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Sauvignon Blanc in Monichino’s Katunga Vineyard in the northern Goulburn Valley was among the first fruit to be harvested in the first week of February. Local vineyards commenced harvest two to three weeks earlier than average. The vintage was characterised by a warmer than average growing season with drought conditions continuing from the previous season with El Nino taking its toll. Rainfall recordings were significantly below average levels during the 2002 winter period, resulting in very dry subsoil moisture. Water allocations in the Goulburn-Murray Catchment Area commenced at only 30% and this only increased to 54% by the end of the irrigation season, hence many vineyard operators were forced to irrigate judiciously and, in many cases, below optimum vine requirement. Poor fruitfulness combined with low bunch and berry weights contributed to yields being down 30–40% across most varieties. Due to the unusually dry conditions and low relative humidity, there were no reports of disease and generally only a few protectant fungicide sprays were required throughout the growing season.
Quality ranged from very good to outstanding, and high colour intensities and rapid flavour accumulation were easily achieved. Stringent and frequent monitoring of sugar and flavour accumulation was required soon after the onset of veraison as Baume levels increased by up to 1.5 points per week, often resulting in some difficulties in picking at optimum maturity levels. Despite the warmer than average temperatures, generally good acid levels were maintained and this was probably attributed to the moderate crop levels.
All red varieties performed well with winemakers reporting some outstanding parcels of Shiraz, particularly from older vines with deeper root systems as these have managed to source permanent moisture deeper within the soil profile and maintain good levels of crop/canopy balance. Similarly, most white varieties have exhibited very good varietal character at early stages of vinification. Of the early bottling varietals, Rieslings from the Central Goulburn Valley exhibited delicate floral and citrus aromatics. Chardonnay displayed more diversity in the flavour spectrum and this was probably the result of variations in soil moisture availability and increased site diversity.
During March many red varieties were simultaneously reaching harvest maturity, which placed extra pressure on red fermentation space for a few weeks. This resulted in some fruit being left on the vines a week to 10 days past optimum maturity levels, however the fine conditions ensured that this did not have too much detrimental effect on overall fruit and eventual wine quality. The consensus among Goulburn Valley vignerons is that above average rainfall is required during the 2003 winter, especially in the catchment areas, to avoid similar water restrictions incurred during the past two vintages.