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2003 vintage report for Murray Darling (NSW/Victoria)

Common with many parts of Australia, the Murray Valley
recorded significant decreases in yields with many growers
reporting around 14 t/ha for premium red varieties. Premium
whites, principally Chardonnay, came in at around 22 t/ha. The
end result was total production for the Murray Valley of about
340,000 tonnes, although this estimate is yet to be verified by
the Wine Grape Crush Survey.

The vintage overall was hotter and drier than the very mild
2002 vintage, when winemakers reported one of the best seasons
ever. Given that comparison, there was concern that the quality
this year would fall well short of that achieved in 2002.
However, the contrast between fruit quality wasn’t as
marked as first feared, and ‘average to good’ has
emerged as the most widely reported description.

An extraordinarily dry winter and spring preceded the 2003
vintage. Only 5 mm of rain fell in October 2002 whereas the
average for the month is 31 mm. There was some relief in late
November 2002 when 17 mm was recorded, at the time the biggest
rain event since June 2002. Following the rain came the heat,
with several days of 40°C in the week before Christmas. Very
little fruit damage resulted. Ironically, given the drought,
heavy rain of up to 50 mm was recorded in many parts of the
Murray Valley in late December, followed by 30 to 40 mm in mid
February, which caused minor mould in some Chardonnay and
Colombard. There was some splitting of Shiraz, but Cabernet
Sauvignon, Ruby Cabernet and Merlot escaped largely
unscathed. 

Unlike in 2002, no wineries reported problems with processing
or storage capacity. The lower yields meant that the 2003 vintage
was less hectic than the year before when harvesting didn’t
finish until early May. This year harvest was substantially over
in early April. Reflecting the lower yields, competition among
wineries looking for good quality fruit intensified. Chardonnay
created the most interest (and highest prices), but Shiraz and
Merlot also attracted more attention than in 2002.

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