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Harvest 2006: Australia Stays Strong

Shiraz looks promising across South Australia, while white varieties in many areas benefited from a cool summer

Susan Gough Henly
Posted: June 9, 2006

Across Australia's premier wine regions, winemakers expect the 2006 vintage to be good to excellent, with early reports describing the wines as elegant and well-balanced, with flavor ripeness at lower alcohol levels. The standout varieties appear to be Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

Winter and spring rains replenished the water table and aided canopy development in most regions. Above-average temperatures and relatively dry conditions in January and February helped accelerate the start of the harvest by a couple of weeks.

The Hunter Valley in New South Wales, Yarra Valley in Victoria, the Barossa and Clare valleys in South Australia and the warmer inland regions had brief bursts of extremely hot weather in January that slowed vine development and, in some cases, caused sunburn and vine stress. Fortunately, the heat subsided, and most regions experienced cool nights and warm days, ideal for color and flavor development.

In the Clare Valley, winemakers agreed that Shiraz is exceptional across the board. "It has an intensity of fruit and lots of flavor but no overripe jammy characteristics," said Peter Barry of Jim Barry Wines. Thunderstorms at the end of February took the edge off some of the region's Riesling.

In the Barossa Valley, the Shiraz appears to have good depth of flavor and fabulous balance, said Robert O'Callahan, CEO and chief winemaker at Rockford Wines. He expected that the wines would not be blockbusters but would be more elegant, with firm tannins giving them great aging potential. The area's white wines, especially the Rieslings, also have great balance, freshness and elegance.

Among the other South Australia wine regions, McLarenVale had a relatively cool summer, resulting in Shiraz with vibrant acidity, said Chester Osborne, CEO and chief winemaker at d'Arenberg. Other winemakers commented that some reds will have big tannins this year. White wines benefited from the cooler summer and have good natural acidity. Late-ripening Grenache vines were affected by autumn rains.

Adelaide Hills winemakers who picked their grapes before the autumn rains achieved some very good results for white wines; Sauvignon Blanc, in particular, looks outstanding. Among reds, Pinot Noir is also showing great finesse.

Coonawarra did not receive replenishing winter rains, so yields are down 30 percent to 40 percent across the board. However, winemakers agree that Cabernet Sauvignon is looking particularly strong, with great flavor and color and good tannin structure. The berries were small and the bunches were loose, both of which contributed to full, even ripening.

In New South Wales, the Hunter Valley also did not receive winter rain. Many vineyards suffered leaf burn during heat spikes in January. In spite of this, Bruce Tyrrell, CEO of Tyrrell's, is very happy with the Chardonnay, which has more flavor and length than he expected. He added that Shiraz has good structure.

In Victoria, while the Yarra Valley benefited from rain in winter and spring, it also suffered from the January heat spikes, which scorched the Pinot Noir grapes while they were still green, requiring serious culling. The rest of the season was mild, creating ideal ripening conditions, and the remaining Pinot Noir shows great freshness and acidity. Chardonnay was a standout, showing elegance and great natural acidity, said David Slingsby Smith, winemaker at De Bortoli.

In southwestern Australia, Margaret River had one of the coolest summers on record. That was superb for Chardonnay, according to Mike Peterkin, CEO and chief winemaker at Pierro. He described the wines as "very delicate and aromatic with intense gooseberry flavors." Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir also fared well. On the other hand, many winemakers, particularly those to the south, had difficulty ripening their Cabernet Sauvignon. Yields were down 25 percent overall.

Click here for the Australia Vintage Charts.

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