Vintage started approximately three weeks earlier than normal this year. There was an abundance of native blossom to keep the birds away, so we did not use all of our nets. The weather was kind, warm enough but not super-hot. There were no fires in Margaret River or the Great Southern so no risk of smoke taint for the grapes. The winemakers were under no pressure and could pick when they felt the fruit was ready.
Sparkling came in first and we immediately knew we were in line for a great vintage. The flavour was there, the fruit was ripe, but clean, with no bird peck or weather-caused disease. The slow, even but early ripening gives wine with flavour but lovely acidity. The negative is that all the yields are down, across all varieties from 25% to 40%, and Chardonnay was the worst hit. This is the second consecutive year of low yields, and it’s the after effect of very cold weather in October/November 2018, from which the vines have needed two years to recover. There will be some excellent Chardonnay and Riesling from this vintage but the volumes will be small.
Pinot Noir was next and the picking teams were picking the cleanest fruit we have seen ever with lovely flavours, but again much reduced yields, down 33% on the 5 year average with very small berry size.
The Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz benefitted greatly from our long term practice of continuing to put compost under our vine rows. This ability to retain moisture in the subsoil for the vine, in what has been a very dry year, particularly in the Great Southern, was very beneficial this year. The Great Southern had only 50% of its annual rainfall this year, and without the compost and straw spread beneath the vines the Cabernet in particular would have been very stressed. Our Abercrombie vineyard is 46 years old, dry-grown cabernet and needed the assistance of moisture retention to produce the wonderful fruit that it did. Again incredibly small berries that will produce wines with remarkable colour and tannins, although I fear the extraction rates will be very low this year!
For the reds also there was no weather, smoke or bird pressure to force you to pick. The fruit was ripe and clean but we had to deal with the growing Coronavirus spread and the constant fear of vineyard and winery operations being shut down. A lot of our overseas winemakers left early to get back with their families while international flights were still operating. This made us very busy as we rushed to get our fruit in as soon as possible right at the end of the harvest, but it has had no effect on quality and there will be some excellent reds from 2020.