April (No. 495)
Signs positive for quantity, quality in vintage 2005
Darina Hoffman and Lawrie Stanford , Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation
Australia’s 2005 winegrape harvest is approaching last year’s record harvest in size with quality shaping up to be in the “good-to-excellent” range.
The harvest began about 7 to 10 days earlier than usual and about 20% of the crop has been picked (as at time of writing, 28 February).
In the earlier-maturing, more-northerly districts, like the Hunter Valley, the harvest is well under way, and the red winegrapes are coming off, while in the warm inland districts (the Riverland, Murray Valley and Riverina) the white harvest is well progressed and the red harvest is yet to commence. In the more southerly districts like the Yarra Valley, Coonawarra and Tasmania picking has only just, or has not yet, commenced.
While there is a considerable way for the harvest to go before firm results are reportable, particularly for the red winegrape harvest, early indications suggest an average-yielding season with quality shaping up as good-to-excellent. If average yields eventuate, and based on expectations of only a marginal increase in bearing areas, the pre-season estimate of a harvest size of around 1.82 million tonnes is expected. This would represent a 5% smaller harvest than the high-yielding 2004 harvest.
Harvest 2005 had a good lead-in to the season with good winter and spring rains establishing favourable soil moisture levels in most locations. The ripening and harvest period has been characterised by generally cool-to-mild conditions with the majority of regions benefiting from regular, refreshing rain. The cooler conditions are generally providing a steady ripening environment in which superior colour, flavour, acid and varietal definition are developing in the grapes.
The only blemishes to the lead-in were isolated incidences of frost and hail exerting a minor influence on the overall crop. The rain has served to top-up moisture reserves and has minimised the need for supplementary watering. Western Australia is an exception with dry conditions for much of the growing season likely to reduce vineyard yields. High temperatures have been limited to occasional short bursts followed by a return to cool-mild conditions and, therefore, have not had a significant adverse influence on the national crop.
High crop quality has also been assisted by the brief nature of the rain episodes, the clearing conditions that followed and early disease management and follow-up programs – all meaning disease incidence has been light. Moreover, because soil moisture levels have been high, the rain has not caused berries to bloat rapidly and split, as sometimes occurs with summer rain episodes.
To reach quality targets and reduce disease incidence in this season’s cool-to-mild conditions, many growers have thinned bunches as well as managed canopies to expose the fruit to sufficient sunlight.
While recognising there is some way to go before the final 2005 outcome, the prospect of an average-yielding season will be viewed with some relief by winemakers holding more-than comfortable levels of red wine in stock.
An average season will allow wine reserves to be reduced to more reasonable levels while the good quality grapes of the 2005 harvest will maintain Australia’s competitiveness in a crowded marketplace.