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1997 vintage report for McLaren Vale (South Australia)

‘It has been an excellent vintage in McLaren Vale, both in terms of highlights and sheer depth of quality,’ said BRL Hardy chief winemaker Peter Dawson. The region benefited from well-spaced rainfall throughout the growing season until early February, when up to 40 mm of rain boosted vine health.’Chardonnay is the best from the region we’ve seen in many years and the young wines are full with sweet fruit flavour, although yields were slightly down. Shiraz is outstanding with young wines displaying great colour, spice and texture, or mouthfeel. The young Cabernet Sauvignon wines have exhibited more aromas than normal with exceedingly attractive violet and blackcurrant aromas to the fore. Similarly Merlot and Grenache wines are showing great promise, said Peter. d’Arry Osborn, managing director of d’Arenberg Wines in McLaren Vale, said vintage 1997, the 55th consecutive vintage he had worked at d’Arenberg, had proved again that no vintage is ever the same. ‘This February saw an unprecedented heatwave, indeed the hottest spell since 1939, but March was really quite mild.’ The hot February and cool March combined divided the crush — early ripening varieties and sites were mostly picked with high sugar ripeness but low acidity and flavour ripeness, quite unusual for McLaren Vale. Winemaker Chester Osborn said overall the vintage could be an average of 20% smaller than last year’s 37,000 tonnes from McLaren Vale. He said Shiraz from vintage 1997 seems to have quite remarkable potential, with previously average quality vineyards seemingly producing their most highly coloured and flavoured crop in recent memory. ‘On the white side of the ledger, the early stars of the vintage look like being the tiny quantities of Chardonnay actually yielding this year compared to previous years,’ Chester Osborne said. ‘The best parcels of Sauvignon Blanc look extraordinarily intense. Neighbours report that Semillon and Chenin Blanc are not far behind. Riesling initially seemed to have borne the brunt of the heat but recovered to look rich and flavoursome in the cellars.’