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2003 vintage report for Hilltops (New South Wales)

Lower than normal yields resulted from the 2003 harvest due to the unseasonable dry conditions during the entire growing season. Limited water supply to most vineyards did not allow irrigation systems to fully supplement moisture levels. Some dry land crops resulted in very poor yields. Fruit quality was as usual high, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz being the two main reds harvested.

Overall the season had mixed outcomes for the growers. Those with access to plenty of water had a very good season with good quality and quantity. Growers who ran out of water late in the season seem to have fared the worst as they had a large canopy early in the season with plenty of fruit which fell apart dramatically late as the water ran out.

Generally in the Hilltops region growers would use and have access to half a megalitre of water per hectare, but this was not sufficient this year with the very dry winter and spring of  2002.

‘All this points to the difficulties of growing grapes in an area where we have no access to water rights due to our position at the top of the catchment,’ said spokeswoman Gail Norris. ‘With these difficulties in mind the growers and wineries of the area must build into their pricing and contracts a substantial buffer as compared to the pricing of places that have no concerns with water.’

Fruit was generally harvested up to four weeks earlier then normal. The harvest began in mid February with some vineyards completing their harvest before the end of March. Once again any vineyards that had sufficient water were picking for up to six weeks after March. There was 50mm of rain in late January and this caused a lot of splitting in Shiraz in particular, which led the lowering of yields also.

‘In general the season had mixed results for growers and wineries that received mixed qualities of fruit,’ Gail said. ‘It was disappointing to see that some large wineries downgraded smaller quantities of fruit (due to the drought). They would have trouble substantiating this when compared to fruit from the same blocks that went to other wineries.’