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Wineries celebrate end of vintage
Vintage 2013 is officially over. This month, Grapegrower & Winemaker focuses on how the season fared throughout Victoria and the Canberra District. While variable on a number of fronts, the outlook is again positive, with most wineries confident about quality.
DESPITE HIGH TEMPERATURES and minimal rainfall, Geelong vignerons are excited about what looks to be an outstanding vintage.
'Without exception, fruit quality has been excellent and varietal intensity impressive from this year's harvest,' said Hugh Hull, Geelong Winegrowers Association (GWA) viticultural executive.
'Climatic influences enabled optimum sugar levels to be reached, balanced with sound acid levels, all leading to an impressive 2013 vintage.'
Yields across the region were generally around the long-term average, while climatic influences saw a slightly earlier harvest than 2012 with vines progressing through to full ripeness while maintaining good natural acidity.
Hull said later ripening reds such as Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon had enjoyed the consistency in the ripening period with rich, bold varietal intensity apparent, while the earlier-picked varieties, such as Pinot Noir, presented good complexity.
Vintage 2013 in the Yarra Valley receives an overall rating of 'excellent', according to Richard Howden, CEO of the Yarra Valley Wine Growers Association.
'Warm and dry growing conditions were fairly consistent throughout the season and extended through to mid-April - ideal conditions for all varieties,' he said.
'While yields were down, the wines are showing full and balanced flavour with a great depth of colour. All varieties have performed well in the excellent conditions however the standouts are Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Cabernet and Chardonnay.
'For most wineries, harvest commenced in mid-February. Things became a little more active in the run into March with a number of varieties ripening at the same time. There was a flurry of activity in early March with a good percentage of fruit being harvested and tucked away in the winery by end of the month.'
Howden said overall, crops were down 10-20%.
'This was primarily due to smaller berries and lighter bunch weight. On the positive side, this resulted in more concentrated flavours and vibrant colour,' he said.
There has been a general feeling across Macedon Ranges that the 2013 vintage will be one to watch, according to Cameron Leith, of Passing Clouds.
'We had very little rain and plenty of heat from December onwards, meaning we were able to obtain beautifully ripe fruit, which can be a challenge in parts of this very cool region,' Leith said. 'Some vineyards struggled a little with the heat and some shrivel was observed, but most held up well.'
Spraying and other cultural practices to alleviate disease pressure was able to be kept to a minimum, reducing labour costs while still obtaining clean, disease-free fruit.
Yields were typically down, although a couple of growers reported significant increases around the 30% mark.
The dry growing season along with high water allocations have given Perricoota growers the ability to grow vines that were in good balance for vintage 2013.
Pest and diseases were easily controlled, and the only losses experienced were to birds at the tail end of the season.
Perricoota Grape Growers Association president Michael Gray said vintage 2013 saw an early start to vintage.
'It also went longer than anticipated, with the cooler weather at the end of March seeing the last blocks not being harvested until the first week of April,' he said.
Warm weather in late January and early February allowed the vines to ripen easy but did not cause concern for sunburnt or heat-damaged fruit. Yields were average, with growers experiencing minimal crop loss.
'The 2013 vintage has produced excellent quality wines across all varieties in Perricoota, with the standouts being Chardonnay and Shiraz,' Gray said.
Only two words are needed to describe vintage 2013 in the Goulburn Valley: 'hot' and 'dry'.
That's according to Neil Larson, secretary for the Goulburn Valley Wine Association and winemaker at Tahbilk winery.
'The flipside is that we had very few disease concerns - a welcome relief after the wake-up call that was 2011,' he said.
'After one of the driest growing seasons on record (and the hottest summer in Australia since records began) it was a relief to pick the first whites and see that there were fresh, crisp and delicate flavours in the fruit - despite the warm temperatures.'
In the third week of February, the region received general rains of 25-50mm which enabled the vines to take up some much needed water. This facilitated steady sugar and flavour accumulation of the remaining fruit, and reduced the risk of over-ripe characters.
Larson said this vintage has the potential to be a very good year. 'Overall, the vintage has been trouble-free with most parcels being picked near optimum ripeness and in great condition,' he said.
Overall crop levels in the Henty wine region were down on average in the range of 10-25%, according to Henty Wine Region Association secretary Peter Dixon.
Around Hamilton and Tarrington in the north of the region, growing season conditions were drier and hotter than average with Hamilton recording its driest spring/summer on record.
Many growers reported their earliest harvest dates ever as well as a compressed ripening period across all varieties.
Commenting on this year's Henty crop, Dixon said: 'Fruit quality was exceptional with clean fruit giving the potential for wines with structure and delicacy.'
Vintage generally began in the first week of March in the foothills of the Peninsula, with happy vines that had received a very wet pre-flowering and a mostly dry post-flowering.
The upper hills didn't get going until mid-March, but a week of hot and sunny weather saw everyone scrambling to pick what was left before sugar and flavour rocketed to the overripe.
Disease pressure was low, with only a few blocks being challenged by powdery mildew.
'With the last of the fruit being picked early April, the ripening weather was fantastic, punctuated by only a couple of short dumps of rain,' said Tyson Lewis, chairman of the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association technical committee.
'Chardonnay yields were below average with small berry numbers but excellent quality.
'Pinot Noir was around average quantity with moderate berry numbers but full and strong clean bunches of excellent quality. Pinot Gris produced an average weight and performance.'
The vintage in Ballarat, a cool climate wine region dominated by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, started very early in the second week of March.
By the second week of April, vintage was complete. Ballarat and District Vignerons Association secretary Paul Lesock said weather conditions were generally favourable throughout the season.
'There was no real problem with powdery or downy mildew, however very high temperatures during February and March troubled growers with unusual quick ripening,' he said.
'Cropping levels were generally good but there was some variation within the region due to poor conditions at flowering for some vineyards.
'Prices for Pinot Noir were $2000-2500 per tonne but most wineries in the region use grapes for production of their own wines, not sale to others.'
The Bendigo winegrowing region commenced harvest in late February and was expected to continue until about Anzac Day in the cooler areas.
The growing season was the driest on record with subsequent lower yields. However, reports are that the fruit was showing great intensity.
'Yield was affected by the hangover from the near catastrophic conditions of 2011, when we experienced probably the wettest growing season to date along with the arrival of various moulds.
'The added bonus of such dry conditions this year is that there were no disease issues,' said Tim Parry, executive officer of the Bendigo Winegrowers Association.
'Most vignerons are predicting 2013 to be the best ever for Shiraz,' Parry said.
'Compared with last year, the price of fruit has increased, yields are up and the quality of the fruit is outstanding.'
Allan Pankhurst, president of the Canberra District Wine Industry Association, says there's been just the right amount of sun and rain to make this year's crop a rival to the exceptional 2008 crop.
'A good spring, good moisture followed by drier weather created a good period of fruitset with bunches being well developed and having good numbers of berries per bunch,' Pankhurst said.
The dry weather would have kept bunches small, pushing the quality and number up.
Some growers indicate superb fruit yields providing great choice for fruit selection.
Vintage 2013 was one of the driest growing seasons experienced to date for the Adelaide Hills wine region, according to Richard Hamilton of Hamilton Viticulture.
'As vineyards had to irrigate to maintain canopies, crop loads were generally higher than expected due to large berries and high bunch weights,' he said.
'The warm dry conditions at flowering resulted in average to above average set with generally well balanced fruit to canopy loads. Wine quality for the region is generally above average and the wines for the 2013 vintage will be remembered.'
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