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2009 vintage report for Tasmania

Contributed by David Sanderson, industry development officer, Wine Industry Tasmania

Growing season: Tasmania’s 2009 vintage can be summed up as ‘quality, not quantity’. The unpredictable weather created some challenges and particular climatic factors limited the yield in all Tasmanian growing regions, but this has aided in producing fruit of exceptional quality and intensity.

October was very dry, but November recorded above average rainfall across the State. Growers have reported that vines carried just as many bunches as expected, but a combination of low soil moisture leading up to fruitset and cloudy, cool weather in December led to considerably fewer berries setting. Low soil moisture at fruitset was brought about by a dry winter and spring which in eastern and southern areas was often unable to be remedied completely with irrigation because of limited water availability.

The cool weather continued into January except at the very end when record high temperatures were reached over a period of four days. The generally cool weather (with cold nights) kept fruit and canopy development retarded. Thankfully, there was very little damage with the hot weather – mainland regions were not so fortunate.

January and most of February were dry with high rainfall at the end of February pushing that month’s total to near average. The low rainfall has helped produce smaller berries of concentrated flavour and also aided in reducing disease pressure. The late February boost to soil moisture was welcome and kept vines fresh for the task of ripening the smaller crop.

Berries were small this season (less than 1cm diameter), giving a high skin-to-pulp ratio. There were also fewer berries per bunch, enhancing fruit exposure and flavour and tannin development. Many berries also had only a single seed which, in such a small berry, made valuable room for pulp.

As dry, overcast weather is ideal for powdery mildew development the pressure from this disease was high this season. Growers were vigilant, though, and there were very few reports of negative impact on fruit quality. Botrytis (grey mould) was noted in Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris but was not severe. Noble rot conditions were excellent during vintage. Downy mildew was noted in March and April as a primary infection but had no impact on the vintage. Similarly, there was very little lightbrown apple moth damage. Mealybug was noted in some vineyards but was not an issue. All of these pests and diseases have a huge potential to damage yield and quality but with diligent management and luck with weather they are easily managed.

Vintage: Vintage 2009 was delayed at the start and finish by about two weeks by the long cool period in summer. The sudden onset of hot weather at the end of January was a bit of a shock to the vines but they were in very good condition and recovered quickly with minimal damage. The rest of the season was near perfect for ripening fruit. Fruit generally showed excellent flavour, concentration and acidity. Those who braved the elements and left fruit out for a late-harvest dessert wine were gifted with cool, foggy mornings, blowing-off to mild sunny days – just perfect for this style.

Yields and quality: There is no reliable data to quantify yields per variety. However, the data so far collected indicates that the yield was only 60% of the bumper harvest last vintage. This would equate to approximately 6000t, with Pinot Noir making up nearly half that figure, followed by Chardonnay with about one-quarter and then Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Gris comprising the majority of the rest.

Chardonnay is showing tremendous potential. Flavour concentration is great with high acidity and ageing potential for barrel-fermented wines. Riesling is, by all reports, a standout for the vintage. Elegant citrus notes and lifted floral aromas with tight acidity are the hallmarks. One producer went so far as saying it was potentially the best this decade. Other aromatic varieties followed a similar theme, displaying intense varietal characteristics but with reduced tonnage.

Pinot Noir at harvest had bunches of about 70-100g, which is a lot lighter than the long-term average of 140-170g. This corresponds to the reduction in yield on average of about 40%. The lighter bunches comprised smaller berries giving a loose bunch structure and greater exposure of skins to sunlight. The higher skin-to-pulp ratio allows strong skin contact during fermentation resulting in strong colour and flavour development in the wine.