Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Media Muddle - Is it the Best or Worst Vintage?

2011 McLaren Vale Vintage Report

One of my personal pet hates is the constant drone of winery publicity relations proclaiming it to be the best vintage ever. This season we have had also had of chorus of media proclamations stating it is the worst vintage ever.

Rain clears in Willunga, South half of McLaren Vale Wine Region.
I am only 31 years old and have a 12 year career in the industry. If I believed the scribes I have worked through 10 of the best vintages in the history of space and time... plus five of the worst.*

Last week I have heard reports of wine industry commentators suggesting the 2011 vintage was a ‘write off’. While it has been an extremely challenging year in McLaren Vale with rain and disease pressures, I have seen many good vineyards and some very good wine. 

Philip White from Drinkster dug up some perspective. The summer of 2010-11 was, in fact, the second wettest on record for Australia.

"Nationally we averaged 354.7mm, 70 per cent above normal and second only behind the infamous summer of 1973-74 when 419.8mm was recorded," said Tom Saunders, meteorologist at The Weather Channel.

Downy Mildew affects grape yields by 'burning off bunches.
“Victoria’s had its wettest summer on record,” he continued. “Western Australia recorded its second wettest summer. South Australia recorded its third wettest summer. New South Wales recorded its fifth wettest summer. Queensland recorded its sixth wettest summer. Northern Territory recorded its eighth wettest summer, and Tasmania recorded its seventeenth wettest summer."

Closer to home in McLaren Vale the trend of wet weather continued but it is not all doom and gloom. The areas south of McLaren Vale, through Willunga and down to Sellicks faired quite well. These areas are notoriously windy and this air movement naturally assists in preventing disease. 

For most of the season the extra rainfall during summer helped keep vines healthy and most growers were able to keep on top of the summer diseases Powdery Mildew and Downy Mildew. Unfortunately as the time for picking grew near in March we had 80mm of rain at the wrong time.

For growers in the areas south of McLaren Vale, they were able to quickly pick their fruit before Botrytis Bunch Rot set in.

The other end of the scale was Blewitt Springs. Fruit in this region was not ripe and couldn’t be picked immediately. Here the terrain is undulating, with hollows that trap moist air. Blewitt Springs and wet other pockets in McLaren Vale experienced persistent misty rain without sunshine for about four days that resulted in botrytis infections that grew exponentially. There fruit was not ready to immediately harvest. The fruit had to hang, exposing it to damage.

Jock Harvey from Chalk Hill Wines puts it into perceptive, "This was not due in anyway to incompetence, negligence or a lack of commitment," he says. "It was devastating for individual growers and for the wineries who intended to take the fruit."

While it has definitely been a difficult year for many, with varying degrees of quality, there will be outstanding and exciting wines produces from the 2011 vintage. Don't listen to the spin from PR companies.

If you want a reply say the McLaren Vale vintage is the best, worst vintage you are ever likely to see… it all depends on where your vines were and if you were lucky or unlucky with the summer rain.

*Spoiler Alert. If you ask me to list the vintages in order I have done so below from both a winery perspective and a grapegrowers.

Grape Growers & Winemakers

Good years 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2010. In 2007 a severe drought made good intense wine but saw most grape growers have the lowest tonnages since 1982. I rate 2007 very highly for wine quality but it was very damaging to the local economy.
Grape harvest continues after  the vines leaves have turned yellow from Downy Mildew infection.

1 comment:

Philip White said...

I agree completely James. Strange years (aren't they all) are very difficult for writers, who prefer to keep their adulatory vocab free for seriously good, and great years, which are not too frequent. Peter Gago, the Penfolds winemaker, says he's had to rewrite his interpretation of the word EXTREME every vintage for fifteen years. What really irritates me is spindoctors and winemakers who maintain everything is tickety-boo when it very obviously is not. These people don't seem to realise the diligent writer will visit dozens of wineries in many districts during vintage, and sneak over fences to inspect dozens of vineyards before making their pronouncements. Then, when some preppy prickle of a winesmith gets his knickers in a knot and attacks you by phone, blog, or whatever, telling you the year is great, or telling your editor, you never ever forget that person. The terrible thing about 2011 - the WORST thing - is that too many peanuts are making wine from slurry, hoping their skill with the chemicals will produce wines which taste as good as usual. Unfortunately, many of them will succeed, but only because their usual wines are also swill. Poor old punter! I have seen some great ferments this year, but they are alarmingly rare.