The one thing that is most often overlooked when sitting down to enjoy a glass of wine, is that wine is an agricultural product. In a lot of ways, growing grapes is no different to growing any crop of wheat, bananas or strawberries. Vignerons (grape farmers), like all farmers, are at the mercy of Mother Nature. Our annual crop is subject to her frosts, rain (or lack thereof), hail, wind and heat. Unlike other crops, we can only ever get one harvest a year and a weather event that happens in September (such as a frost) or December (hail or wind) can have as much effect on what we pick in March/April the following year as anything else that happens along the way.
Vintage 2019 was one of these years, starting off with a very dry winter in 2018, frost in late September, then a hotter and dryer October to December period, wind in October/November during flowering and hail after fruit set in late November, no rain and a hotter than average January including the infamous record 46˚ day, and another heatwave at the end of Feb/start of March.
Add all that up and it might sound like a horror vintage, but while yields were down the quality is great! As often happens when yields are low, the quality and intensity of the flavours in the fruit increase as the moisture level decreases. Vines seem to know when it is going to be a dry season, they feel the stress, so they just don’t set as much fruit from the outset. That way they can concentrate all their flavour in the fruit that is there.
This is a good scenario for the winemaker as we have wonderful flavours to play within the winery, but it’s a very poor one for the growers. The Barossa, as a lot of regions are, is filled with vignerons who only grow grapes, they have no other crops or any other income, so a low yielding year such as 2019 is a hard one for them, with the money they receive for their fruit often only just enough to cover the cost of picking, let alone any other cost throughout the year or any profit.
For us, some vineyards and varieties were harder hit than others. Our Nitschke block was down a whopping 90%, the lowest we’ve ever seen it. The Schiller was down by about 50%, while the Thiele Road Grenache was only about 10% down. Overall Grenache seemed to do the best, it is a very well-suited variety for the dry, hot climate we have here. With the exception of one of our Grenache Rosé blocks (which was badly frost & hail effected and was down about 85%), Grenache overall was par to slightly below par across the vintage. Shiraz was below par across the vintage, but Chenin was on par.
A small, quick and truncated vintage like this leaves you juggling a bit in the winery, trying to find enough small fermenters and tanks for the multitude of small parcels. It also creates a headache with my oak strategy as there is not enough wine to fill all the barrels (old and new) that we have, and barrels are not something you can just leave empty for 12 months if you want to be able to use them again.
The hard work is almost over for another year, all the fruit is picked, and all the ferments have been pressed, we are now just waiting for the reds to complete their malolactic fermentation in tank before we transfer them to barrel for the peaceful maturation.
Thanks to Sven for all your vintage help and amusement again this year.
Challenging, exhausting, quick, intense and quality. That pretty much sums up Vintage 2019.