Pandemic aside, there is reason to rejoice with Great Southern wine producers reporting one of the best vintages in living memory.
Vintage 2020 will be remembered as the earliest harvest on record with exceptional fruit quality thanks to warm sunny weather early in the summer months and below average rainfall. That’s the good news.
The not-so-good news is that yields were down, which means there will be less wine made and thus less of the good stuff for us to drink.
Producing an average of 12,000 tonnes of grapes a year, the Great Southern Wine Region is the largest mainland wine region in Australia, comprising of Albany, Denmark, Frankland River, Mount Barker and Porongurup, each with its unique climate and soils that produce distinctive fine wines. Here’s what winemakers from the region had to say about the 2020 vintage.
With the first grapevines planted in 1974 along Mt Shadforth Road, Denmark has a reputation for producing excellent Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, along with red Cabernet blends. Winemakers from the region are increasingly trying their hand at producing incredible sparkling wines.
Dr Steve Hall of Rockcliffe Winery commented that this year’s vintage was “very good quality but with a small tonnage. The small quantity will allow us to focus on making really great wines in the winery during the next two years.”
The Porongurup region offers a range of quality grapes and wines that consistently receive awards. A Mediterranean climate and long ripening season produces exceptional quality fruit with intense flavours. Varieties include Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, but its Riesling is a particular hero.
Eugene Harma of Ironwood Estate Wines said that “the moderate to warm daytime temperatures with cool nights developed great flavours in an earlier than normal vintage pick.”
“Drought produced our lowest yield ever, but with intense fruit characters. They’ll make beautiful wines, but very little of them, so the 2020 vintage will be a very a precious liquid,” said Duke Ranson of Duke’s Vineyard.
Rosie Singer from Zarephath Wines emphasised that “After a dry growing season this vintage, fruit is of high quality, particularly so in the reds, but yields are down, particularly with whites.”
Home to 1,600 hectares of vines, the first contemporary vineyard in Frankland River was planted in 1967, with several vineyards sprouting up by the 1980s. The region grows a diverse range of grapes that produce award-winning wines, including standout varieties Riesling and Shiraz, supported by Cabernet Sauvignon and well-suited whites such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Hunter Smith of Frankland Estate said;
“The trend throughout is that the dry winter and warm dry spring had a greater effect on yield than many anticipated resulting in, on early indication, a 20 per cent decline on average. Whilst yield was down the quality was exceptional and will be regarded as another very strong Frankland River harvest.
“Red wines particularly Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are very strong and will produce some exceptional premium wines, as will some of the late ripening emerging varietals such as Mourvèdre, Grenache and Touriga Nacional. Riesling in the white wines was less effected by reduced yield and will again show why this varietal is so well suited to the Frankland River sub region.”
Ferngrove Wines’ Craig Grafton commented;
“Vintage 2020 will be remembered as the earliest harvest on record with great fruit quality. The growing season started warm and very dry. Spring rainfall was also below average and our soils were quite dry as the vines came out of dormancy and watering commenced earlier than normal. These dry conditions kept disease pressure low which was a positive, but also led to lower vine vigour compared to other years.”
“Harvest began on the 5th of February, with a pick of Chardonnay out of Block 18, followed by hand-picking fruit for our Diamond Chardonnay. The favourable weather for the remainder of the ripening period meant we had an “early” vintage. Riesling is a stand-out variety with wonderful acidity and minerality. The colour of the reds has been amazing with great intensity.”
Mount Barker is the site of the original vineyard planted in the South West in 1965. It is prime territory for award-winning wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. The vines experience warm days and cooling nights and, although often low yielding, they produce high-quality grapes. This creates elegant and complex fruit, which shows fine tannins and incredible length. Other key varietals of the area include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.
Luke Eckersley of Plantagenet Wines said;
“The Great Southern produced one of the earliest vintages ever with Chardonnay picked in the first week of February and Riesling by the end of the second week. The region had near perfect climatic growing conditions, low disease and bird pressure, which allowed the production of exceptional quality fruit across all varieties, although yields were down the quality will be one to remember.”
Kim Tyrer from Galafrey Wines emphasised that the “Vintage was solid, volume was down but the quality is exceptional. It was a difficult vintage with the onset of COVID-19 which kept us distanced.”
“In what was a very dry season, yields were low. Fruit quality was still high. It was also an incredibly early start and finish to the vintage. We were finished vintage at Gilberts on the 8th March. Six to seven weeks earlier than normal!” said Clinton Gilbert of Gilbert Wines.
“Yields across the vineyard were very low leading to small berries and bunches with incredible concentration of flavour,” Forest Hill Vineyard’s Guy Lyons said.
“Our Rieslings have a fantastic balance of acidity and depth of flavour. Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are looking very strong at this stage, the small berries helping to build very vibrant and intense colours.”
Albany produces wine in a broadly Mediterranean climate featuring wet cool winters and warm dry summers with a cooling sea breeze off the Southern Ocean. The daily temperature range is minimal and moderate levels of humidity during summer reduce stress on the vines and assist ripening. Both white and red varieties grow strongly and established varieties include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz.
Pamela Lincoln of Oranje Tractor Organic Farm said “Despite the warm season, the yields were low due to the unusually dry start. However, the quality of the grapes harvested were exceptional and all ripened very early.”