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2003 vintage report for Tasmania

Yield levels were normal this year despite the summer drought. The transition between sparkling harvest and still wine harvest was short. Vintage was early as the hot summer had advanced ripening.

Winter 2002 was warmer than average and July saw the lowest rainfall on record in the east. August 2002 showed slightly warmer maximum temperatures across the state as buds woke from dormancy. September was wet and windy except for continued drought in the east. It was warm early in the month followed by a cold mid-September. Budburst was fairly uniform across the state.

October 2002 was slightly wetter than normal with normal temperatures. In November the warm and dry weather began in all vineyard regions. Bushfires occurred in the south and east early in the month. December began with an early cold outbreak during mid to late flowering, depending on variety and region. Flowering and set was generally good, however flowering was extended. Some variety/site combinations showed hen and chickens, especially in the south. Generally, this year had good cropping levels with larger berries than last year’s poor set. Late December continued the November warm and dry.

This year was another without frosts. Fans were used, and one vineyard in the north used a helicopter for frost protection, although no damage was noted. The growing season was windy; September and November were particularly windy months. January 2003 was very hot (maxima 3-4 degrees above average) and dry in the south and east. There was some relieving rain in the north and north east. February was warm and dry, with no rainfall in the Tamar Valley, and very low rainfall for most of the State. Hot dry summers reduce build-up of Botrytis inoculum and this set vineyards up for a good vintage. Irrigation systems allowed canopies to continue working throughout summer and the hot and dry weather advanced berry development.

Most vineyards in the state are irrigated. The dry period presented opportunities for targeted and scientific irrigation management of early cell division. Over-irrigation during this period lead to large berries in some instances. Irrigation systems were working hard in light soils to keep up with vine stress, and in some instances irrigation started a little later than optimal. Unirrigated vineyards in Tasmania are most often on deep red soils with good water reserves at higher tensions. Large-scale dropping and damage of fruit was avoided, despite the prolonged dry.

March saw slightly warmer than average temperatures in the north. Rainfall was higher across the state in March than in the dry 2002 vintage. There was very high rainfall in the south and east in contrast to well below normal rainfall in the north and north east. Low temperatures slowed ripening in late March.

Vintage began with sparkling fruit in early March.  Sparkling bases were picked and fermenting by April, except for some cooler vineyards in the north east.  Sparkling fruit was flavour-ripe earlier, due to the warmer growing season. Botrytis loads were low due to the dry season. The much-needed March rain caused some splitting, especially in the south. This rain also began a cycle of disease build-up for fruit picked in late April. Critical bunch rot controls in the vineyard include inter row management, managing resistance, timing and coverage of controls, light-brown apple moth control and canopy management. This was a year where diligent growers were rewarded. 

It was a difficult year with disease pressure producing bunch rots in several vineyards. April saw heavy rainfall from the 11th to the 15th. Some fruit arriving at the winery after this rain showed a wide range of bunch rots, which  affected the wine in differing ways. Selective hand picking was important for some blocks. It was a year that showed the importance of good communication between the vineyard and the winery. Many wines are of good quality after careful attention in the winery. April temperatures were below normal for the south and east and above normal for the north and northeast.

Net maintenance is a critical aspect of bird control in Tasmania. Some growers speculated the role of dry weather in increasing bird pressure this vintage.

For the sparkling wines, high quality, clean, flavour-ripe fruit was essentially picked by April. While generally good, these wines are characterised by lower than normal acid levels.

The prolonged heat of January, and to a lesser extent February, on green pre-veraison berries will influence the flavour spectrum of this year’s Pinot Noir. Near normal temperatures cooling during March should see flavours maintained. Fruit harvested before mid-April rains and from balanced, well-managed canopies will produce quality wines with deep colour. The smaller quantities of fruit arriving after this date, displaying splitting or bunch rot will test the skill of winemakers.

Harvest time for Chardonnay was often determined by Botrytis pressure, so flavours expected in the earlier ripening dimension are grapefruit, apple, tobacco and melon rather than fig and tropical fruit.  Some producers are working with Botrytis to make late-picked styles.

It was a variable Riesling vintage, with some intensely aromatic wines of power and structure. Some have been affected by rots, splitting, early harvest and over cropping.

The Gewurztraminer has increased floral aromas with less spicy ginger characters. Picking in the early morning was key to retention of full flavour in aromatic whites.

For Pinot Gris, there are powerful pear, ripe banana and spice notes but less typical mineral characters than previous vintages. It was a good year for Cabernets from well managed vineyards in Tasmania. There are ripe dark berry flavours on the palate. Merlot and Cabernet Franc are deep tannic wines showing quite ripe flavour characteristics.

Ripe flavours appeared early in Sauvignon Blanc this year.  There are no herbaceous flavours at all. Fruit splitting was caused by rapid uptake of water from late rains. Some clones were less affected than others and splitting also very much depended on the crop load in the particular vineyard and irrigation regime used. Tasmania’s climate is generally cool and maritime with a long, cool ripening period. Within this framework this year was a hot, dry season, without frost, good sets and yields, and an early vintage. It was a vintage that presented challenges and high points. (Report by Duncan Farquhar of the Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment, Tasmania).