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June (No. 497)

497

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bumper harvest, exceptional quality

Lawrie Stanford , Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation

With the 2005 winegrape harvest all but complete, a bumper harvest of exceptional quality is expected. For the second year in succession, and despite grapes being left on the vine, a higher-than-expected harvest will occur. At 1.96 million tonnes, the 2005 crush is a record tonnage for the Australian wine sector. Quality is expected to be exceptional on two counts. A mild season permitted full varietal characters to develop and generally disease-free conditions have resulted in a clean crop.

The 2005 crush is 2% bigger than the prior record tonnage last year. It also represents 7% more than the crush expected in 2005 based on the assumption of average yields. The record crush has largely resulted from above-average yields due to favourable seasonal conditions. New bearing areas made only a small contribution to the increased tonnage this year. New bearing areas that came on-stream in 2005 are calculated to be marginal, with the massive new planting that ended in spring 1998 having come into bearing and a new era of lower planting now influencing the production base.

This seasonís record tonnage came about despite some downward influences on tonnages crushed. These include downward management of yields for reds because of low prices and tighter quality controls in recent years, tired cooler-climate vines after last yearís massive production load and reports that 40,000 tonnes have been left on the vine or dropped on the ground because of poor, or no, market prospects. If estimates of fruit left on the vine are correct, the total crop will have been 2 million tonnes with about 2% of this abandoned. On these figures, the 2005 yields were 7% above the five-year average, but six percentage points down on last yearís massive 13% above the five-year average yields.

The major seasonal influence on the 2005 crop has been mild, steady temperatures. Throughout the season, monthly averages varied little from long-run averages and the warm days and cool nights allowed strong development of varietal characteristics in both red and whites. Prolonged heat spikes were absent this summer and with a quick return to mild temperatures after any hot episodes, fruit development was steady and uninterrupted.

Winter rains were adequate and rains leading into the ripening season served to replenish water tables.
Rainfall in the earlier part of the ripening season was well distributed across a number of episodes meaning they most often served to freshen the crop and improve quality. The end of the ripening period was drier and accelerated the finish to the season. Under this set of circumstances, white winegrapes had the better of conditions than the reds. The exception to favourable rain conditions were some heavy summer rain episodes in New South Wales and the eastern portion of Victoria which lead to some minor damage in these areas. In addition, some heavy April rain in the west also resulted in some split fruit and botrytis, particularly for reds.

Mild temperatures, generally well-spaced rain episodes and attention to vineyard management all meant disease-free conditions for the majority of the crop.
The season, while close to ideal with little stress on vines, particularly favoured white varieties. The cool conditions and uninterrupted development during ripening meant fruit was well balanced with high acid levels and well developed flavours and aromas. The aromatic whites like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Semillon will be the stand-out varietals from this season. While red varieties also benefited from the mild and generally dry conditions, the drier end to the season accelerated ripening and produced higher Baume levels. Accelerated development of the reds also meant a compacted red harvest and some overlap with the end of the white harvest. The logistical challenges of harvesting and processing reds in these circumstances brought about some sub-optimal cropping with shrivel and weight loss due to dehydration.

Yield outcomes varied between the major variety and regional classifications with white winegrapes and warm inland production being favoured. As a consequence, a shift in the mix towards these categories is expected.

White winegrape production was favoured through two principle influences. In the first instance, white winegrapes experienced the best of the conditions the season provided. In the second instance, red winegrape yields were managed downwards in response to low prices and tighter quality controls in recent seasons. It is calculated that the share of white winegrapes in the mix will grow by four percentage points over that achieved last year, to reach a 44% share.

The shift to greater warm inland share in the production mix is expected to come about because of the two factors also: preponderance of the more favoured white production in warm inland districts, as well as lower cooler-climate yields compared with 2004 (as a result of last yearís exceptional fruitfulness). It is calculated that the share of warm inland production in the mix will shift by three percentage points over that achieved last year, to reach a 61% share.

The 2005 crush is expected to add to supply pressures already existing in the Australian wine sector.
Moreover, while red wine has been the major contributor to over-supply for the past few seasons, white wine is expected to come back into balance or marginal over-supply out of this seasonís production. As a result, lower white winegrape prices are compounding the same result that has been experienced for reds in recent years.

A positive from the season includes the high quality. Some reports point to the best quality in 30 years, or at least better than the recent best in 2002. These acclamations point to improved competitiveness of Australian wine based on its value positioning. Moreover, greater production of whites will redress recent shortages of this category and will provide sales growth opportunities that have been potentially under-supplied in recent years.



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