Vintners in South Australia are very excited about the 2009 harvest, despite a record-breaking heat wave that struck the region in late January. Fortunately, temperatures dropped in February, with mild, even weather through the end of harvest. Producers are reporting great quality in their-late ripening varieties such as Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. "I believe the 2009 vintage to be the best we have ever done," said Sparky Marquis, owner and winemaker at Mollydooker in McLaren Vale.
But not everyone is as enthusiastic. Yields are down an estimated 20 percent. Some of the region's early-ripening varieties and areas were adversely affected by the heat. In McLaren Vale and Adelaide, some winemakers were scrambling to pick their grapes as sugar levels jumped. Water management was extremely important—vineyards with healthy canopies and good water supplies were able to hold on until the temperatures dropped. Marquis picked his grapes in March after the heat subsided and says his fruit looks outstanding. "In terms of [the grape's] flavor profile, it's the most complete flavors ever," he said.
In Barossa, vintners reported an early start to the harvest. White wine grapes came in with lower yields due to the heat. Mild temperatures in mid-February allowed vines to recover and the late-ripening reds were able to hang and ripen slowly. Matt Gant, winemaker at First Drop, harvests Shiraz from vineyards throughout Barossa Valley and says this year's red wines have good acidity and lower alcohol. "[The] wines have great balance and structure. We picked with flavor and tannin ripeness in balance."
A harvester picks Chardonnay at Lane Vineyard in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia.
Good balance was a theme of the vintage for both reds and whites in New South Wales' Hunter Valley and Clare Valley. Both regions received some much-needed rain during the winter, and vintners like what they see. "Shirazes were allowed to ripen slowly due to the lower average temperatures, making vintage planning the easiest we have had since 2006," said Kevin Mitchell, winemaker at Kilikanoon in Clare Valley. "Colors, flavors and tannins were excellent."
The harvest was less dramatic in Coonawarra where, despite an early, cool spring, vintners reported average yields. The region's Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon should perform well, according to Kym Tolley, winemaker at Penley. "This year is about overwhelming regional and varietal flavors, showing bright and fragrant fruit," he said.
It was a different story in Victoria, where the heat wave sparked a series of wildfires that raced through the region just as harvest was getting under way. Several vineyards and wineries were burned and yields are down throughout the area. Marc Lunt, assistant winemaker at Yering Station in Yarra Valley, says the winery lost 30 percent to 40 percent of its fruit. Although the reds may be variable this vintage, winemakers are happy with the quality of the region's Chardonnay.
In Margaret River, on Australia's west coast, vintners experienced a milder growing season. Virginia Willcock, chief winemaker at Vasse Felix, said that yields were generally down due to cool spring conditions, but she was very impressed with the harvest. "The Chardonnays came in with lovely intensity and fabulous natural acidity," Willcock said. Vintners are also happy with the reds, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon, which ripened late.
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