Grape growers across Australia say the wet winter and spring has given vines a good base for a strong growing season.
The 2016 national crush was split fairly evenly between red and white varieties, and was up by 6% to an estimated 1.8m tonnes.
According to the Organisation of Vine and Wine, Australia was the world’s fifth largest wine-producing nation in 2016 behind Italy, France, Spain and the United States.
About two months from the 2017 vintage, growers are predicting another strong harvest in terms of quality and quantity.
Nationally, this year was Australia's second-wettest winter on record, with rainfall 82% above average for the season.
South Australia produced 51% of the nation’s crush in 2016 and about 75% of its premium wine, from some of the oldest vines in the world.
Its 18 regions include the Barossa Valley, which is home to iconic brands such as Penfolds Grange, Jacob’s Creek and Wolf Blass.
Barossa Valley vigneron Anthony Scholz supplies Shiraz grapes to 11 wineries in the region. He said the Barossa had just gone through fruit set following a good flowering period.
“Things look pretty good, we’ve got good soil moisture from the wet, wet winter we had—we certainly haven’t seen a winter like that for a long time. It’s been a cool spring and now we’re into summer the vines are growing quite rapidly,” he said.
“Last year was hot and dry, and the aim of watering was to keep leaves on the vine, whereas this year it’s a bit the opposite. The topsoil is starting to dry out to about 50cm but under that it’s still wet, wet, wet.
“We’ll probably start to pick about the 6th or 10th of March, which will be about three weeks later than last year, and some of that will be crop load. It’s been a good year, and some of it will be just the cooler season.”
Another premium South Australian region is McLaren Vale, about 120km south of the Barossa Valley on the other side of Adelaide, which this year became a Great Wine Capital.
McLaren Vale agronomist and winemaker James Hook said his region was running about three weeks behind recent years, making it more akin to typical seasons in the 1990s, meaning most of the grapes will be picked in March.
“As soon as the weather got warm they grew very quickly so they probably did two month’s worth of growth in one month. It’s really accelerated growth because they had a belly full of water in winter and spring, and it took a long time for the weather to warm up,” he said.
“We’re looking at a larger vintage again like last year. If the summer doesn’t turn into a scorching heatwave I think it will be a very good year. At the moment the Bureau of Meteorology is predicting average conditions so if that happens over the next two or three months it will be good for quantity and quality, which both sides of the market like. The grape growers get good tonnage and the consumer likes it as well because they get good wine.
“People are fairly optimistic and from a weather point of view if we get average weather from here it will be a good year.”
Australian Vignerons board member Colin Bell said factors such as the wet winter, coupled with a slow start to summer, meant most regions were fairly consistent across all wine producing states.
He said the predicted later vintage would likely push grape picking back into autumn and away from the heat of summer, leading to potentially fresher and more aromatic flavours, particularly for white wines.
“With these earlier and compressed vintages we’ve been having, whites come in sometimes at a very hot time of year, so what we’re going to see across many regions this year is whites ripening a little bit later,” he said.
“I’m quite excited about the quality of whites that could come off in the late summer to autumn conditions. I’m hoping we’ll have a fresher, more acidic, aromatic profile than if we were to go through the last stages of ripening in 30-plus degree weather.”
While most of the nation had enjoyed a good start to the growing season, some vignerons in the prolific Riverland and Sunraysia regions were wiped out by hail storms in November, which Bell said could reduce the national crush by up to 75,000 tonnes.
ACROSS AUSTRALIA, ACCORDING TO COLIN BELL
“In WA we feel like we are a couple of weeks behind in Chardonnay, our most forward variety. The later bursting varieties are probably not that far behind because they missed that cold early spring weather. Picking is likely to run from mid-to late February through to April and we are hopeful of a good vintage again in 2017 with a slightly above-average harvest.”
New South Wales
“The growers in New South Wales are also feeling like they’re a little bit late. The next four to six weeks in the Hunter Valley is really going to be make or break. If it’s dry they will have a glorious year but if they get a lot of rain in January it gets more difficult. That’s a challenge they face in the Hunter every year.”
Victorian and Tasmania
“These regions have just finished or are still going through the flowering period. They are also feeling behind because of the cooler spring and are heading towards a March/April vintage. The later harvest would be suitable for their styles, many of which will be used as a base for sparkling wine—you don’t want to be harvesting that in heat.”