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Vintage Reports

McLaren Vale Vintages By Year

The local wine community heralded Vintage 2021 as one of the best of the 21st Century. Overall, vineyards in the McLaren Vale Wine Region were more productive, with higher yields at harvest, compared to recent seasons. Importantly, the increase in vine yields was combined with excellent quality which was well received by the region’s winemakers.

The McLaren Vale Wine Region experienced a drier than average growing season for the third year in a row. The continuation of dry conditions contributed to generally low yields across the region. The summer of Vintage 2020 was a tale of two summers. The “first” summer, the month of December, was the hottest on record. Grape picking took 5 weeks to complete starting at full pace in the first week of March and ending at the start of April. The report from winemakers on wine quality was that is was good, with wine-making made easier by the cool weather and lower tonnages allowing for close attention at the winery.

The McLaren Vale wine region relied on its advantage, natural and constructed, to have a successful vintage for 2019. Specifically, proximity to the moderating temperature influence of the Gulf St Vincent, reliable spring rainfall, and access to multiple irrigation sources helped vineyards cope with a challenging dry and hot season. At harvest, vineyards generally had lower yields of fruit with more intense flavour. Vines had more open bunches, which weighed less than average. The reduction in vine size and yield is partly attributed to the summer, but also to two specific extreme weather events.

The 2018 vintage in McLaren Vale was touted as producing wine of excellent quality. While total tonnages were down for the season, compared to a wet and fertile 2017, the wine quality was set up by the wet growing season in 2016/2017 which led to healthy lush vines through the early part of this season. For 2017/18 the conditions were much drier which prevented excessive vigour or disease problems as the vines switched from vegetative growth to ripening fruit.

Vintage 2017 in the McLaren Vale Wine Region was judged highly successful for both grape growers, who had above average crops with minimal faults, and winemakers who had the ability to pick fruit as they required during an extended dry autumn. The earlier picked red vineyards, including Shiraz and Tempranillo, were described as having good fruit characters, and towards the end of vintage, parcels of Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre were described as excellent examples of these grape styles.

Vintage 2016 will be remembered for a warm and dry spring, which promoted shoot growth and flowering, followed up by heavy rain immediately before harvest which helped boost vineyard yields. At harvest vines produced some of the bigger crops since 2004, but they generally weren’t overcropped as vine growth was balanced.

In general the 2014/2015 season was notable for month long periods where no rain fell. The McLaren Vale Wine Region experienced an average winter rainfall, although it fell in a strange pattern. June and July were wetter than average, but no significant rain fell during August. Temperatures in late August were notably cold overnight, which delayed budburst (EL-4) in general.

For McLaren Vale summer conditions were significantly warmer than average with two heat waves through January and one in February tested the limits of grapevine tolerance to extreme heat. Equally damaging were extremely high speed winds which reduced berry set, stripped leaves and reduced the size of canopies and increased the level of fruit exposure. This was followed by some very hot days.

The 2013 vintage was completed earlier than expected in McLaren Vale. The season was successful with no rain interrupting the quick harvest. Harvesting grapes was completed by the end of March. With all of the fruit safely into wineries by Easter.

The 2012 vintage was one of the most condensed seen in McLaren Vale with crushing completed by the end of March compared with the middle of April in 2011. Indeed some wineries finished pressing out their wine before Easter. The McLaren Vale vintage was light in crop, but of excellent quality.

A wet and cool season resulted in disease pressures impacting to different degrees across the region, but also some excellent quality parcels of fruit characterised the 2011 season. This season’s vintage went against the trend since the mid 2000’s of earlier bud burst, flowering and harvest with vintage starting about three weeks later than average, though ended up finishing about the same time as normal.

Healthy rainfall, favourable conditions for most of the growing season, low disease pressure and a stress-free ripening period characterised the 2010 vintage. February and March were mild and calm with cool nights. The cool nights helped keep vines fresh with heavy dews occurring in the morning. Crops were balanced and the wines emerging from the red varieties particularly were of a high standard. The skins were very thick and dark with a good level of tannin.

The 2009 vintage in McLaren Vale was a “tale of two vales.” A thirteen day heat wave in late January and early February meant a vintage that started early and ended late. What started out as a hot vintage finished with the hallmarks of memorable, cooler years. The heatwave placed a great deal of pressure on all growers to optimise their irrigation for the conditions. The region’s leading winemakers and grape growers were confident that the 2009 McLaren Vale wines will be of the award winning standard the region has become known for.

Over the past five seasons, vintage has become shorter and has commenced earlier. Conditions in the last two seasons have also been drier than average. Predictive data on climate change suggests a trend towards earlier harvest and higher temperatures. By the end of March the bulk of the harvest was completed. This was exceptionally early - with vintage normally persisting until the end of April.

A dry winter, followed by a dry spring, saw a reduction in rainfall recorded to less than half the long-term average. This resulted in low soil moisture levels at budburst. Shoot growth was reduced and irrigation began in many vineyards much earlier than over the last few seasons. With the drought conditions and low yields ripening was early and many vineyards were harvested two weeks earlier than 2006. Harvest began in the middle of February. The harvested tonnage in McLaren Vale was greatly affected by the drought conditions. Picking was rapid with most wineries giving staff the Easter Holidays off. All fruit was into the wineries by the middle of April.

A dry winter, followed by heavy rains in spring, resulted in vines with healthy, balanced canopies on moist soils. A mild, early summer leading into a warmer period during veraison stopped vegetative growth, allowing vines to channel energy into the fruit. The cooler conditions following veraison were ideal for whites ensuring they had good canopy cover right through to harvest. The season was particularly challenging in terms of pests and diseases, with Downy Mildew primary and secondary events and weather conditions favourable to Powdery Mildew. Despite these challenges the majority of fruit was clean and disease-free at harvest, contributing to the overall quality.

After a reasonably wet winter across the McLaren Vale region, the vines burst well with good early shoot growth. Rain during veraison played havoc with some Riesling and Semillon around the area. McLaren Vale had a milder than usual summer with very few days of extreme temperatures, allowing canopies to be maintained right through to vintage with minimal irrigation. This resulted in an excellent, even ripening period; as a consequence vintage started up to two weeks earlier with the first whites coming off very early in February. Overall wineries were reasonably pleased with the quality of the fruit.

2004 was a longer than usual vintage, attributed to cool conditions during ripening. Good winter and spring rainfall ensured good even budburst and enabled growers to maintain adequate soil moisture to ensure healthy grapevine canopies from veraison though to harvest, contributing to optimum flavour development. A warm dry November saw a rapid flowering period, which was followed by good berry set, and a quick even veraison. The coolest January in 12 years, followed by above average temperatures in February and dry conditions leading into harvest, optimised fruit flavours, sugar and acid levels. Crop levels were up on previous seasons with a combination of good fruitfulness and many younger vineyards coming into full production, contributing to an increased yield.

Windy conditions during flowering and fruit set in the spring of 2002, and the worst drought in over 100 years affected yields. Yields were further affected when rains hit in February causing some smaller berries to split and shrivel, resulting in a reduction in bunch weight of 30% – 60%. The steady breezes off the Gulf of St Vincent left the vineyards free of diseases. Deep rooted vines, older vines and vines in the eastern end of the region suffered less from the dry conditions.

The 2002 vintage in McLaren Vale was a stunner despite lower than average yields in many of the vineyards. The summer was South Australia's coolest on record and allowed for a cooler ripening period for all varieties, meaning flavour ripeness was gained at high sugar levels while good natural acidity was maintained. Winemakers noted that the region had not seen Shiraz like the 2002 in recent history. The wines have great colour and structured tannins, and the flavours and natural acidity make for well balanced wines, some of the best ever seen in McLaren Vale. The miracle of the long dry autumn meant that conditions were ideal for late ripening varieties like Grenache.

Heavy winter rainfall gave vines a strong start to the season. Rain ceased to fall midway through October and it remained dry until the bulk of the fruit had been picked. Conditions were hot and dry from November until the end of February with some extremely hot extended periods in January and early February. Despite the hot conditions, crops were large in general with many people reporting substantially larger bunches than in previous years. Crops were much higher than in 2000 when yields were well down. Hot periods ripened fruit quickly and fruit tended to be picked at high sugar levels.