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2003 vintage report for Clare Valley (South Australia)

The quality of Riesling was one of the bright stars of the 2003 Clare Valley vintage, according to Peter Barry, chairman of the Clare Valley Winemakers.

‘A vintage like this shows just how well suited the Clare Valley is to the production of high quality Riesling,’ he said.

‘In a year that has seen some extremely low yields, down considerably on 2002, Riesling has been the exception for many growers. There have been good crops of Riesling and winemakers report being very happy with the quality—some suggesting they are on a par with their 2002s.’

The Clare vintage was good overall given the drought, widespread frost in late September, and untimely late February rain.

Vintage started early with a lot of activity already under way by late February when 75 to 80 mm of rain fell and put a stop to things. There was widespread splitting of Shiraz and Semillon and, to some extent, all varieties suffered. Riesling, unusually, seemed less affected. There were large differences in the extent of splitting experienced and it is difficult to see any pattern other than bunches with very small berries suffered most. There was very little disease pressure until the rain, and preventive fungicide spraying soon after stopped any serious outbreak of Botrytis. On balance, winemakers felt the rain helped considerably, providing necessary juice and putting the juice-to-solids ratio more into balance without causing any dilution in the wines—extraction rates were still low. Very positive comments were made about Merlot and there were reports of some excellent parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon.

The weather in March and April was ideal viticulturally with maximum temperatures in the mid 20s and virtually no rain. Flavour ripeness lagged behind, quickly rising sugar levels resulting in some fruit being picked at higher than normal Baumes. Red grapes picked later showed better physiological ripeness than early picked material.

It was a very compact vintage—much shorter than usual—with many wineries finishing by Easter. This was mainly a reflection of low tonnages with wineries, on average, reporting being down about 25%. Again, there were big fluctuations with the picture more complex than usual. For some the intake was about normal while others were down as much as 40%. Potentially the crop was there—but very small berries needed water, which was at a premium. Frost also played a significant part in frost-prone vineyards.

‘Drought conditions always result in far more variability across the Valley than years in which vineyards start the growing season with good levels of sub-soil moisture, full dams and well-resourced aquifers,’ Peter Barry said. ‘The outcomes are much more site-specific and even when looking at individual situations the analysis can be difficult. This vintage will leave many more unanswered questions than most.’