Friday, May 6, 2011

South Australia Vintage 2011 (Pt 2)

Ask any winemaker what the best vintage is and they usually reply the one that they are currently selling. However, this past vintage in South Australia is even being described ‘challenging’ by some winemakers.

During our private tours we are meeting with winemakers, walking through vineyards and wineries. So we get to see first hand what is happening across the various premium wine regions of South Australia. With almost all fruit being picked and just finishing their ferments in the winery, it’s a good time to look at the three-quarter time score.

As previously mentioned in mid February grapegrowers were hit by bad weather just as the majority of harvesting was getting underway. The Clare Valley wine region has been among the worst affected, with heavy rainfall. In 7 days Clare received 60mm, and 65mm in Barossa.

In chats with various people we have heard many winemakers/vineyard managers in Clare and Barossa not picking whole vineyards due to a range of issues – mainly botrytis, downy or powdery mildew. Some in Adelaide Hills who would normally hand pick 2-3 tonnes per acre, have been ‘lucky’ to get 150kg of good (non-diseased) fruit. This has reinforced the importance of hand harvesting in vineyards, or sorting in wineries to exclude any damaged parcels of fruit. The image alongside show Grenache fruit in Barossa dropped on the ground due to botrytis infection.

The exception to this has been McLaren Vale – just to the south of Adelaide city. While the vintage started much later than previous years, the region didn’t have the significant rain events as other regions. A last-minute decision to pick as much shiraz as possible from March 20 - following 10mm of rain the previous day - saved much of the grapes from disease. The fruit had sufficiently ripened by the long cooler season, and to have left it any longer would have been too great a risk. Cabernet, Shiraz, Grenache and white varieties have shone through as highlights of McLaren Vale.

Overall, due to the long cool season with mild days and very cool nights, expect more restrained styles of wines. Also probably expect more discreet use of oak not to overpower the fruit that is present. With careful triaging of fruit, either in the vineyard or winery, there has been some great material coming in – just not much of it.