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Contributed by Tim Smythe, industry development officer, Riverland Wine Industry Development Council
Growing season: Season 2008-09 started dry and finished extremely dry in the Riverland. There were some useful rains in early November and mid-December. Temperatures from September through mid-January were perfect for the progress of the vines. Most vines were in good shape leading into the heatwave conditions that prevailed through the latter part of January and into early February. This improved the resilience of the vines during the period of extreme heat, in which maximum temperatures exceeded 35°C for 13 consecutive days (27 January-8 February). Budburst arrived in late August; from there the vines progressed well through to flowering in mid-October and veraison in late December/early January. Weather conditions prior to the heatwave had been ideal for colour and flavour development.
Vintage: The harvest was under way by mid-January with early white varieties and sparkling material making their way through the crushers. The onset of the extended heatwave slowed progress significantly. The regions viticultural management capability had brought the vines through but they had to be nurtured in recovery; Baumés were slow to rise as a result. Needless to say, vintage was extended and winemakers were kept busy well past Easter.
Yields and quality: Despite the heat, quality is generally very good with some red varieties excelling. There were reports of some outstanding parcels of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. As expected, there was a significant variation in yield. Deteriorating terms of trade and depleted water resources are impacting individuals and industry.
Vintage ’09 will go down as trying but successful, with the ability of the region to pull through an extreme heat event illustrating the inherent capability that resides in the Riverland and Australian wine industry.