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Justin Byrne, President of the Orange Region Vignerons Association, said the warm, dry conditions in spring and summer characterised what was in general a difficult growing season. The major plus of the season was the very low incidence of disease through the growing season.
Vintage started on 15 February, an early start particularly for those at 600 metres or thereabouts. Many chose to pick whites after rain on 21-23 February. The rain had the impact of changing the season so that red varieties were picked at or about normal time.
Yields were down by 40% on 2002. This varied depending on the individual vineyard access to irrigation water. Some vineyards reported the best quality red crops (Shiraz and Cabernet) for more than a decade.
The major influence on the yield reduction was the dry conditions. Following rain in February, conditions returned to normal and were dry through to early May when the latest varieties were picked, including Cabernet Sauvignon.
The dry season meant much lower disease pressure than usual, resulting in the lowest number of sprays for many years. In general, the quality of red grapes was very good to excellent and the quality of whites was good with Chardonnay best handling the heat. The February rain caused some Botrytis.
In the red varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Shiraz all fared well. At lower altitudes Shiraz and the small plantings of Sangiovese were pleasing. Good results were found in Merlot at 800 to 900 metre altitudes.
The quality for whites was more variable as the February rain came at, or just before, optimum picking time for much of the region’s Chardonnay.