GRAPEVINE: 2019 vintage report reveals challenging harvest
Wine Australia has just released their 2019 vintage report and whilst quality and prices achieved for growers continues to climb, we still saw a few challenges in the 2019 harvest.
Australia has not had to struggle as much with the threat of cold or wet vintages as is the case in Europe, combine
that with being on the cutting edge of winemaking and vinicultural know-how, the baseline is pretty high for wine quality these days.
Nevertheless, heat and a lack of moisture are problems for us and continue to be so as average temperatures continue to climb.
Associated with this is the risk of frost as winters become warmer, leading to an earlier budburst, and a longer season within which frosts can occur and do their damage as we have seen over the past two vintages.
While some regions such as the Grampians began to recover from the frosts of late 2017 (frost in one season can, and often does, impact not just the current vintage, but subsequent vintages too), others were hit hard particularly in South Australia and WA. The Barossa Valley saw its smallest harvest of the past decade with Shiraz tonnage falling around 30 per cent, the Clare Valley saw a 42 per cent fall.
While Riesling proved resilient in the Clare, only dropping 12 per cent, the Eden Valley suffered a 30 per cent hit to tonnage. These are region-wide numbers, and the results were far more varied vineyard to vineyard, with some losing
over 80 per cent of their crop particularly in WA’s Great Southern region.
Just enough is great, but too much and vines start to become stressed which compounded the effects of frost and hail late in 2018. The season saw little rainfall for most regions after November/ December and led to significant heat stress in regions such as the Clare and Barossa where Kalleske report 60 per cent less rainfall than average over the summer period, following a drier than average spring and winter. Luckier regions such as Geelong saw just enough rainfall over winter, spring and a splash in December to carry the vines through to harvest.
The silver lining to smaller harvests has been the steady rise in prices paid for grapes and resulting wines on average, after seeing steady declines from the start of the century through to the middle of this decade. It is further evidence that we are continuing to move away from the image as just a bulk producer to a genuine contender in the worldwide premium category. Further to this, Australia has recently overtaken France as the largest exporter of wine to China; importantly
the low end has actually fallen with the premium end making up for the falls and then some.
Despite the dramatically lower yields in some regions, reports from most rare for good to excellent quality wines from the fruit that was picked. While you may see modest price rises once the 2019 wines hit the shelves, the steady climb in average
quality delivered will likely continue to exceed the rise in prices.