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Harvest 2005: Great Expectations for Australia

Wine regions throughout the country enjoy a bumper crop of exceptional quality

Susan Gough Henly
Posted: June 15, 2005

Australian producers are extremely excited about the 2005 vintage, with some expecting the best overall wine quality in recent years, even in recent decades. Winemakers attribute this to the mild growing season, which allowed full flavor development and produced a healthy crop.

This year's crush hit a new record of 1.96 million tonnes [2.16 million U.S. tons], up 2 percent from the prior record tonnage in 2004; the increase was largely due to the above-average yields resulting from the favorable weather.

Mild, steady temperatures defined the growing season throughout the country. Winter rains were adequate, and rains leading into the ripening season replenished water supplies and freshened the crops. The end of the ripening season was warm and very dry, accelerating the harvest, and many winemakers struggled to bring in red and white varieties at the same time. Only New South Wales and eastern Victoria had heavy summer rain, while heavy April rain in Western Australia resulted in some split fruit and botrytis.

In South Australia, the 2005 wines are expected to be better balanced than those from 2002 and almost as ripe in flavor as the wines of 2001, 1999 and 1998. "The quality overall is as exciting as I've ever seen it," said Kym Tolley, winemaker at Penley Estate in the Coonawarra region. "The Cabernet is very rich and concentrated, while the Merlot is the biggest and most structured I've seen, with ripe blackberry fruit. They are particularly good because they had the opportunity to ripen fully."

Chester Osborne, chief winemaker at d'Arenberg in South Australia's McLaren Vale concurred. "This year we probably have the best fruit I've ever seen," he said. "The Cabernet is absolutely excellent, the Shiraz is a standout and all the whites look very good. The Cabernet is black, with great flowery fragrance. It is a big wine without being too fat."

Cabernet also looks to be outstanding in Barossa Valley. "We pretty well had ideal growing conditions," said Andrew Wigan, chief winemaker at Peter Lehmann, who reported that the Cabernet has great color, structure and length. He also said that Sémillon shows great depth of flavor, but the higher yields for Shiraz may affect its concentration.

In the Clare region, winemakers say this has been one of the best vintages in the last 10 years; the region's three most important varieties--Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon--all fared extremely well. Jeffrey Grosset, CEO of Grosset Wines, said Riesling is showing intense flavors. With the reds, as in other South Australian regions, Grosset noted that it was important for winemakers to delay picking until the fruit ripeness and acid balance matched the high alcohol levels. "It was a year in which it was even more important than usual to pick [based] on flavor and balance than simply to go on the numbers," he said.

In Adelaide Hills, winemakers said Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir look excellent, all benefiting from the mild weather.

As in South Australia, the growing season brought mild, even temperatures and cool nights to Western Australia. The Margaret River wines promise good color and flavor, coupled with excellent natural acidity levels. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and earlier-harvested reds fared best because most were brought in before the April rain.

Rain also affected wine quality in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales. Because the region had been so dry when rain was dumped on the vineyards in February, sugar development in the grapes went "through the roof, said Bruce Tyrrell, CEO of Tyrrell's Wines. He expected Chardonnay and Shiraz to be the strongest varieties, adding that the region's signature Sémillon lacks a bit of finesse.

But despite the one big dump of rain in February, the harvest was a dream in Victoria's Yarra Valley, said Yarra Yering winemaker Mark Haisma. He reported that Cabernet and Shiraz are well-structured with fully developed tannins, while Pinot Noir is fresh and lively. "The fruit came in really clean and looks sensational," he said.

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