Issue #100 / 7 February 2020
Written by Stuart McCloskey
In all honesty, we never set out with the purpose to create a weekly read as the time and pressure constraints are tough. However, here we are releasing our 100th edition of our ‘Taste of the Vinorium’ magazine, which astounds me. Prior to the launch of this online magazine we were also sending regular email communications with our customers. We keep a copy of each weekly feature and I will confess; the earlier ones were a tad thin on the ground. The Vinorium archive is home to every offer or announcement we have sent. The first being on Friday 30th August 2013 which was as short and sweet as “Stuart will lead and introduce you to the extraordinary wines of New Zealand's Iconic wine estate, Seresin. Seresin's wines are organically and biodynamically grown, hand-tended and hand-picked; the grapes from their estate are transformed into artisan wines through gentle, traditional winemaking - wine of passion grace and spirit... As ever, there will be a few surprises! Be quick as only 12 places are available...”
In those days I worked from our little wine shop – It was a haven for my old Z&B HQ team who enjoyed the peace and quiet of not having me around. It’s been a fun and nostalgic experience as I sifted through the many hundreds of emails. At the end of August (2013) we released an email offering the wines from the Margaret River producer, Stella Bella. Clearly, an ambitious one as we were offering their Luminosa Cabernet Sauvignon & Chardonnay ‘En-Primeur’ resulting in zero sales. Our first, online order dated 15.04.2013 and was for a dozen bottles of Dog Point’s Sauvignon Blanc. I recall it vividly - not only for being our first but, and sadly, eleven bottles were returned as the customer disapproved of Dog Point’s reductive style!
Attached to our wine shop was our deli and a small, 30 cover restaurant. In those days, Fontodi’s Olive Oil was selling for £9.95 per bottle. Seven vintages later, customers will be paying a handsome sum of £21.95 – How times change…. Back in those days, Capezzana Olive Oil (2012) was selling for £25.95 and hasn’t budged an inch since, save for the fact that we have no stocks until December! Bordeaux played a key role in the wine store as did the following producers from Australia, New Zealand and the USA; Majella, Cloudy Bay, Greywacke, Bonny Doon, Dog Point, Ata Rangi, John Duval, Clonakilla and Ridge. We were selling the ‘09 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon for £31.95. Today, it’s double the price.
The nostalgia continued throughout the week as I thought it would be fun to sample a few oldies. Contact was made with various importers and the team and I enjoyed some cracking bottles.
My favourite being Majella’s ’14 Cabernet Sauvignon, commonly regarded as one of Coonawarra's very best. Why haven’t we stocked this for the past five years, as it’s incredible wine for the money? We also shared a bottle of their sparkling Shiraz (the very first sparkling Shiraz on our wine list – I believe it was the ’08 vintage). It has a lovely mousse / palate feel and sings loud and proud. The base wine is matured in 2nd and 3rd use French oak hogsheads for 5 months before secondary fermentation. The wine is on “lees” for 12 months and using méthode traditionnelle, the bottles are hand riddled, then disgorged with a small dash of vintage port. Personally (if I should declare this), I much prefer Majella’s fizz over Wild Duck & Hentley Farm.
Stuart Pym who we all have grown fond of under his own Margaret River label Flowstone, was, with his partner Janice McDonald, the owner and winemaker at Stella Bella. In 1996, Stuart & Janice took over the ‘Suckfizzle’ Vineyard, the most southern vineyard in the Margaret River region. Correctly believing that its distinctive location & meso-climate could produce truly unique wines, which and still to this day, produces Australia’s best Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blend. This week we sampled their ’18 Suckfizzle Chardonnay, which is a first for us all and only their second release. Perhaps the five rows of Gingin clone which were planted in 1998 made its way into the main Stella Bella label. Clearly, it’s now at a stage in its lifecycle to be declared worthy for the Suckfizzle label. The grapes are handpicked, whole bunch pressed with solids and wild fermented into French oak barriques for 10 months with minimal bâttonage. Unfined and unfiltered to show the raw power of this vineyard and by God is it fabulous. More controversy, as I prefer this to Deep Woods Reserve. This will be next week’s Wine of the Week. Until then, it’s 98 points any day of the week, and I have just allocated myself a dozen!
Whilst writing, I am sipping on a new wine from the Stella Bella stable. Otro Vino Chardonnay which and to quote them translates to ‘Other wine. Adventurous, creative, exotic, and explorative hand-crafted wines.’ I like it. In fact, I like it very much. It lacks the concentration of the Suckfizzle, but the same winemaking philosophy is matched. Sea spray, citrus and offers a lovely texture. A more detailed tasting note will be released next week. Highly recommended and should really be retailing for at least five pounds more a bottle.
As much fun as it is to write about these wines – It’s far more exciting to share them with you… Here’s a little taster of some tremendous wine (we purchased everything we could and there isn’t much!)
2014 Majella Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon
97 Points, Stuart McCloskey “An intoxicating nose offering a wealth of oak, eucalyptus, mint, leather, dusty earth, cedar, violets, vanilla and blueberry and blackberry liquor. The palate is medium-bodied, with fleshy, black and red fruits laced with exotic spices. Kirsch-soaked cherries, dark plums and creme de cassis are framed with fine grained tannins. Lots of detail with a long finish. Hints of tobacco and mint. Lovely freshness. At this price, it must be one of the cheapest great wines in Australia. Fantastic value and comes highly recommended. Decant for 2-3 hours. Served in Zalto Bordeaux Glassware.”
£21.00 per bottle
Stella Bella 'Suckfizzle' Chardonnay 2018
98 Points from Stu, tasting note coming next week
Gary Walsh, The Wine Front "Sizzle sizzle Suckfizzle. It’s electric, tight, and intense, with length that’s so above average, it’s slightly embarrassing. Hazelnut, spice, lime juice, struck match. It has a nutty flavour and texture, but bursts with all the citrus and a bit of green melon. Chalk and zip from acidity. A suggestion of brine and umami too. It’s a kind of magic."
Aroma: The prevailing Antarctic winds create distinction and character in this wine. Salty, sea-sprayed fruit contributes to a unique and complex oyster shell character. Salty nougat, nutty character, peach fuzz, zesty citrus and smoky oak round out the generous nose.
Palate: Incredible power of fruit. Textured and mouthwatering, there is obvious chemistry between the fruit and the oak. Flavours of crushed lime, lemon and sea salt. Lively mineral acidity and layered texture. Pure, powerful and unparalleled Chardonnay.
£32.95 per bottle
Stella Bella 'Otro Vino' Chardonnay 2017
95++ Points, Stuart McCloskey "Whilst writing, I am sipping on a new wine from the Stella Bella stable. Otro Vino Chardonnay which and to quote them translates to ‘Other wine. Adventurous, creative, exotic, and explorative hand-crafted wines.’ I like it. In fact, I like it very much. It lacks the concentration of the Suckfizzle, but the same winemaking philosophy is matched. Sea spray, citrus and offers a lovely texture. A more detailed tasting note will be released soon. Highly recommended and should really be retailing for at least five pounds more a bottle."
Winemaker "Elegant, textural and a bit wild. Focused fruit is bound by texture and stimulates the palate. Aromas of wax, lemon & lime pith, lanoline and honeydew are backed up by the Mendoza clone punch. Chalky texture and and yellow peach flesh on the palate, with supple grip and nutty solids driving the wine through the palate. Sexy."
£15.50 per bottle
Australian bushfire report through the eyes of our winemakers
“It is imperative that we get the message out that while there have been some vineyards and regions heavily affected, only about 1500 hectare of vines in Australia fall into fire affected regions, which is only about 1% of Australia’s vineyard area.”
Barossa Grape & Wine Association - Amanda Longworth
Commentary on the Australian bushfires has been sombre, which befits the devastation to life and land. Published comments regarding the impact on the 2020 wine vintage have, at times, been misleading, inaccurate and often harmful. It goes without saying, everyone in our industry is saddened by the events. It is also acknowledged that some wine producers have lost much, which and for myself, I find immeasurable. The topic of smoke taint has been high on the agenda and I will say that some comments have been unwelcome and erroneous. Sadly, and perhaps a sign of the times in which we live, some individuals do love to comment without a grain of foundation or intelligence. The Vinorium imports in excess of 150 Australian wines, which is a considerable number for a single importer. Given our unique position, we thought it prudent to ask all our wine producers to provide a factual comment from their perspective. Many are super-busy working in their respective vineyards and we have been asked (on their behalf) to apologise in advance for grammatical errors. Their responses have not been edited.
Stuart McCloskey, Founder - The Vinorium
Grant Burge & Purple Hands Wines
Happy to help, seems like the world thinks the whole of Australia is burnt.
Current situation as follows:
The 2020 growing season has not been an easy one for many, with dry conditions and bushfires causing many regions grief. However, we do need to be quite specific and not use broad brush statements about the Australian wine industry as a whole, this would not only be incorrect but also irresponsible.
The bushfires in South Australia have affected two main grape growing areas, Kangaroo Island & Adelaide Hills. K.I. has small amounts of vineyard and it is very difficult for me to comment on as I do not know the areas affected, plus we do not take any fruit from this region. Adelaide Hills suffered extensive damage, but this was mainly contained to the Northern part of the region with many, many vineyards still fine.
The smoke from these fires did drift over the Barossa & McLaren Vale, however this was not for extended periods.
Critical points to note about smoke drift are as follows.
Distance from the fire, concentration, smoke age, wind speed (phenols are degraded over time), degree of volatile phenols in the smoke and growth stage. There are more but these are the critical ones.
Firstly, the Southern Barossa was the closest to the fire, this was 25kms away with wind at the most intense part of the fire, blowing away from the Barossa. Secondly, we experienced only 12-14 hours of smoke that could be considered a risk. Thirdly is growth stage at time of exposure, we are quite late this year, so we only had pea size berries at the time so risk of smoke taint at this time was reduced greatly. With the mountain of research that has been done and the measurements that have been taken the general consensus is that the risk to the Barossa is very low to negligible, I would suggest this would apply to McLaren Vale as well.
A little difficult for me to comment on the other regions, but early reports out of the Yarra is that the phenols in the smoke were very low mainly due to distance from the fire, given this plus the early growth stage it would suggest low risk. The same cannot be said for North East Victoria, which did suffer many smoke days, however this is a large region and not all vineyards should be written off.
WA is quite early this year and has already processed quite a bit of fruit and all reports suggest very high quality and very good acid retention. The winemakers I have spoken to are very excited and there have not been any fires there.
With regards to quality of the 2020 vintage, I can comment on the Barossa in particular. We are quite confident we will have a good quality year, yes another dry winter which has resulted in lighter crop levels and smaller berries but our early maturity results tell us that we are 10-20 days behind 2019. More importantly our acid levels are much better at the same time than 2019, I would suggest this is quite common in many regions. Hard to pinpoint why this is, only to surmise the heat was much earlier in the growing season than previous, plus January temperatures are below long-term averages. We have also just experienced widespread rainfall across the state, anywhere from 20-80mm of rain which has come at an ideal time. This combined with a week of very mild weather leaves us confident that we will have a quality vintage. It must be said that we are still a few weeks away from red harvesting, so hopefully smooth sailing from here.
“If there was a fire near Bordeaux would you be worried about the crops in Tuscany?”
I understand the issue we will be facing going into the 2020 vintage and its future perception. I started in the wine industry in 1996, working for the legendary Bob McLean of St Hallett, who back then spent a lot of his time on the road promoting Australian wine around the world. In his gruff voice he’d lecture me on how he did this – “I promote Australia first, give them an idea of the size of the country and the distance and diversity we have here, I then get into South Australia, same again, distance and diversity, I then get to the Barossa Valley - even the Barossa has a lot different pockets and sub climates and it’s long from South to North.” He would then say if he was lucky, he might have the time to promote his own wines. It seems over twenty years later the world wine market still can’t get its head around how big the country is and how diverse our wine regions are over here. The large ongoing fires reported around the world are near Sydney and further south into Victoria. The majority of our winds move from West to East, so we haven’t seen any smoke here from these large bushfires, which are over 1000km away. If there was a fire near Bordeaux would you be worried about the crops in Tuscany?
I’m sitting here in the Barossa looking at Shiraz grapes starting to turn red. This is great as I will be able to see them easier to get an idea of crop levels - because there isn’t many of them on the vine. We had one or two days before Christmas where a bit of smoke drifted from the fire in the Adelaide Hills. This is not my concern - my concern is the fruit this year looks awesome but there is not enough of it. My Old Vine Grenache looks the best it has been for several years. In the Adelaide Hills fire ground itself we’ve seen the devastation of vineyards and my heart bleeds for the people who have lost their life’s passion and livelihoods (and our colleagues on the East Coast). A Chardonnay vineyard I had taken fruit from for the first-time last year was caught in the fire, there is no fruit so no wine this year. However, the Pinot Noir I started taking from a vineyard in Morialta in the Hills, was South West of the fire grounds, (our winds come from the South West taking away the smoke) and I’m optimistic this fruit will still be great this year. So, it’d be irresponsible for wine commentators on the other side of the world to cast a generalisation over every Australian wine region for this upcoming vintage, as it doesn’t help the wine producers who have a chance to make great wines. A lot of Australian businesses will be devastated from the on-flow effects of the fires, a bit of lazy pre-emptive commentary to cast a broad brush over every wine produced from the 2020 vintage could only further drive some wine businesses to the brink. I also remember another thing Bob taught me years ago, as he was an unpretentious wine man, was to just assess the wine you have in front of you - and that’s all we’d ask people to do - when some great 2020 wines are released in the coming years.
Stuart Angas, Hutton Vale Farm
“Parts of Australia have suffered the already devastating loss of life, property, flora and fauna, the last thing we need is a secondary economic blow to the rest of Australia based on media hype...”
In short: any media, (local, national or global) need to be so careful publishing things like this. The reality is that 90% of Australia is untouched by the bushfires or smoke taint.
Our vineyards (and by geographic association; the Barossa and Eden Valley areas) have not experienced direct or indirect contact with any bushfires or associated smoke. The reality is that most growers/producers are reporting smaller than average crops due to the extended drought but with that often comes tremendous fruit quality (bugger all of it, but it is good).
In the Hunter region it is perhaps a different story with some producers (Tyrrells for example) declaring their 2020 vintage lost, but let’s keep this in perspective, the Hunter region is over 1500km from us! For the media to paint us all with the same brush…is so irresponsible. We have the utmost respect for what the Tyrrell family has done, we ourselves declared our 2015 vintage unsuitable for our quality of wines and didn’t make any red wines that year. (Our next release will be 2016s).
If we thought there was a shred of concern with smoke taint this year we’d be the first to proactively deal with it or admit it, the reality is there is no such risk (barring any further fires between now and vintage time). Let’s not let the media beat the sensationalist drum and dramatize this. Parts of Australia have suffered the already devastating loss of life, property, flora and fauna, the last thing we need is a secondary economic blow to the rest of Australia based on media hype...
Since the fires began the media have done an incredible job telling the world that Australia is on fire, exports have reduced, people have cancelled their holiday plans to Australia and consumer confidence in Australian products has taken a hit, I consider the media almost exclusively to blame for this. I’ve been passionately against the way the global media has reported ‘Australia on fire’ since this all began, it's heartbreakingly painful... designed to sell newspapers and above all; it's inaccurate.
The facts need to be reported, so whilst some producers have declared their vintage a loss; fact. Plenty of other producers are looking forward to a good quality harvest and making great wines; fact.
These fires have been bad but as far as the media goes, they need to report the good too, not just the bad. Any quality long term media, (rather than daily news stories) I would like to think should report the sad facts about the 2020 vintage but also focus on the truth about the remaining producers whose crops are untouched and of high quality.
Why don’t the media let the producers (the ones who know the facts and situation intimately) declare the status of the vintage? Like Tyrrells have done, and like I’m doing? It’s not for the media in an office on the other side of the world to tell me that our vintage is lost. In some cases, it is lost, let that producer declare the loss on their own terms. In other (majority) cases the vintage is looking good; don’t rob us of our hard work and vintage to sell some sensationalist news.
Australia has suffered enough already, the secondary economic impact will be felt for years and even longer if the media publish sensationalist dramatic stories like this, if it was true, we could accept it, but it is not.
Apologies for the strongly worded sentiments here, I have great respect for the quality media around the world, particularly in the wine industry but we need support right now not complete dismissal.
Alex Peel, Greenock Creek
“While it must be admitted that the bushfires have caused much heartache, loss of property and wildlife in Australia, it is not wise to place a blanket write-off of the 2020 vintage in Australia.”
While it must be admitted that the bushfires have caused much heartache, loss of property and wildlife in Australia, it is not wise to place a blanket write-off of the 2020 vintage in Australia. Certain growing areas have been affected by smoke taint and testing of grapes has been offered by the Australian Wine Research Institute free of charge (subsidised by the Australian Government) to allow decisions to be made with certainty whether grapes are suitable for wine production. If they are not, volumes of wines from certain regions may be in short supply but the quality will be there there.
Very fortunately, the Barossa Valley was not in the direct fire front of any South Australian Fires and our vineyards are in great shape. We expect to harvest in the next 2-3 weeks and already colour intensity, tannin development and flavours in the berries is indicating a very strong, quality vintage. We just had 20mm of rain over the weekend and this has been received at the perfect time in our vineyards to see us through to harvest with some water reserves for the vines to ripen the fruit evenly and un-stressed. Watch this space in a few years when the wines from 2020 are released and we are sure you will not be disappointed!
Greg Hobbs, Hobbs of Barossa Vintners
From a Hobbs point of view, we were 20 plus km. from the nearest fires. The fires caused basically no smoke problem to our area. Living in the Barossa Ranges we get gully breezes most nights. This clears the area of any smoke haze we may have had. The fires occurred before veraison when the chances of smoke taint becoming a problem are very slim. The fires in SA had occurred on Kangaroo Island and in the Adelaide Hills where approximately 1/3 of the vineyards were lost or damaged. The fires have caused no damage to the Barossa, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra, Langhorne Creek, Claire Valley, the Riverland and Limestone Coast Regions of South Australia. The WA wine regions have had no fire problems and neither has Tasmania.
There will be problems in Victoria and NSW. I have heard that some parts of Vic. have remained clear, cannot say this is fact though. Regarding Victoria, from a wine maker in Geelong, it seems that Beechworth, King Valley and Gippsland will have problems. Whilst Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula are unlikely to have any problems if at all. Problems will be with any fruit that had an early veraison.
To sum up, there are some of the best vineyards and wine regions of Australia that have remained completely free of fire and smoke. These areas will make great wine as usual.
I believe it would be an over simplification to write off all of Australia and a grave mistake.
Barossa Grape & Wine Association -
A forum on the specific issue on the impact of the bushfires was recently held by Barossa Grape & Wine Association (BGWA), to discuss the potential indirect effects that bushfires sometimes present, notably smoke taint of wine grapes. Representatives from the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI), BGWA, as well as stakeholders from our technical winemaking and grape growing communities in addition to wine companies and private grower businesses examined all the facts in-depth. The outcome was a consistent view that the risk of smoke taint in any Barossa grapes in 2020 is very low to negligible. We were fortunate enough to avoid any bushfires in the region.
Some grape purchasers will undertake testing of grapes in some cases as part of their own risk assessment protocols. The AWRI is also providing scientifically based guidance and analytical services to the wine industry on testing protocols, analysis and data interpretation.
It is imperative that we get the message out that while there have been some vineyards and regions heavily affected, only about 1500 hectare of vines in Australia fall into fire affected regions, which is only about 1% of Australia’s vineyard area.
In Barossa, BGWA’s Viticultural Development Officer, Nicki Robbins, notes we will have a low yielding vintage, but this is a direct result of unsettled, early seasonal weather that impacted flowering and vine function. However, while yields may be low, quality is expected to be high.
Angus Vinden, Vinden Estate Wines
I think the biggest issue is the level of miscommunication and lack of knowledge around this. Also the variance in levels of taint (possibly none) in every region, vineyard, winery, block and even variety. There are some vineyards which aren’t picking a grape in the Hunter, this vintage and others which are picking everything. The knowledge and analysis on smoke taint, globally is tiny. Australia; specifically the AWRI is leading the charge. We are all still in the dark as to what level of taint will or can potentially make a wine unpalatable. Let alone what a person’s tolerance to the different Phenols (smoke taint) is in a wine as we all possess different taste buds.
I grow grapes in the Hunter Valley. We have multiple vineyards in what is a very undulating region, with a mountain range a few kilometres to the south of us. This gives us massive climatic variations; we had 7mm of rain at one vineyard last weekend and 38mm at the other which are only a few kilometres away from each other. We have tested grapes with the AWRI for levels of phenols (taint), both Chardonnay and Shiraz Grapes on the same vineyard, less than 50m apart and the levels were astronomically different! We have large variances in levels across both our vineyard sites (all of which are very low). We have now picked and fermented to dryness, almost all of our fruit and the wines are looking fantastic. Fantastic fruit, great acid and flavour. No obvious signs of taint.
If there is taint it will not show itself for some months and then we make our decision on the wines. People cannot start writing off entire regions or countries from the other side of the world before harvest is even over or begun. There are larger consequences to negative, ill-informed press to local tourism, small and large businesses and local people.
Thanks for reaching out and giving me an opportunity to give some local context to the Australian bushfire events and the level of impact that they’ve had on us. It’s certainly been a challenging couple of months and Summer is not over yet. It is worth noting that this season is a bit particular, as we all seem to be running about two weeks later than usual. Apart from 10 days prior to Christmas when we had a week in the mid-40s, the season has been relatively cool. That being the case, many vines and crops were still very early in the phenological cycle when there were smoke days and therefore at their most resilient.
As an industry we are all getting behind the areas that have been affected, but to date even though some regions have had localised catastrophic fires (Adelaide Hills had approximately 30% of their planted areas within fire affected areas, much the same for Kangaroo Island) many areas have escaped unscathed and it would be a huge mistake to categorise the vintage in general at this early stage. I do know that there has been some impact in East Gippsland, the Hunter, Southern Highlands and Rutherglen but I’m not in a position to quantify the impact. It may yet prove to be limited due to the timing with respect to the phenological cycle (there is no risk-free period but risk of taint does increase dramatically from veraison), level of smoke and subsequent heavy rains.
In the Yarra Valley we had no direct impact from the fire and there is currently no smoke taint issue. In fact, the closest fire was approximately 150km to the East. We did experience some smoke haze in the first week of January but it did not carry the phenols that cause issues with smoke taint and the result is that we have not been exposed to any levels that would affect the grapes. In essence, the smoke, although it looked significant on the day, was old and the particles that caused issues had degraded before they got to us.
The AWRI is sampling across the Yarra and to date have not indicated that they have found levels of free volatile and bound phenols in excess of the normal background levels in the grapes. We will however do micro ferments of each variety once they reach 10 Baume and assess these ferments on the bench coupled by further AWRI analyses taken over the same period - any phenols in the smoke attach to grape sugars and approximately 80% are released by fermentation which then lead to charry characters in the wine. This test will give us a solid indication of the integrity of the vintage. The bottom line is we do not expect to have an issue but given the huge investment in harvesting, wine production, dry goods and brand value we will test and definitely will not produce a wine if there is evidence of taint.
I sincerely hope the media inform themselves well and resist premature speculation. Remember there are 60 wine regions in Australia spread across an area significantly larger than Europe. Ironically in the Yarra Valley as the season is cool, long and crop loads are low, from a quality perspective we could be looking at a very good vintage. Let’s see!
Owen Latta, Eastern Peake
“…the press love to jump on a crisis early to paint everyone with the same brush. It’s an unfortunate situation we’re all in over here.”
The quality this season is shaping up to be one of the healthiest seasons in the vineyard for us with no disease pressure. The only issue is that so much of South Australia and Victoria has suffered from poor flowering in the vineyard meaning yields are way down. If all goes to plan some amazing wines look like they’ll be produced in 2020… just not that much in volume.
I knew this was coming, the press love to jump on a crisis early to paint everyone with the same brush. It’s an unfortunate situation we’re all in over here.
From all the research and information gathered by the AWRI (Australian Wine Research Institute) over the last decade, smoke taint seems to only have an uptake on flavour profile once the berries go into verasion, In addition, the vineyard needs to be nearby the source of smoke otherwise the particles dissipate to a point of no effect.
Fortunately for us this season, our vineyards and our growers’ vineyards in Western and Central Victoria are areas that have had no fires nearby. Plus, it’s been too early in the berry development for smoke to take affect if there was an issue.
Looking back to the 2009 and 2011 vintages. On the back of an ongoing drought, 2009 conditions were already tough with small yields, then the Black Saturday bushfires happened. Evidence of smoke taint in wine from areas effected by nearby fires became a talking point of the vintage once released.
2011 was quite the opposite, a wet and cold complex season. The good vineyards and the good winemakers made great wine, whereas it was a struggle for others to get the results they wanted from the season. It was tough in the vineyard, fighting off disease pressures, yet I reckon the 2011s we managed to produce were great. Western Australia had a stellar year, only to be tainted by the East Coast’s misfortune of the weather.
What I’m getting at here, is the commentary really needs to be careful about the delivery. Businesses, jobs and economies are at risk here. Many producers would never release a tainted wine to taint their reputation.
It’s been such a devastating and horrific start to the year, it’s truly amazing to see the support from far and near. I guess we’ll all just have to sit back and wait to see what evolves out of 2020.
Alan & Nelly Cooper, Cobaw Ridge
It’s risky to write off a whole vintage from a country the size of Australia!
Huge distances from say Margaret River to Southern Tasmania and stark differences to our local growing condition. One of the great strengths of the Australian wine industry is built around having such great diversity of sites!!
As I write, this vintage is already happening in the Hunter Valley (limited, yes) and around Mildura, but we are yet to see veraison in Chardonnay let alone Syrah!
Most experts would place post veraison smoke exposure to be the most risky time, so very little risk here I would think given our extreme altitude (615 Mt) and strong, dominant, cleansing south east wind coming from the southern ocean.
Nick Glaetzer, Glaetzer-Dixon
First up, Australia is very bloody big. 14 times the size of France big. It’s the same distance between Margaret River and the Hunter Valley as London and Baghdad. As I write this it’s 36°C in the Swan Valley, WA and the 2020 harvest is almost over. Here in Hobart, Tasmania, I’m looking out at snow-capped Mt Wellington and enjoying a balmy 10°C afternoon while we wait another 7-8 weeks for our grapes to ripen. It’s impossible (and lazy) to lump the entire Aussie vintage into one or two adjectives.
Our newly planted vines in the Coal River Valley (Southern Tasmania) endured the second driest year on record in 2019. A late and cool start to spring, pushed flowering out to early December. The usual strong westerly, roaring 40s winds were also late, overlapping with flowering and reducing set (less berries per bunch). Our 2020 yields look to be 20-30% below average. On the whole, it’s a similar setup to the excellent 2009 vintage - a dry, cool and late spring, reduced crop and temperate summer.
John Pooley, Pooley Wines
“Over recent years, the Australian government has invested millions, administered by Wine Australia, to promote Australian wines in market, including the UK. It will be devastating for all of us if the UK press report an exaggerated and unfounded view of the Australian 2020 vintage.”
Australia has endured devastating fires resulting in loss of lives (human and animal) and property across thousands of hectares of Eastern Australia, with the flow-on effects to be felt for many months to come. For the Australian wine industry, the impact will be unknown for some time. Wine Australia, in a recent media statement here, stated 1% of vineyard and winery property has been impacted. It is unclear, at this stage, how smoke will affect the 2020 vintage for our eastern state counterparts, we can only speculate.
In Tasmania, and specifically here in the South, we have been fortunate enough to avoid the threat of fires to date, our only issue here in the Coal River Valley has been the lack of warm weather through the early growing season, delaying vintage this year by 3-4 weeks. Sheralee Davies, the CEO of WineTas, in a private statement today, is positive about the upcoming Tasmanian 2020 vintage:
“Our thoughts are certainly with the very many people impacted by these devastating fires, including our interstate wine colleagues. For now, Tasmania has not experienced any bushfire damage this season and 2020 in Tasmania is looking positive in the lead up to harvest over the coming weeks and months. We still have some time before harvest starts / finishes, and are always conscious of the many risks confronting growers, including fires. In general, it has been a very dry season, much like all of Australia, with drought being experienced in some parts of Tasmania. The temperature (Heat Degree Days) has been average with a cool start and warmer conditions during summer, avoiding any extreme heat events. We are still a fair way from vintage down here, but so far it is looking good!”
It is poignant that all Australian wine regions will be directly affected by the negative UK media, ‘writing off’ the 2020 vintage in one broad brush stroke. The wine public need to know the truth and it’s up to us to tell it how it is. We are OK! And most vineyards and wineries are open for business as are many Australian businesses impacted by the fire. Wine businesses in Australia have worked hard to showcase Australian wines on the world stage, we are making progress and now receiving the recognition our wine deserves. Over recent years, the Australian government has invested millions, administered by Wine Australia, to promote Australian wines in market, including the UK. It will be devastating for all of us if the UK press report an exaggerated and unfounded view of the Australian 2020 vintage. No one will win, and for what, a story?
We challenge the UK press to wait and taste the 2020 wines from Australia when they are released and judge for themselves, then a more informed decision can be made.
Liam Anderson, Wild Duck Creek Estate
The difficulties experienced in South East Australian wine regions isn’t just through one extraordinarily dry season, it is the culmination of three extremely dry seasons in a row. Here in Heathcote (Central Victoria), we have had little to no run-off into our dams since December 2016. This has depleted soil moisture reserves to critical levels. In our particular situation, all of our water reserves in dams are now gone, and we are relying on rainfall to maintain the vines through the end of the season.
Up until this point, the bushfire crisis has been a long way from us in Heathcote. We have not had any direct impact like many other regions in Victoria, with Gippsland and the King Valley Wine Regions being hardest hit. The crisis in the Adelaide Hills has been catastrophic, with many losing everything. However surrounding regions may not be so affected by smoke due to the limited time of exposure. Many in Eastern Victoria and Hunter Valley have not fared so well.
In Heathcote, we had periods of light smoke drifting in from many hundreds of kilometres away, with only one day where visibility was less than 5kms. Even though the risk is low for us to be affected by smoke taint, we will be sending samples away to be tested just in case. My feeling is that we won’t have an issue. The biggest issue we face is one of below average yields. Our rainfall average for the past 3 years collectively has been 200mm per year. This is well below our 530mm long term average. Our yields have been affected by severe drought, poor flowering due to an extreme heat event mid flowering. That being said, the resulting crop is coming from balanced vines, and barring any smoke taint the resulting wines will be powerful and dense. Harvest will start early March, two weeks later than the previous two vintages. I remain very optimistic about the quality of this vintage.
Stuart Pym, Flowstone Wines
Of course, the bushfires are dreadful, but Australia is very big, and there are many wine regions unaffected, including all of WA. It is very disappointing, and something I would expect from the more sensationalist media.
2020 Margaret River vintage lead up.
A good solid Winter, with cold weather, but not too cold. Good dormancy in all varieties, and no frost, unlike the 2019 vintage. Ample rainfall, but not excessive.
Spring came a little early, which brought about an early budburst across all varieties. An absence of the Spring storms we can get, did not make this a problem, so no damage to those young delicate grapevine shoots. The usual Spring rainfall occurred. Overall, our rainfall was less than average, but still enough for most dams to fill, and the water table to be full. As such, this should not be an issue for the grapevines.
There was some very sporadic hail at the end of October, with some southerly vineyards in Karridale being severely affected, with some losing close to half their crops. This was not widely spread, but if you were in the wrong place, you were not happy.
Summer started with a very hot burst, but since then, it is been a moderate growing season, with very little disease pressure. All vines look in good condition. Crops are average, so quality should be fantastic. Some people on the north of Margaret River have started harvesting their Chardonnay, so we are running a few weeks early… which means we finish early!!!
Duncan Kennedy, Kay Brothers
Whilst the start of vintage here at Kay Brothers Amery is possibly another 4 weeks away our winemaker Duncan has put together the vintage report thus far:
Kay Brothers Vintage Report 2020 - Update 4/2/20 (veraison)
The 2020 vintage season began with good winter rainfall, followed by a mild start to spring in September and October which produced a strong bud burst and good early spring shoot growth.
Total spring rainfall was below average which restrained vigour a little, preparing the vines for moderate crop levels. November was extremely cool and some welcome rain events helped canopy growth to progress but flowering time was prolonged which led to a small amount of hen and chicken in Shiraz but more notably in the Cabernet Sauvignon. Grenache handled flowering conditions well and fruit set was excellent.
The summer arrived on the 17th of December with a stretch of 4 days in a row above 40 degrees Celsius. This caused some leaf burn on westerly exposures and triggered the end of shoot growth in the vines hence they then directed all of their energy into berry development. Following such a hot December was a return to cool and mild conditions in January with above average rainfall and below average temperatures. This allowed canopies to freshen up, recover and grapevines to gently ease themselves into veraison.
A summer storm system came down from the North and on the 1st and 2nd of February we received some lovely rain, 31 mm in total. The vines were well into veraison and the rain has helped fill the dry soil profile and pump up the berries a little which will provide flesh and lift fruit flavours that will ultimately enhance wine quality. As veraison comes to a close and we enter the final ripening period nights are cool which will help retain natural acidity, days are mild so we expect wine quality to be excellent but crop yields to be below average.
Please note that McLaren Vale has not suffered any smoke taint issues.
Above information on the conditions is the snapshot of the Amery site in McLaren Vale and we are confident that the quality is not under threat.