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The most obvious characteristics of the year were the warm, dry conditions which reminded many people of 1998. This heat was reflected in both the harvesting time and in the size of the wines—the warmest, earliest and probably the biggest in local history.
The whites were harvested from the second week of February, with Pinot Noir and Gamay following close behind. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris appear to be big, powerful, structured wines—bigger than 2001 and 1998, both of which were similarly warm vintages which are drinking well now.
The ‘light’ reds this year are going to be concentrated, emasculated wines. The strong tannins and bigger nature of the wines was expected given the warmth of the weather. What was, perhaps, less expected was that the very low crop levels experienced across the region as a result of vignerons looking after vine health during this drought, has created wines of real intensity. Crop levels of Pinot and Gamay were very low, at 1 to 2 tonnes per acre as the norm.
The same level of intensity was experienced in the full-bodied reds. Again, crop levels were very low, with small berries, light bunch weights and very intense flavours. The Cabernets are outstanding this year; one of the few years that vignerons were able to pick Cabernet at any flavour profile from tobacco to blackcurrant jam. The few Merlots look as though they will be exceptional as well.
‘Perhaps the Shiraz blends will also be excellent; the region doesn’t often get this style of full, dry, leathery fruit, so maybe a lack of experience with this flavour spectrum has caused reservation of our own judgment,’ said a spokesman for the Beechworth Vignerons Association. ‘Certainly these wines have enjoyed the heat, with Shiraz ripening easily two weeks earlier than average, and the tannic power and concentration of the young wines being very impressive.
‘The Italian red varieties, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo in particular, look very promising. They share the fully ripe character and power of the Cabernets, but exhibiting their individual flavour profile of liquorice, tar and leather.
‘There will also be good fortified wines, and hopefully a vintage port from Beechworth this year. All in all, the theme of a very dry season (the second in a row) and the unusual warmth will shine out in this vintage. Although the previous year was dry and cooler, and the style of the reds quite different, 2002 and 2003 will probably be twin years of great red wines.’