As I sit here in late March, the sense that vintage in the Barossa is all but over is very clear. The general consensus for 2013 seems to be that it was a lighter crop than usual, early, fast and furious and even nature itself seemed to be caught offside. Let me explain, in the twenty years we’ve lived in this valley, and through the twenty vintages we’ve seen come and go there has been one constant indicator that the Shiraz vintage was about to hit full swing, every year that is except this 2013.
This magic barometer of vintage that I speak of is an ancient, gnarled fig tree in our garden,planted well over a hundred years ago we believe with our block having been settled in the 1860’s. Apart from its girth and height, there is nothing unique about the variety, it being the same black fig that is spread far and wide across the district. In fact these figs were one of the ubiquitous plantings of settlement in “New Silesia” and have along with quinces, pears and almonds naturalised themselves, frequently going feral in these parts.
Initially it took me a few years to notice the coincidental timing, but as our old tree only produces one flush of ripe fruit each season, and this is something that I keenly await the sense that things were happening in tandem was too clear to ignore. Most years the fruit hangs small and green for what seems an eternity and then as the rumble of grape trucks and mechanical harvesters picks up, and the white grapes start to be harvested, as if by magic the first figs start to swell to ripeness. Light in flavour and richness and even a little dry, even at this stage they are still a welcome addition to the table.
However they are at their best several weeks later when they become the true indicator that Shiraz around here in the Western Barossa is fully ripe. Normally, without fail, the figs come on in a sudden flush and the branches positively groan with giant, jammy, dark figs oozing stickiness. Most critically this seemingly occurs almost overnight, and after this initial flurry things slow into a more constant rhythm over the next month or so as the Grenache and Mataro come off. Then as the first cold snaps of late Autumn kick in, things grind to a halt as the leaves fall and fruits dry up becoming simply fodder for the birds.
But as vintage gets earlier as it has for the past few years, the pattern described above, typically starting in late February and generally all over by late April early May, has become more confused. This year the Shiraz harvest was just about over by the time our figs first ripened and the cooling and light showers of the past couple of days has seen them already start to slide into the slow down mode, and its only the third week in March and hardly a fig has been picked……
But, we take what we get, while we can, and despite our old tree being a little out of sync this year it is clear that it still acts as a indicator of the vintage, albeit a little differently. So as if to echo the words of the many winemakers that have already made comment on 2013, in regards our figs….. “the crop has been light, picking finished very early, but the fruit was fully ripe and full of flavour”….and when all is said and done , I’m just glad im not a farmer!
Ripe black figs with lachs-schinken and cress
Simplicity itself, just cut ripe figs into quarters or sixths
Drape with some thinly sliced lachs-schinken from Linkes Central meat in Nuriootpa*
Scatter with a little wild watercress, season with a sprinkle of sea salt and a little grind of black pepper
Finally drizzle with a delicate extra virgin olive or nut oil and enjoy.
If your not lucky enough to live in the Barossa then you will probably have to make do with Prosciutto or Jamon)