The erratic weather conditions caused lower yields, with growers reporting quantities down 10 percent to 20 percent from last year. Yet with all the recent plantings in the state, which accounts for 50 percent of Australia's total wine-grape crop, the increased amount of fruit-bearing areas more than compensated for the shortfall. The 1999 harvest quality is generally good to very good, with Coonawarra emerging as the most promising region -- particularly for Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc.
According to Ian Hollick of Hollick Wines, this year's Coonawarra harvest is "fantastic." Coonawarra avoided most of the heavier rainfall experienced around harvest-time in the more northern regions of the state. "The results were whites of full flavor and great acid balance and reds of deep color, concentrated fruit flavors due to small berry size and wonderful pH and acid balance," said Hollick.
A manager of several of Coonawarra's vineyards, Peter Bainaves of Bainaves Viticultrual Services, added that he hadn't seen such exceptional ripeness levels for Cabernet Sauvignon since the 1990 vintage.
In general, growing conditions across South Australia were characterized by hot weather and midseason dryness. March was cool and wet, causing uneasiness among growers, but was followed by an Indian summer in April. More rains followed in May, extending the harvest until the middle of the month. Whites that were harvested before the rains generally fared well, while those growers who waited until after the rains to pick reds did better than their more anxious counterparts.
In the Barossa Valley, Simon Adams, chief winemaker at Yalumba Winery, confirmed that wineries that held off on harvesting their reds would have some excellent results. "For Yalumba, the Shiraz will be better than 1998, and the whites will be very rich and aromatic with lots of fruit flavor because of the hot summer weather," he said.
David Dean, general manager of the McLaren Vale Winemakers Association, characterized 1999 as the most difficult vintage of the decade for the region's winemakers. However, he said, "Cabernet Sauvignon is looking stunning because of its ability to withstand tough conditions. It is showing intense color and good acid balance, with both ripe black currant and a cool-climate mintiness that is adding to its complexity of flavors."
The Adelaide Hills region probably had the most difficult time of all, because it received the most rain around the harvest, according to Chris Laurie, president of the Adelaide Hills Vineyard Association and owner of Hillstowe Wines. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc that were picked early look good, and those who waited for their Pinot Noir and Merlot to ripen should also have some promising results. The new plantings in the Adelaide Hills, which is the most rapidly growing region in the state, fared relatively well in the wet conditions because of their less dense canopy.
For last year's harvest report:
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