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2003 vintage report for Lachlan Valley (New South Wales)

Vintage started on the lighter country on 29 January with the Chardonnay being quite high in Baume about 10 days earlier than normal. White yields were about 40% less than normal due to the drought. Grapes tended to raisin as soon as they reached ripeness, producing a sweet, rich must.

Red yields varied. Early ripening varieties (Pinot Noir and Merlot) were down about 25%. Shiraz was less affected, down about 15% but with good flavour concentration. Cabernet Sauvignon received the benefit of the only effective rainfall this year (75 mm late in February) which helped ripening and avoided any shrivel. Yields were only slightly down on normal.

Due to the extremely dry weather, grapes were relatively disease free, though some of the raisining in the Semillon may have been helped by Botrytis.

The dry weather caused a concentration of flavour and low juice extraction in white grapes and very high sugar levels in any grapes that were not picked quickly, producing must suitable for sweet white wines of high quality. Full flavoured, rich, high alcohol wines should be the result of the considerable raisining in the white grapes. Some good dessert wines should be made from this fruit.

The concentration of flavour in the red grapes should prove positive for quality wine, though alcohol levels will be high. Most reds should produce dense, high alcohol wines, particularly the early varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon will be least affected by the drought and while being powerful, wines should have only average alcohol levels.

All in all a very difficult year. Availability of water and the management of irrigation were essential to a successful vintage and the shortening of the ripening period resulted in over-ripe grapes wherever problems in handling fruit quickly were experienced.