goes at this stage."

While Jim is a star performer in Rob's vineyard, other vines are proving to be more high maintenance.

Take Harvey, for example. He's Jim's brother and he's getting rather overgrown.

"Harvey is a bit out of control," Rob laughs.

"He's got big, long canes which are showing wonderful vigour but Harvey has an enormous number of potential bunches with the inflorescences in flower now.

"And I would think that Harvey is going to to have to be thinned, which means I'm going to have to come down here before veraison or before the new berries start to gain colour and go from green to red, and cut out some of those bunches.

"That can become quite time-erosive."

It's vines like Jim that are keeping Rob smiling though.

"It looks at this stage to be a potentially delightful vintage but we keep our fingers crossed because we are in the agricultural industry."

It is early February 2014 and Jim is growing fast.

But ABC Rural's latest visit has got off to a bad start.

Rob Howell and Canberra rural reporter, Lucy Barbour have accidentally lost the record of Jim's exact location in the vineyard.

"Jim has got some very very close relatives growing in this vineyard," Rob says.

"Their surname is all shiraz and they look terribly terribly similar!"

The vineyard is full of lush green vines and a few sun-parched leaves.

Eventually, after a lot of scrambling and searching, Jim is found in row 78, block number five.

"I hope he forgives us," Rob laughs.

The first thing to note is that Jim is well and truly grown up. His grapes are fat, juicy and deep purple in colour.

He's going through a process called veraison.

"Veraison is the accumulation of sugars and the reduction in acids and the softening of the berry itself, and the gaining of red colour in the red varieties," he explains.

"The bunches are filling up but they're not tightly filled, so there is still good air flowing through the bunch of fruit, as well as the canopy itself."

The Murrumbateman region has been through a spate of scorching heat waves recently, with consecutive days of more than 36 degrees.

Rob says Jim has done well to survive.

"One way of telling whether Jim's doing it really tough is to look at the yellowing of the leaves," Rob explains.

"There's basically no yellowing. There's a little bit of sunburn on a tip or two of leaf but in the canopy, in the fruiting zone in particular, there's no big yellowing, so he's been happy."

"Here, we deep-ripped right down to a great depth to allow the roots to get down to that nice stable zone of moisture and coolness.

"And the vines don't show much heat stress at all.

There are other growers in the region who haven't been so lucky. Some have been pouring water onto their vines almost daily to try to reduce heat stress.

At this stage of the season, Rob says vignerons are looking for "balance".

"I like to see a good crop but I like to see quality in the fruit, I don't like to see it overloaded.

"If I was just a grape grower, I'd be looking seriously at tonnages because that's what I'm paid on, however being responsbile for the winemaking, I'm looking also for super quality of the fruit, so I don't mind if the yield is down a bit."

Rob says he can't yet say when exactly he'll start picking Jim.

"It's a funny one because in this season, with all the heat that we've been having, the vines do close down.

"That could delay harvesting because it takes a fair while for the sugar to get up to the levels that we need.

However it does allow the accumulation of the flavours, so that's still occurring, so it's a bit of an anyone's guess this year. It could be slightly delayed."

 

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