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Vintage Preview 2015: Australian Wineries Report Outstanding Wines, Small Quantities

A wet spring across much of the country shrank yields, but a warm summer saved the season
Photo by: Courtesy Vasse Felix
Picking Chardonnay in Australia's Margaret River.

MaryAnn Worobiec
Posted: August 31, 2015

Winemakers in the Southern Hemisphere have an advantage over their northern counterparts: While picking has just begun up north, down south they are already tasting the first wines of the 2015 vintage. Here is the next installment of our Southern Hemisphere Vintage Preview for 2015, a dispatch from Australia’s wine regions.

Region: South Australia—Clare Valley, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Eden Valley, Limestone Coast

The good news: Most winemakers celebrated one of the shortest, fastest harvests in recent years.

The bad news: Frost and wildfires shrank yields for some. The short harvest meant winemakers had to scramble for space in fermentation tanks.

Picking started: Early February.

Promising grapes: Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon show intense tannins and deep colors, with good cellaring potential. White wines offer bright flavors and acidity.

Challenging grapes: Low yields for Cabernet Sauvignon.

Analysis: “Overall [it was] quite a tidy vintage in the Barossa," says Paul Linder of Langmeil. Most vintners in South Australia report a warm, quick growing season that produced great fruit. Some battled low yields, however.

The season started with a wet winter, but a drier and warmer-than-average spring followed, advancing flowering by approximately two weeks. “Dry weather meant that when the nighttime temperatures dipped there were a few late-season frosts,” says winemaker Louisa Rose of Yalumba and Hill-Smith Family Vineyards. That meant lower yields, particularly in northern Barossa.

A dry, windy January also produced bushfires in the Adelaide Hills, destroying nearly 100 acres of vineyards and resulting in smoke taint for some vintners.

For those that didn’t experience frost or fire, it was an uneventful growing season with ideal ripening conditions. Hot weather accelerated ripening at the end of the season and triggered an early, condensed harvest.

The team at Jim Barry Wines reports that it was the first time they fermented Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon in February. “I thought I’d seen it all after 65 vintages,” says matriarch Nancy Barry. Paul Smith of Wirra Wirra took his first Easter off in 20 years.

Most winemakers believe the early harvest imparted good natural acidity, ripe tannins and bright fruit flavors and spice, resulting in naturally balanced wines. “It is a really early call, but 2015 could well go down as another really great vintage,” says Rose.

Region: Victoria—Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Geelong, Heathcote, Grampians, Strathbogie Ranges

The good news: Winemakers are considering 2015 one of the best years in recent memory.

Picking started: Early February

Promising grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz

Analysis: As with winemakers in much of the country, Victorian vintners reported an early start to spring. But the weather was unpredictable, with occasional rain and cold snaps.

But a long, cool summer with no heat spikes gave grapes enough time for balanced ripening, and a dry, warm autumn brought the season to an ideal close. Harvest came about three weeks early. A storm in February dropped half an inch of rain, but it didn’t harm the grapes as much as slow picking down by a few days.

Most are describing wines of finesse and elegance. “We’re delighted,” says Matt Fowles of Fowles Wine. “[This is] absolutely one of the standout vintages in the history of Strathbogie Ranges.”

Region: Western Australia—Margaret River, Pemberton, Great Southern

The good news: Consistently warm temperatures during summer resulted in balanced flavors.

The bad news: A cold, windy spring caused dramatically low yields.

Picking started: Mid-February

Promising grapes: Riesling and Shiraz

Challenging grapes: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon

Analysis: On Australia’s Western coast, vintners report that 2015 presented challenges and rewarded both careful preparation and adaptability. Wet and windy weather during flowering in spring affected yields dramatically, as much as 20 percent to 30 percent. For some, Cabernet Sauvignon yields were 50 percent below normal.

Thankfully, the rest of the season was without major incident. The growing season was warm and sunny without any extreme heat. According to the team at Ashbrook Estate, the warmth and low yields resulted in intensely flavored and attractive wines. Harvest was about two weeks early because of the smaller crop load.

Cooler weather further along in the harvest slowed down red wine ripening, and rains in early April affected the potential of later-picked parcels. However, most winemakers say they are delighted so far with the flavor, balance and structure of the vintage.

Courtesy Vasse Felix
Ripe Cabernet Sauvignon awaits a trip to the winery.

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