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Vintage in Margaret River was slightly late, beginning about 17-24 February. Simon Robertson, viticulturist for Southcorp Wines’ Devils Lair Vineyard, said most yields were average; some areas reported decreases of 20-30% while there were other areas where yields increased. Strong winds in November 1996 caused a loss of yield mostly on whites, and increased yields were due to enhanced viticultural practices. Weather during vintage was generally mild and overcast with some rain. Maximum temperatures ranged from 27 °C in February to 20 °C in March and 22 °C in April. There was 80 mm of rain in February, 11 mm in March and 15 mm in April. Hail and rain in November and cloudy humid weather enhanced the disease threshold and many wineries reported the incidence of powdery mildew and botrytis. Simon said the weather affected the quality of fruit, with ripening problems due to cooler weather and less sunlight. The effects of botrytis may diminish quality, but slightly cooler characters may be enhanced. With the added time to reach maturity, accumulation of flavours in reds is good with both older and younger fruit and possibly higher acids in all fruit and good berry and plum characters. ‘With cooler, humid weather, the rate of maturity was the significant difference — some vineyards were still harvesting in late April, when normally they would be finished early in the month,’ he said. Whites should show traditional characters in Chardonnay with lifted fruit and citrus/tropical characters. Semillon and Sauvignon Blancs are very fruity and well-structured, with good length of fruit in palate. The changeable nature of the weather in the growing season made predictions about the region’s vintage more difficult than usual, according to a report from the Margaret River Wine Industry Association’s Wine News. Unusually heavy rain in both February and March and a very cool March had some winemakers predicting gloom, but in the end the rain does not seem to have made much difference. Picking was later than average for many vineyards. Some had botrytis, some didn’t. Some had Semillon splitting; some didn’t. Some found yields down, particularly the whites; some didn’t. John Durham from Cape Mentelle firmly predicts a great year for Chardonnay, or at the very least, for his Chardonnay. He said it had been an unusual vintage of changeable weather. His picking time, unlike many others, was about normal. ‘We’ve got a fantastic tank of Semillon,’ he said. ‘And I think we will make some excellent reds with good flavours.’ Further north in Willyabrup, John Wojturski of Arlewood said high winds in October burnt his Chardonnay. But he thought the reds would be excellent, and so did many others. A common view was that however good the Chardonnay might be, there wouldn’t be much of it. Malcolm Jones of Brooklyn Valley said he had 50 mm of rain in two hours in one of the summer downpours. This cooled the ground and slowed up the vines. Malcom said the rain wasn’t a worry in the end — the Semillon didn’t split and he had no botrytis. His picking was two weeks late and his whites were down in yield, but his reds were holding. Ani Lewis, on one of the highest altitudes of all the wineries at Cape Clairault, described the vintage as ‘quite challenging.’ Ani thought the flavour was good; yield from the reds was normal but the whites were down. The story at Chateau Xanadu, according to Conor Lagan, is that quality is very high but quantity is down 20%. It had been a long ripening period and the reds were excellent. The Chardonnay and Semillon were down, the former due to wind.