Canberra District Vintage Report 2012
The 2012 vintage continues in the premium wine producing Canberra District, with some reds and late harvest crops still to come in. Regardless of the final outcome, 2012 will be a unique vintage - among the wettest (along with 2011 and 1989) and the coolest (since 1996) on record.
An abundance of soil moisture across the season and ideal temperatures during the ripening period has resulted in excellent soil conditions, excellent vine health and superb fruit across a wide range of varieties.
As with the 2011 vintage, fruit is coming in with excellent flavours and colours at lower than usual Baumes, creating opportunities for winemakers to craft interesting, complex and elegant wines at lower alcohol levels.
Unfortunately, widespread, severe rain events and less widespread but equally severe hail storms post veraison took a toll in many (but not all) vineyards in the region, with berry split and hail damage increasing disease risk and subsequent fruit loss. Timing of these weather events was particularly debilitating on earlier ripening white varieties. While hand picking is common across the district in any season, selective hand picking was the only choice for many of the district's vineyards, increasing the costs of maintaining fruit quality - there is no market for B grade fruit.
2012 will be another vintage where the metal of Canberra winemakers will shine through in the production of good wines from compromised vineyards – using selective picking and careful winemaking techniques to mitigate hail & disease damage. Experienced winemakers and grapegrowers will still have excellent wines, although quantities may be reduced.
Along with widespread shoot thinning and general vineyard hygiene, this year some growers have been trialling biological controls to manage the threat of botrytis. Results of these trials will be assessed by individual growers and may result in longer term changes to vineyard management practices.
2012 has again been a challenging year for the district’s growers and winemakers, but shows all the signs of producing some excellent wines, albeit at lower volumes.
Viticultural Society of the Canberra District
0418 474 123
Canberra District Vigneron’s Association
0429 446 802
A vintage of mood swings - not typical for Canberra.
The Canberra District is renowned for a range of grape varieties, with Shiraz and Riesling particular regional hero wines. Part of the success of the Canberra District wines lies in the quality of the fruit, ripened in cool, dry autumns.
For the 2010 vintage, the growing season started with a spring that grape growers dream about: good rains, warm weather, and no frosts. The warm spring brought unseasonably high temperatures in early November, and flowering was generally a week or so early. Conditions seemed set for a hot dry summer and possible sunburn and shrivelling of fruit.
Fortunately rain at Christmas marked a wonderful swing in temperature and soil moisture. Cool conditions, and slow ripening, alternated with warmer weather in the New Year. But storms and rain in January and February and further rain early March raised concerns about damage to the grapes and disease.
Not a typical Canberra District season. So how did the grapes fare?
Remarkably well in the circumstances!
The late rain caused much anxiety, but at the same time, a sense of renewal, as the vignerons watched their dams fill for the first time in over 12 years. Until late February, the vines and potential crop was rated ultra premium. After the rain, reports indicated a wide range of quality in the grapes. This was a year when good vineyard management paid dividends, with those vineyards faring very well through the season. Just to be sure, some wineries picked a little earlier than usual to minimise the risk of disease, particularly botrytis.
In relation to particular varieties, early reports from some the region’s top Shiraz sites have indicated excellent fruit from this variety. Yields are slightly down, and some vineyards have been picked a little earlier than previous vintages. Slightly smaller berries and bunches have translated to an excellent flavour profile. Riesling parcels have come in with an analysis typical for the Canberra District, whilst others have shown a profile more reminiscent of the great wines of Germany.
It is too early to tell, but Cabernet and Merlot seem to have thrived on the conditions, and there are a number of reports of excellent fruit. Alternative red varieties have been varyingly successful in coping with the changing weather conditions. The chances of successful botrytis wines from Riesling, Semillon and Pinot Gris may also be good, although the jury is still out on this as the grapes will not be picked until May
Several growers have produced almost blemish-free fruit, while others have had grapes affected by disease. Those with disease had to leave fruit unpicked, or sort the picked fruit carefully. Overall, the main impact will not be on quality - but on cost. Difficult vintages can be managed if growers are prepared to maintain standards, and most have risen to this challenge. Disease in the vineyard requires extra effort and usually cost.
And if the weather was not enough, a new biological hazard emerged: fruit bats. Many growers welcomed the one benefit of a warm, wet summer, namely the relative freedom from bird damage due to the fact that the major grape predators had lots of alternative food available. But as if to show that nature does not make life easy for anybody, the fruit bats that have settled in Canberra recently have not wasted any time in discovering the joys of wine grapes - with significant losses being reported in at least one vineyard.
While in general it has been a difficult vintage for the Canberra District, and the yield for most varieties is down, standards seem to have been maintained. Very interesting wines will come from those vineyards which through luck or good management have produced ultra premium fruit, and the wineries (the majority) who have invested the significant resources required to identify and eliminate sub-standard fruit. This is a vintage that winemakers themselves will be keen to review. There will be great interest in the regular vintage tasting at Grazing Restaurant in Gundaroo in a few months, and later, in seeing the results from the wine shows where these wines will be shown.
President, Viticultural Society of the Canberra District
President, Canberra District Vignerons Association
President, Canberra District Wine Industry Association
6 April 2010
2009 - (February update)
The 2009 vintage in the Canberra district to date, is devoid of problems from hail, frost, lack of water, or searing heat. Growers are optimistic that it will be a very high quality vintage, similar to 2008. Small quantities (less than 9 % of total production) of mainly red grapes and Chardonnay are to date not sold. The Canberra story is in contrast with many other Australian wine districts, who are reporting heat stressed vines, hail damage and large quantities of grapes unsold.
An estimated record production of nearly 5000 tonnes is expected from the Canberra District mature vines, many 20 + years old. An increasing proportion of the fruit is being sold out of the district to wineries seeking high quality cool climate grapes. This is due to the very high quality profile Canberra wines have been receiving both nationally and for some internationally in recent years. Some new plantings of Riesling and Shiraz are continuing, but at a slower rate. Cellar door visitors to Canberra wineries in the October to January period, increased by as much as 15% over previous years.
The season started with a warm spring, average rain and no frost problems, although early summer was cool, which delayed flowering until late December. Rain periods throughout, produced a green landscape for Christmas and some disease pressure. However no damage has been reported. A warm to hot January / February with days in the high 30s has ensured full ripeness in all varieties and vintage is expected to start in late February or early March.
2008 - (February update)
Prospects appear excellent for the 2008 vintage. Despite another dry winter continuing good rains during the growing season have provided adequate soil moisture to sustain strong growth and crop development. While the year began as the hottest on record, cooler conditions since Christmas have seen the heat summation to slip to 6th place in the records with every chance of an average vintage date and the attendant benefits of slow ripening in Autumn conditions.
The strong spring growth supported a good inflorescence with a high level of fruit set, leading to the potential for a big vintage. This is a great relief after so many years of drought and frost diminished crops. No significant spring frosts were reported and vine growth and fruit development have continued unimpeded by water or heat stress. In general there is a good balance of canopy to crop load with little need for remedial shoot or bunch thinning.
While the frequent summer storms and some mild and cloudy conditions may have increased fungal disease potential only a very few individual vineyards have reported downy or powdery mildew infestation; with the expectation of a plentiful district harvest those with disease compromised fruit should be able to make good their shortfall. Those summer storms have also brought the inevitable hail and most vineyards have had some level of hail damage. Fortunately the Canberra district has a generally dry atmosphere and experience has shown that the damage will probably remain minor as the split berries simply dessicate.
At this stage ripening is proceeding well with excellent sugar/acid balance and flavour and colour development. Picking of the earliest varieties and of fruit for sparkling wine production is only a couple of weeks away and there is a general feeling of optimism in the district. Only those wineries with excess stocks still remaining from previous years, or those growers with no buyer for their fruit, will not have cause for celebration.
The 2007 vintage provided many challenges for Canberra District growers and winemakers. The season was the hottest in the modern grapegrowing era leading to low soil moisture. Many vineyards in the Canberra district were badly frosted in October and a late November frost was disastrous for several vineyards in the Murrumbateman area.
The warm and dry conditions prevailing meant adequate access to water was important, and with the presence of windy conditions at flowering meant many crops suffered with low bunch weights. Those growers that escaped the freeze and had sufficient water were able to make the most of consistent warm dry weather and were able to produce fruit showing good colour, balanced ripe tannins and full flavour development. The lower tonnages and the warm ripening period lead to an early harvest with a reduction of the gap between early and later ripening varieties.
The fruit had, as expected, lower levels of acidity, including lower levels of Malic acid, slightly raised pH and often lower levels of protein. The flavour level was in most instances very good to excellent, with some being intense. Low nitrogen levels in most varieties needed attention to ensure complete fermentation.
Exceptionally dry conditions and intense frost may in some cases have led to poor bud development resulting in a real risk of next year’s yield levels being adversely affected.The region suffered from extremely low soil moisture until the end of December and from widespread frost and sporadic hail. Successive rain events replenished soil moisture through January and February along the Lake George Escarpment and Bungendore Sub districts; however conditions remained dry in the Murrumbateman, Yass and Hall areas.
Overall there will be some excellent wine produced from the district but producers will be concerned that the volumes will be small.
Above average mean temperatures through spring and summer, and a dry autumn have produced the best vintage in the Canberra District for many years. An early budburst followed one of the warmest winters on record. Higher than average temperatures and fewer frost days than normal, ensured that most growers remained unscathed by frost during spring. Grapegrowers escaped the worst of hail events through October and November, and the severe storm that travelled through south-eastern New South Wales on December 2, 2005.
Combined winter and spring rainfall was well above average. Grapevines relished the warm and moist conditions during spring, while summer and early autumn were characterised by warm temperatures and well below average rainfall, resulting in disease-free, near-perfect ripening conditions. .
Fruit ripened approximately two weeks earlier than average for the majority of the district, with harvest commencing on the 18th February and all but complete by the 21st of April.
The vintage was the best in the last five years for white grape varieties, which revelled in the less stressful conditions. Sugar and flavour build up was swift, resulting in good retention of natural acid at harvest. Standouts among white varieties include Riesling, Chardonnay and the emerging variety Viognier. The warm conditions produced unprecedented ripeness in red varieties, with Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot all exhibiting fantastic colour, tannin and flavour.
After a very warm July and August, it looked as if the vines might get off to an early start, but a chilly September slowed the process, and budburst occurred in the 1st week of October for most vineyards - typical for the district. The drought of the autumn continued through winter until a large rainfall commencing on the 31st of August dumped 75-100mm on the District. Normal rain fall continued through spring, giving the vines a good healthy start. Through the spring, the weather pattern was changeable, with fortnightly variations far above and below the average temperature, with average nighttime temperature ending up a bit higher than the long term average. Starting in December, the rain became patchy, with large differences in rainfall across the District.The rainfall dried up altogether in February, leading to a very dry autumn. Also commencing towards the end of December was a trend towards consistently warmer than average conditions, with the month of April, the warmest on record. These conditions pushed the vines along, with veraison taking place from the end of January through March - approximately a week early for the district. Dry weather allowed disease free conditions to persist through the autumn, with harvest starting in Mid March for early varieties in warm sites, and extending well into May for Cabernet from the cooler vineyards. All in all 2005 was a good year across the board, with the vines showing less moisture stress than in 2003/2004. Vignerons of the district debate which was a better year, 2004 or 2005, but all agree both are excellent.
Finally a normal winter whose rains replenished our dams and left some moisture in the soil. A warmer than average August and September got the vines ready for an early start. By the 15th of September, budburst had started or looked imminent in most vineyards, but then a three week cold snap cooled things down, stopping the vines in their tracks. A few snowflakes were seen on October 11th, and a series of intense squally storms kept things moist through mid October. The end of October saw the temperatures rapidly rise, with an unusually warm period (with no rain) lasting through November 20th, burning off the grass. The rain returned again with 75mm of rain falling over the 21st-23rd of November, and a return to cool temperatures. Starting in December, things rapidly heated and dried up. January was warm, and relatively dry, and February was among the hottest on record. From mid January through to harvest, very little rain fell throughout the district, and the vines slowed down, despite February's warm weather. This pattern meant, despite the very warm second half of the year, most vineyards picked their fruit at a normal time (the end of March through to early May), when Canberra's weather had cooled considerably. The wines of the year were made from fully ripe, clean fruit, full of natural acidity, and exhibit the cool climate characteristics for which our district is known.
The Rain in February 2002 filled up the local dams, but it wasn't followed up with any significant moisture. By the time budburst commenced at the end of September, the soil was essentially without moisture. Irrigation commenced in most vineyards with water supplies almost immediately, as the spring warmed up quickly and was much hotter than normal. The drought continued through December and January with the period only exceeded by 1998 in average temperature. This drought spell was punctuated by a devastating fire which tore through Canberra on the 18th of January, destroying some 500 homes and killing 4 people. Veraison was 3 weeks earlier than normal, commencing in mid to late January, with some scattered rain through February helping ease the drought temporarily. The heat from earlier in the year eased off during the ripening period of February through April with relatively normal ripening conditions. Harvest dates varied considerably across the district depending on water supplies, vineyard stress levels, and altitude, although most sites harvested 2-3 weeks earlier than normal. The quality of wines in 2003 was variable, with some superb wines made from those vineyards with enough water to cope with the drought conditions.
A slightly dry winter left most vineyards with an adequate supply of water in their dams, but with less than optimal soil moisture in the spring. The growing season got off to an early start with an unseasonably warm September. Budburst commenced around September 20th in the district's warmer regions near Hall, and finished about October 7th in the coolest regions above Lake George. A mild frost affected some vineyards the night of October 19th, but not with the devastating impact of the Spring 1998 frost which caused many of the districts’ vineyards to experience a total crop loss for the 1999 vintage. Spring and early summer was unusually dry, with many vineyards receiving almost no moisture in October, November and December. Although the dry weather was not accompanied with much heat, October-December was the 2nd windiest quarter on record putting the vineyards under significant moisture stress. This weather fanned bush fires at Christmastime which burned through parts of Canberra's urban parkland. Cane lengths in many vineyards were unusually short, with bunches of small berries, that had thick skins, and intense flavours. Most vineyards and varieties finished flowering by 15 December. The dry weather continued through January with most areas receiving less than 20mm of rain, leaving those vineyards without significant irrigation resources extremely stressed. By the end of January, the 2001/2002 growing season was considered the driest in more than 20 years; but this pronouncement did not last for long. The drought ended in a flood of rain commencing February 2nd, with more than 140mm of rain received by February 6th, saturating the ground and filling the dams. The rain did not damage the fruit (which had not yet reached veraison), and no real disease set in. Instead, the burst of moisture powered the vines to produce fruit with exceptional ripeness, yet still high acidity. Harvest took place from March through May, and this vintage has produces many exceptional wines.
Following a disastrous frost that destroyed most of the crop for 1999 (a few wineries were spared), and less than ideal growing conditions in 1999/2000, the 2000/2001 Growing Season was a good one for the Canberra district. A warm early spring saw budburst commence in the lower altitude regions of the district around the 26th of September. A very wet spring followed, with November among the wettest on record. Fortunately, very little downy mildew, or any other fungi, took hold in the district during this time. The spring rains finished on December 12th, with hot dry weather between 12 Dec to the 25th of January, when rain, once again returned to the area - relieving local vignerons from irrigating their now dry vineyards. Over 100mm of rain fell in the first week of February around the district, but did not caused any damage to the fruit. Veraison commenced around the 7th of February for early varieties showing that the growing season was well ahead of schedule. Harvest commenced the first week of March and continued through the first week of May. The fruit had both great ripeness, and high natural acidity. All in all, a great year for Canberra.
The 1999/2000 growing season started off slow, with unseasonably cool temperatures November-January, and a 100mm of rain on Boxing Day. What was overall a cool year, was punctuated by a hot, dry February/March, and this helped ripen heavily laden vines, seemingly trying to make up for the previous year's short crop. An unusually bad year for powerdery mildew across Australia, most Canberra wineries were able to control the outbreak of this disease. The ripening of the fruit stalled at the end of March, and most vineyards picked quite late, starting at the end of March, but continuing into June. Despite the conditions, a scattering of very good wines, especially cool varieties like pinot noir, were produced.
The 1998/1999 growing season is one remembered for a single day, October 28th, 1998. On this day a killing frost stripped many of the region's vineyards of their young shoots and flowers, leaving nothing for the vignerons. Those wineries with grapes left experienced a typical year; some stunning wines were made, albeit in very small quantities. Many of the district's wineries used grapes brought in by BRL Hardy from Langhorne Creek to produce shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. While very different from the flavours usually produced by the region, these wines, from a common vineyard source, provide an interesting comparison of the winemaking styles of the local vignerons.
The 1997/1998 stands out, along with 1983, as the warmest year the region has ever experienced. With temperatures reaching 35C 17 times during the growing season, and a massive 64 days with temperatures rising above 30C (for comparison 1999/2000 had 1 day over 35C, and 29 over 30C), Canberra wine's achieved a richness and ripeness that is unusual for the district. The season was also very dry, with many vineyards severely water stressed, adding further intensity to the wines. A great year for the district's Shiraz, Cabernet, and Merlot, but one that tried the patience of those growers with limited water supplies.