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Soaking rains throughout winter and early spring filled the soil profiles to capacity, and were welcomed after the relatively dry winters of the past few years. Budburst occurred in mid to late September throughout the region. Cool conditions throughout October and mid November saw slow but steady shoot growth, allowing foliage wire lifting to proceed in an orderly fashion. Persistent rains throughout this period also resulted in conditions conducive to Downy Mildew, however, well timed and targeted sprays ensured that this disease was kept under control. Flowering commenced in mid November up to one week earlier than average and the relatively dry, warm conditions resulted in an average flowering period reducing the risk of Botrytis infection.
Unfortunately, growers hopes of a dry December were dashed when the region received 40-60mm on 4 December. This rainfall event allowed vegetative growth to continue requiring extra shoot trimming to keep canopy architecture in order. Fortunately, the very dry conditions throughout mid December to mid January, coupled with heatwaves in late December, early January saw the soil profiles dry out very quickly. This enabled deficit irrigation regimes to be carried out, resulting in reduced berry size and good cane lignification prior to the onset of veraison in mid to late January. Growers started to apply supplementary irrigation in mid January, just prior to the onset of veraison and continued through to harvest, to ensure good leaf health and optimal ripening conditions.
The dry conditions continued in February, with many areas of the valley receiving less than 20mm since the start of January. Thankfully the heatwaves eventually subsided and the region was now blessed with cooler overnight temperatures and warm days in February, which was ideal for colour and flavour development. Veraison progressed very well and fruit ripened steadily thereafter.
Vintage commenced on 15 February with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay being harvested for Sparkling wine. With steady ripening, ideal weather conditions and lower yields the 2006 vintage in the King Valley was shaping up to produce some outstanding quality grapes and wine. White table wine varieties were harvested in early to mid March, whilst red table wine varieties were harvested in mid March to early May. Most growers reported harvest dates up to two weeks earlier than average. Early crop estimates which revealed crop levels up to 20% below average on most varieties proved to be correct resulting in a regional average of 9t/ha at harvest.
Earlier predictions of some outstanding wines were also proven to be correct with winemakers reporting high acid levels and delicate flavours in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir destined for Sparkling wine, and exceptional quality in Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Verdelho table wines with all varieties displaying full varietal flavours and crisp acids.
Stand-out red varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with high colour and well-developed palate weight and structure. High colour and rich flavours were also in abundance in the non-traditional varieties of Sangiovese and Nebbiolo.