Monday, February 23, 2009

Harvest on the Range


Is the Range the future of McLaren Vale?

In times of heatwaves and water shortages the naturally higher rainfall and cooler conditions found along the Range are helping to maintain fruit quality during otherwise tough vintages. This season looks like no exception.
As a rough rule of thumb vineyards in the Range Rd, Kuitpo and Hope Forest areas run two to three weeks behind McLaren Vale. This gives the opportunity to produce more delicate flavours from traditional varieties like Shiraz, as well as produce alternative cool climate grapes like the Pinot family, Sauvignon Blanc and others.

The Range area is suited to these varieties because of a longer and slower ripening period. During January the ripening period is stretched out to be four to six weeks later than the warmer climate region of McLaren Vale.

The slower ripening is due to higher altitude producing cooler weather. Also on many mornings a low cloud hangs on the range that takes several hours to clear. This further cools the area.

The length of daylight plays a part too. As growers to farm these areas know there is a large difference in the positioning of vineyards. Those on north facing slopes ripen quicker that those facing south or those at the bottom of valleys. Vineyards which are exposed to more sun ripen earlier.

This region has faired much better than McLaren Vale during the heatwave at the end of January. The fruit was not as advanced, the vines less water stressed and seem to suffer from less sunburn. In the Willunga basin (McLaren Vale GI) vines that are exposed to the sun are increasingly becoming negative factor. Sunburn is common on rows running north/south and many blocks have been positioned east/west to limit exposure.

In the warmer Range sites Pinot Gris harvest is beginning this week with Sauvignon Blanc looking at beginning in another 7-10 days. With no rain to speak of, the main threat to these blocks, late season botrytis, has not been recorded.

Assuming continued dry weather it is looking like a clean vintage in this area. Harvest dates are expected to be later than last year where many blocks were panic picture during the March 2008 heatwave. Expect fruit from Sauvignon Blanc in mid-march and late season reds from the end of the month.

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