The 2017 vintage will be remembered as a long and hard season, and brought back some memories of the 2011 vintage. Coming out of winter was looking like the best start to the season we have had in years; creeks had been constantly flowing, soil moisture levels were high and plenty of ground water recharge had occurred. Bud burst occurred on par with the past couple of seasons and was relatively even, and with high moisture levels there were no significant frost events. Early growth of the vines was excellent with ample soil moisture to fuel good even and balanced growth. Spring was one of the wettest on record, with constant nearly weekly rainfall events making disease control very difficult. Adding to this was the milder temperatures which fuelled higher vigour in the vines than the past couple of drier seasons. The cooler and wetter conditions of spring led to a late and extended flowering period, leading to quite a bit of variability in bunch ripeness going into Harvest. Drier conditions returned in February and March which allowed for good even ripening of the fruit, with flavours, tannins and baumes developing well especially in Cabernet Sauvignon, which benefited from the absence of any significant heatwaves.
Harvesting of whites commenced in late February, a few weeks later than the past two seasons, but more in line with long term average. With favourable weather conditions, harvest continued into mid-March with the whites showing strong varietal characters, and high crisp natural acidity. The bulk of the red harvest didn’t start until April and this coincided with the return to wet and cold conditions making harvest very intermittent and drawn out. The early harvested fruit is expressing the strong varietal characters that were seen on the vines, but the cooler wetter conditions made it more difficult to concentrate flavours in the later picked fruit. Despite the tough season the hard work and effort put in by the growers in the district has again paid dividends with very strong and varietal red wines being produced again this season, with Cabernet Sauvignon being the standout.
The 2016 vintage will be remembered for all the right reasons. For the first time in a long time we can describe a vintage as being good for both quality and tonnage. Quality hasn’t been an issue for recent vintages, but tonnage certainly has so it was very rewarding to return to volumes that are more favourable. Winter was particularly dry in 2015 with only 112mm of rainfall against the long term average of 180mm. As a result, early and irrigation was required to replenish the soil profile. It remained dry throughout Spring and Summer with only 106mm of rainfall against the long term average of 203mm. Mean maximum temperatures throughout November were near normal, but October and December were significantly higher than their averages setting new monthly mean records. October was 6 degrees and December 4 degrees above their mean monthly averages. As a result of these temperatures flowering for the second year in a row was early and particularly quick. Since the beginning of October there were almost weekly heatwaves and this continued up until the last 2 weeks of January. From this point on, conditions were ideal. Mean maximums and minimums were slightly lower for February and slightly higher for March against 15 year averages. More significantly temperatures were quite consistent through this period with no extremes. This coupled with very little rain were perfect conditions to progress through vintage with minimal interruptions. Although our minimum temperatures were near average, we were again littered with low temperature events. Surprisingly the frost that did the most damage around the district was on December the 2nd. Some sites to the South received significant damage as a result of this frost which would have been bitterly disappointing at such a late stage. Fortunately most growers either entirely escaped or only had small pockets of damage. Although there were larger yields this season, vines were in balance and only minimal thinning was undertaken across the district. For the second year in a row harvest commenced early February. Many growers harvested their whites earlier than their previous records, which were in most cases set in 2015. The reds whilst early, in comparison to the whites progressed along at a more sedate pace as a result of the milder conditions. Easter continues to be a surprisingly accurate way to predict the end of vintage regardless of when it falls with the vast majority of the regions fruit completed by this time. White wines are looking solid this season showing lovely varietal flavours, backed by crisp natural acidity. The vintage was a standout for reds with incredibly deep red colours. The flavours are rich and intense in balance with supple tannins that support the wines well.
The 14 -15 season began with strong early winter rains filling the soil profile, however, from Spring onward until the early part of January, rainfall was well below average. Rainfall for the period of April to the end of July was 36mm above our 15 year average. Total rainfall of 16mm in September and 6mm in October are amongst the lowest totals ever recorded. Between the 8th – 13th of January approximately 80mm fell providing a welcome relief to an extremely dry Spring period. This was perfect timing for the vineyard as it was early enough to avoid any botrytis risk and too late for any significant mildew risks. Mean maximum temperatures throughout September were near normal, however in October and November temperatures were significantly higher than their averages resulting in an early and particularly quick flowering period. Minimum temperatures although near average were littered with even lower temperature events and this together with a reduction in dew points saw higher frost risk. Damage was quite inconsistent around the district with some experiencing significant losses. January began with a couple of days of plus 40 degrees, but subsequent temperatures to the end of February were mild with excellent ripening conditions. Veraison was equal to or earlier than ever recorded for Wrattonbully. Some varieties reached verasion up to 15 days sooner than the previous earliest ever recorded for those sites. This resulted in many whites and some red varieties experiencing the earliest start to vintage on record. Particularly cold nights (1.5°C below average) and cool days (2.1°C below average) throughout March slowed ripening of the late red varieties resulting in a fairly steady finish to vintage. The majority of the region’s fruit came off prior to Easter with the exception of a few select blocks needing a little more hang time and a couple of Botrytis parcels. Yields were below average across all varieties this season. Bunch numbers in a lot of cases were near normal, however bunch weights were significantly down on long term averages. 2015 has been an excellent vintage for white grapes with the standout varieties being Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Chardonnay. Viticulturists and winemakers had to move fast with the rapid ripening and those that harvested early have made wines of full varietal character framed by taut acidity. The vintage conditions also suited Viognier and Pinot Gris as full fruit expression of these varieties was achieved at lower alcohol levels. The cooler conditions later in vintage allowed a more sedate pace to the harvest of the red grape varieties and winemakers were able to bring in the grapes at their leisure rather than be pushed by rapidly accumulating sugar. It has been an outstanding year for all red grapes, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. The wines have full colours, bright, fresh generous wines will full character at lower alcohol levels.
The season got off to a cool and wet start followed by a windy and dry spring, hot summer and mild days with cold nights through autumn which has culminated into a long drawn out vintage. Winter rainfalls were near the long term average this season and as a result soils reached field capacity which got the vines off to a good start. Spring daily maximum temperatures were slightly down on long term average this season. This was driven by cool nights, early morning cloud cover and constant southerly winds. November in particular had 13 nights under 5 degrees. These cool temperatures and strong southerly winds extended the flowering over a 6 week period. As a result, set was poor on most varieties with some yields significantly down on average, cabernet sauvignon being the worst affected. Late December saw a start to the warm weather with it reaching 42.7o C on the 19th of December. The heat continued into January with the season’s first heatwave from the 13th to the 17 th with all 5 days over 40o C and the 14th reaching a record breaking 45.8o C. Heat through the veraison period kept berry size small further impacting on the already light crops. Although a season with low yields, wine quality is strong. Lighter crops meant that the Pinot Gris was picked with great pear and green apple flavours, persistent natural acidity and lower sugar levels than previous seasons; 2014 continues the trend for excellent Pinot Gris in Wrattonbully. Varieties with larger canopies such as Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc were all picked 1-2 weeks later than the last few seasons due to the cool weather post the summer heat. Sauvignon Blanc has been the other standout variety with intense passionfruit and nettle notes with the wines having excellent body and length Due to the cooler conditions later in the season, red grapes have been particularly late compared to the early seasons of recent years. However flavours have developed in balance as acid and sugar accumulated. The first red grapes to come off were Tempranillo, and then there was a break of two weeks before the first of the Merlot was harvested. Shiraz was not delayed though shows intense perfumed spice and pepper characters typical of the cool climate expression of the variety. The delayed ripening was most evident in Cabernet Sauvignon with little sugar accumulation for several weeks giving the grapes extended “hang time” enabling ripe mature skin and seed tannin development at lower potential alcohols. 2014 in Wrattonbully is a classic Cabernet Sauvignon vintage with Merlot wines having similar strength. The 2014 vintage has been the polar opposite of the 2013 vintage which was a fast paced early event with whites and reds ripening at the same time. Coming off two warm and early vintages with 2012 and 2013, it will be intriguing to see how the 2014 wines with their cooler ripening period and lower yields compare.
The Wrattonbully growing season opened well with near average rainfall through winter though conditions quickly dried with half the average rain through spring and it was even drier into summer. In early spring, day temperatures were warmer and budburst was early for all varieties though cooler temperatures late September and early October slowed the vine’s growth. Warmer conditions returned in November which gave quick flowering and good set of average yields; a few varieties such as Pinot Gris yielded higher than normal. December and January had several high temperature days though they were spaced and good irrigation practices prevented any stress to the vines or developing grapes. Early February was cool and the harvest of the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay was a week later than average. Warm conditions and the occasional heat spike late in February and early March brought harvest of the red grapes hard on the heels of the whites and most vineyards were picked by the end of March. Vines were particularly balanced this season requiring little intervention. The standout white varieties are Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. Sauvignon Blanc developed flavours of excellent complexity and yielded wines that are complete. Pinot Gris has crunchy pear flavours and excellent texture. Tempranillo and Merlot were at their typical high quality but the true stand outs were Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Cabernet had intense cassis and red berry flavour and Shiraz showed ripe plum and dark fruits. What excites us about the reds this season is the great colour intensity and structure. Whilst these wines have a lot of tannin, it is ripe tannin with generous fruit so they are set to be long lived. The 2013 vintage in Wrattonbully was a fast paced event and grape-growers and winemakers had to be nimble, 2013 will rank as one of the best in Wrattonbully’s brief history and it will be intriguing to see how the wines compare with the highly rated 2012.
Whilst the 2011 vintage will be remembered as the Wrattonbully region’s most challenging season to date, the 2012 vintage will be remembered as one of the region’s finest. Fruit quality is exceptional from the region this year across all varieties, driven somewhat by slightly below average tonnages for the whites and reds which yielded anywhere between 15-50 percent lower than average. Following on from the 2011 vintage, 2012 wasn’t without its own challenges with good pest and disease management strategies required. The application of careful canopy and fruit management was also required to overcome a strong spring growing season across the blocks in the region. Minimum temperatures from August to January were slightly up on long term averages, adding to maximum daily temperatures across the months of November, December and January which were all about 2 degrees warmer, although there were no heat spikes during this period just warmer days than normal. Mild temperatures were the greatest influence this season. A warm to hot spell at the end of February was then followed by cooler nights and mild days allowing reds to achieve phenological maturity that aligned with their baumes. Full soil moisture profiles as a result of good early winter rains got the season off to a strong start. Budburst was particularly early this season beginning 2 weeks ahead of normal, with Cabernet Sauvignon an exception in some cases most likely as a result of late pruning. This trend continued with the vines throughout the season staying about 2 weeks ahead at all key periods right up until harvest. As with budburst, flowering and fruit set was early, commencing in late October into early November. Fruit set was down compared with previous years especially in the reds with the exception of Merlot which set particularly well and even required thinning in some cases. Vintage ended with beautiful autumn sunny days allowing for fruit parcels to be picked at their optimum. Whites from the region look very strong and have good acid retention due to the lack of intense heat late in the ripening period as is often the case. Sauvignon Blancs have more passionfruit tropical flavours this season rather than grassy and herbaceous characters. Chardonnays are showing great promise exhibiting ripe peach, melon and grapefruit flavours. The Merlots are particularly robust this year with strong colour and full velvety tannins. Shiraz took a while to develop but once they did they had fantastic rounded fruit flavours with smooth tannins to support the palate. Arguably the standout variety was Cabernet Sauvignon. They held their natural acidity, had a wide spectrum of flavours, vibrant colours and full tannins.
The 2011 Australian vintage was one of the most challenging in living memory. The increased and continual rainfall throughout the growing season resulted in large juicy grapes increasing yields to higher levels than expected. Growing season rainfall was the highest on record, having to go back to 1974 for the next highest. The season commenced with strong even budburst and little significant frost incidence. Flowering and fruit set was delayed by approximately three weeks occurring during late November and early December. A late short warm spell from the 22nd – 23rd of November promoted even flowering and resulted in good and even set. Rainfall was relatively normal during the spring season, however this increased dramatically above average for December. Over 259mm fell for the month which was 228mm above the historical average. A normally dry January / February period didn’t eventuate with the rain and humidity continuing. The recorded 2011 vintage crush for Wrattonbully was 14,105 tonnes, approximately 60% of 2010 Tonnes (23,292 Tonnes). (The National annual crush was 1.62 million tonnes, an increase of 1% on 2010.) Spray intervals were shortened and pest and disease monitoring was a high priority in an attempt to maintain disease free vineyards and deliver quality fruit. Powdery and Downy mildew in the main was well controlled by growers in the region, however latent Botrytis infections proved to be the season’s greatest challenge with all varieties showing varying levels of the disease as ripening progressed. A noticeable benefit of the past season has been a decrease in salinity levels around the root zone. Little to no irrigation was applied and the high rainfall allowed salts to leach from the profile. Early varieties such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris were picked during better weather conditions than were present for the later red harvest. Cabernet Sauvignon was arguably the region’s best performed red. The long cool ripening period allowed for early flavour and seed development at lower than normal Baume. Therefore, quality whilst not as high as normal was still evident in isolated parcels.
The 2010 vintage was a vintage with excellent balance and fruit definition. Overall tonnages were average to slightly above with fruit quality looking strong across all varieties. We began the season with full soil profiles due to above average rainfall during late Winter and early Spring. July through to September experienced almost 100mm above the average rainfall for this period (230mm), a situation we have not seen in recent years. Rain fell regularly throughout the growing season providing a much needed boost to canopy growth, resulting in good vine balance and a strong framework to carry the fruit through to harvest. Flowering and fruit set through November was brought on rapidly by the small heatwave during that month. This led to a very even and consistent set across all varieties, with only Cabernet Sauvignon experiencing reduced fruit set in some areas. Cool nights through January, February and March with warmer days which lacked the heat spikes experienced in previous seasons, led to a consistent ripening period. This resulted in an early harvest for the whites with good acid levels, and a longer slow ripening of the reds leading to great colour and flavour development. Rain falling late into harvest resulted in some incidence of Botrytis in the region not really seen since the larger yields of 2004. Conditions favourable for harvest up until early April, together with well managed crop levels, had most of the fruit harvested prior to Easter. 30-40mm of rain fell on the Tuesday after Easter which brought a fairly abrupt end to the 2010 harvest. Quality on varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Chardonnay was once again very strong this year. Interestingly, it may be the strength of the more marginal varieties that help define the quality of this vintage, as there doesn’t appear to have been a weak link. Semillon, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc were all picked early this year with great complexity of flavour. Merlot produced strong flavours, good tannin structure and deep colour at lower baumes this year. Tempranillo continues to impress. In summary, the 2010 vintage, as with the past four seasons, produced fruit of excellent quality and should result in wines that are reflective of our region’s increasing maturity.
For the third year in a row Wrattonbully experienced a very dry winter with rainfall again below long term average. June was the driest month being 50% below long term average. Low winter rainfall resulted in soil moisture levels at the beginning of the growing season being lower then ideal. Spring rainfall was also below average thus; irrigation was required early to ensure sufficient growth throughout the growing season before slowing down late November/early December to prepare for flowering & fruit set. Summer rainfall was above long term average but this was influenced by major rain event in December (75-100mm). The rain was welcomed to reduce pressure and reliance on irrigation but upset vine balance at the critical time of flowering and fruit set. Outside December, summer was actually extremely dry with only traces of rain in January and February. Autumn rainfall was very erratic with majority of the rainfall coming in thunderstorm activity. In March storm lines dumping up to 40-50mm in isolated locations through out the district. The break in the season occurred around ANZAC day (25TH of April), but majority of the district’s fruit had been harvested before this. In general the season was influenced by cool to mild temperatures. September and October were pretty close to long term average for both minimums and maximums temperatures. A combination of the drier conditions and milder temperatures again frost was recorded across the district, with some vine damage resulting. In general late spring and summer were very mild with most months being below long term average. However there was an extreme heat spike at the end of January and early February which saw a number of days climb above 40 degrees and a few of these above 45 degrees. This put huge pressure on irrigation systems and tested a lot of systems out as they were operating at full capacity. Some fruit damage was recorded mainly on the western side of the vine were the afternoon heat bore down. The heat damage occurred early enough that the effected fruit was lost and had little effect on wine quality. Late February / March saw the move into cooler conditions which enabled vines to balance up their crops and concentrate flavours as much as possible. Pest and disease pressure was very low due to the dryness of the season. The December rain kicked off some new grow, which allowed for some Powdery to get established, but in general was only in very isolated pockets of some vineyards were canopies might be a bit more vigorous. In Summary the seasonal conditions for the 2009 vintage were very challenging and characterised by extreme weather events. The cool and wet conditions over flowering effected fruit set, and the heat wave stalled and prolonged veraison. However the effect of these two events varied significantly between varieties and block to block depending on what stage they were at when it occurred. Even through the difficult season where Mother Nature threw just about everything at us, there were some exceptional parcels of fruit. Shiraz came through very well with a number of very high quality parcels. Cabernet Sauvignon whilst having parcels of very high quality, appeared to have been more effected by the season conditions, and thus is not as consistent as Shiraz. Whites came through very well with strong parcels of both Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
In contrast to the previous year, this season started with excellent budburst and strong early growth, a few frosts that had localised impact and otherwise fine conditions. Warm to hot weather, and one key rain event dominated the period to Christmas meaning excellent fruit set, and shoot growth. From this point extreme heat was experienced for the month of January, a coolish February, and a very hot march. April was mild by comparison with a slight improvement in rainfall. Frost - The Spring conditions this year were cold with some frosts, but different in that we had rain through October and November providing a buffer against intense cold periods. Only 3 severe frosts were recorded that caused economic damage of an intermittent nature across the region Vineyards (in the main) responded very well in the spring with excellent budburst and spring conditions very conducive to strong growth, a good rain in November really set the season alight, delaying irrigation and promoting excellent shoot length. The hot January / cool February saw early vintage varieties begin on time with the later varieties (red) ready early in March up to 4 weeks in advance of normal picking times. This effectively compressed the vintage from 12 to 6 weeks, creating many logistical challenges – the level rarely experienced before. Very few deficiency symptoms were observed, fungal disease pressure was high with Powdery Mildew prevalent and the November rain creating a downy event. Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM) activity was limited whilst Vine moth was active late in vintage but not problematic at all. In total, approximately 25,000 tons were crushed this year, which is almost spot on the regions targeted tonnage across all varieties, No fruit was left unsold this year. Early reports are that this vintage been strong across all varieties, with notable highlights, reported across all producers, and very few disappointments. An excellent, but very compressed vintage of both quality and quantity, that is beginning to see the benefits of vines growing in age and stature.
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During the red wine boom of the mid nineties, Australia's large winemakers began broad-acre vine plantings at Wrattonbully, adjoining Coonawarra's north-eastern boundary. Ten years later, the area contributed large volumes of high quality fruit for many popular wine brands. But nobody new for sure how high fruit quality might go in future. And ten years on, we know quality can be about as good as it gets in Australia. The area now contributes to some of our greatest wines, but also produces lovely, elegant reds.
Chris Shanahan, Wine Writer, goodfood.com.au