Warm to hot and dry weather in summer and autumn were a recurring story across the country-Bendigo to Barossa, Gippsland to the Granite Belt, Clare to Cowra and McLaren Vale to Mudgee.
This led to a small reduction in yields (mainly in whites) in some vineyards, but also meant that the incidence of disease was reduced.
In almost all cases the hot and dry conditions rewarded winemakers with exceptional red wines, showing good colour, flavours and ripeness.
Margaret River reports ‘outstanding’ reds, the Barossa claims ‘best Shiraz in 30 years’, Goulburn Valley winemakers had some exceptional Shiraz and Merlot parcels, and McLaren Vale producers say the 2001 Shiraz appears to be ‘stunner.’
White wines won’t be overshadowed, though. Clare Valley Riesling was a highlight, an apparent paradox in a year of less than ideal weather for the variety. Langhorne Creek had a ‘standout’ vintage for whites. Hunter Valley Chardonnay has flavour, freshness and finesse reminiscent of the 1993 wines.
The South Australian Riverland also produced some good quality whites, with Chardonnay in particular displaying rich tropical fruit flavours.
Excessive heat reduced yields in the Murray Darling region and the forecast oversupply of grapes did not eventuate; however, in some newer regions processing and storage capacity was at a premium and will become a serious issue in future years with increased planting and production occurring in many areas.
Red winegrape production in 2001 exceeded white winegrape production for the first time in the history of the Australian wine industry. Shiraz now leads Chardonnay as Australia’s highest tonnage grape variety, hitting an all-time high of 342,000 tonnes this year.
Winemakers’ Federation of Australia (WFA) chief executive Ian Sutton said the vintage surpassed the industry’s forecasts and was a result of favourable seasonal conditions in all but a few areas, as well as new vines coming into production.
The 2001 production, estimated at 1,426,000 tonnes, an increase of more than 280,000 tonnes (or 25%) on the 2000 vintage, was largely due to the 44% increase in red winegrape production. Specialist red winegrape production was 16% larger as a percentage of total production than white winegrape production, which includes multipurpose white varieties.
Specialist red winegrape production increased by 250,000 tonnes to 822,000 tonnes, an increase of 44% on last year. Specialist white winegrapes increased by 61,000 tonnes to 495,000 tonnes, a 14% increase.
Production of the top two specialist red grape varietals-Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon-increased by 39% and 58% respectively. Cabernet Sauvignon production increased by more than 99,000 tonnes to 272,000 tonnes or 19% of total production in 2001. Merlot continued its record growth, increasing by 50% to 74,000 tonnes, and holding its position as the fifth largest of the specialist grape varieties. Pinot Noir reversed the yield-affected declining trend of the last two vintages to record a 74% increase in production, which equates to a production level of 32,000 tonnes.
The lower than expected production of specialist white grapes was largely due to difficult seasonal conditions at the start of 2001.
Chardonnay posted an increase of 44,000 tonnes compared to 2000. As a percentage of the total production, Chardonnay held at 20%, equating to a production of 263,000 tonnes.
Production of Sauvignon Blanc increased by 29% to 26,000 tonnes and Verdelho by 47% to 10,000 tonnes. Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Chardonnay have more than doubled their overall share over the last 10 years-with Cabernet Sauvignon increasing from 7% in 1991 to 19% in 2001, and Shiraz increasing its contribution from 11% to 24%. Chardonnay has increased significantly from 8% of the total production in 1991 to 20% in 2001.
For most varieties, yields were above early season expectations. For the key varieties, the results were:
- Cabernet Sauvignon was 42,000 tonnes above projected
- Shiraz was 73,000 tonnes above projected
- Merlot was 11,000 above projected
- Chardonnay was 38,000 above projected
- Semillon was 3,000 tonnes below projected
- Riesling was 5,000 tonnes below projected
A major reason for the strong production growth in vintage 2001 was the winter and spring rains experienced across the major wine producing regions which resulted in healthy vines and good canopies.
Extreme heat and drier conditions in early 2001 impacted negatively on the white winegrape varieties, which mostly mature earlier. However, the later maturing red winegrape varieties were unaffected and benefited greatly from the reviving rain that came in February, March and April.
In the past five years winegrape production in Australia has increased by 61%, from 883,000 tonnes in 1996 to 1,426,000 tonnes in 2001. Over the past five years, all but one vintage (1997) have surpassed the previous year’s vintage.
Ian Sutton said just about all regions reported very good quality. ‘With grape prices easing due to the supply/demand dynamics, winemakers will emerge from the 2001 vintage with full tanks of quality wine and a marginal increase in competitiveness.’ He said a downside to the record vintage was that additional competitive pressures would be applied to small producers.
In the face of the 62,000 hectares planted since 1994, Mr Sutton also extended a warning to speculative investors contemplating development of new vineyards. ‘If you do not have strict quality criteria and a buyer for your grapes, if you have based your returns on grape prices at record levels and are not prepared to wait four to six years for a return on your investment, then you should carefully consider your business options,’ he said.
|Australian Winegrape Production|
|Variety||2000 tonnes||2001 tonnes||% Change||% Total
|Muscat a Petit Grains||1,094||664||-39%||0.05%||-32|
|Total Red Grapes||571,753||821,585||44%||57.61%||18875|
|Muscat a Petit Grains Blanc||1,385||1,139||-18%||0.08%||-19|
|Palomino and Pedro Ximenes||3,228||2,633||-18%||0.18%||-45|
|Subtotal White Grapes||434,294||495,347||14%||34.73%||4613|
|Multipurpose White Grapes|
|Muscat Gordo Blanco||54,144||46,556||-14%||3.26%||-573|
|Subtotal Multipurpose White Grapes||139,191||109,300||-21%||7.66%||-2258|
|Total White Grapes||573,485||604,647||5%||42.39%||2354|
|Source: WFA, ABS, KPMG|