Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Vintage 2013 - The Big Picture

Vintage 2013. If you have less grapes than winery demand the industry changes around that but is that the case in all regions, all varieties equally? Are the good times back?

McLaren Vale has the capacity to grow 70,000 tonnes in a vintage, as it did in 2004, but viticulture has changed so that a figure around the 45,000 tonnes would be an average season. Low crop years are in the 35,000 tonne range and big years around 55,000 tonnes. 
Above - A pretty sight? - Mothballed Chardonnay in McLaren Vale. Will it ever be picked again?
Below - Shrivelled Shiraz.
This reduction is due in part to a change of varieties. Chardonnay vineyards have been mothballed or reworked to varieties that naturally crop lower, but the main change has come in the tonnages of Shiraz. There is an emphasis on controlling growth and berry size through pruning, irrigation management and changes to fertiliser practices. Growers were "forced" to improve grape quality during the glut. If grapes were not good value they were not picked. Survival of the fittest if you like. 

There is also the complicated factor of Vintage 2011. This harvest was almost universally wet. Wineries have been doing a good job of forgetting about this vintage and 'getting on with business' by moving through this stock but off the record their has been McLaren Vale wine downgraded and moved off into other markets, This has again increased the demand for 'fresh' wine from 2012 and now 2013. 

The same forces of supply, demand and fruit fit for purposed played out in all of Australia.

Dave Wandel of Merbein South, Mildura inspects his vines from a boat. Vintage 2011.
Quality this vintage could be excellent and demand for red varieties seems the highest it has been since the early 2000's plus the bump of 2007/08 when national yields were low. McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley are having great seasons so far but the crops are small. Yields for vintage 2013 in the field are looking lower than the 'new average'. For McLaren Vale a regional crush above 45,000 tonnes looks unlikely.  

Derek Cameron has been compiling DJ’s yield estimates based on field observations. He is reporting lower than average bunch numbers in Shiraz & Cab Sav which are likely to product tonnages below 2.5 tonnes / acre (6.5 tonnes / hectare).  Crops in the Barossa are also reported to be reduced compared to the last several seasons.Sam Holmes CEO of Barossa Grape & Wine Association says in TKR report 29/11/12:

“The Barossa Vintage is certainly not looking big (it is really dry here) and the demand for key varieties like shiraz and cabernet is greater than supply. This has the obvious effect of bringing prices up. The wineries have been locking in contracts for fruit very early this year and quite a few could find their intake short and, yes, have to rely on the spot market and pay significantly higher prices than in the last few years.

We are seeing five-year contracts back on the table with minimum prices and vineyards selling – a big shift from 18 months ago.

The Barossa’s export and domestic sales have been growing for the last couple of years from our low of five years ago. This, combined with growers working on lower yields/higher quality, vineyards with lesser varieties being pulled and replaced with shiraz or alternative red varieties, a lot of fly-by-nighter overseas-based importers pretending to be winemakers leaving the region, and a large MIS moving into private hands, has all contributed to a more balanced and sustainable Barossa in every sense."

McLaren Vale growers/producers have heard that inland areas are loaded up this year and with no water restrictions, etc.

Jock Harvey from Chalk Hill says; 

“Friends in other regions, particularly irrigated regions, have pruned for a crop and without water restrictions are irrigating for a crop. Can muscat gordo at 48 tonnes per acre, irrigated with 4 megalitres of water, worth $175/tonne, be compared with McLaren Vale shiraz at 2 tonnes per acre, irrigated with 0.5 megalitres of water? 

I’m not being critical of my fellow farmers but cheap sugar water numbers cannot be used in the national crush data with McLaren Vale and Barossa shiraz without greater scrutiny. Both regions have reduced their potential yield, growing fruit to specification, using less water and making wine with a sense of place. While irrigated regions have recognised where they can maximise returns (and in fairness growing to spec), McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley – with the confidence of food and wine tourism – have taken a different approach. It will show the greatest divergence from irrigated regions and super-premium regions that the modern industry has seen.”

Growth stage EL-27 Berries 4mm.
True, some of this is speculation. Harvested yields from inland Australia are only really known once harvest begins because factors like rain events and heatwaves have an influence over a large geographic area.  However if inland Australia has a glut of grapes while yields are low in the Barossa and McLaren Vale. It is likely to highlight just how different these regions are to those inland. While McLaren Vale / Barossa can grow grapes that make an inland wine style, it is becoming less frequent and these regions are moving away from the inland market.

The outcome of this is that there is a quickly evolving story of a rapidly diverging industry within Australian wine. This year will likely see the greatest divergence in quality and prices between Barossa Valley / McLaren Vale and the inland regions perhaps ever. Barossa Valley / McLaren Vale in demand. While inland Australia's demand depending on the size of their crop.

Wineries are looking for value for money and the better fruit is commanding more interest. It is not a case of growers can grow anything and sell it, but if fruit is fit for purpose, then it is in demand. Fruit prices will reflect increased demand.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Summer Climate Predictions

A warm season likely for southeastern Australia.

  The national outlook averaged over November 2012 to January 2013 shows that:

  • warmer days are more likely over southeastern and northern Australia.
  • warmer nights are more likely over most of Australia. 

This outlook is mostly a result of persistent warmer than normal waters in the Indian Ocean, with a lesser influence from warmer than normal tropical Pacific waters. 

Above average night time temperatures increase the rate of vine ripening, while heatwaves have a detrimental affect on fruit quality. If a hot summer occurs be careful with management practices geared to exposing fruit in order to minimise disease pressure.

A wetter season more likely for far northern SA with only average rain around Adelaide.


The southeast Australian outlook for November 2012 to January 2013 indicates that:
  • a wetter than normal season is more likely for northeast SA and parts of northern NSW.
  • the chances of a wetter or drier season are roughly equal across the rest of southeast Australia. 
This outlook is mostly a result of warmer than normal waters in the Indian Ocean; warmer than normal waters in the Pacific Ocean had a lesser impact. 

Vineyards in South Eastern Australia are generally dependant on supplementary irrigation . This is likely to be the case for Vintage 2013 as median rainfall is predicted for the next three months.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Powdery Mildew Flagshoot & Infection - ID Photos

ABOVE & BELOW: A powdery mildew flagshoot in Cabernet Sauvignon - 9/11/12. Note the white fungus growth covering the stem and the upturned vine leaves.
Abandoned Chardonnay in Willunga with spreading powdery on the vines lower leaves - 25/11/12.

Grapevine Development Dates - a sign of climate change?

It is theorized that drier soil and warmer temperatures are causing winegrapes to ripen earlier in Australia. Records of winegrape vintages through time are “an excellent showcase to analyse the fingerprints of climatic changes,” according to a recent paper in Nature Climate Change.

Longview Vineyards in the southern Adelaide Hills wine region.

In the Nature Climate Change article observations of wine-grape maturity and climate trends suggest that warming and declines in soil water content are driving forces behind that maturity, indicated by sugar concentration levels in the grapes.

At a local level we can also find data that supports climate change.

Summary of average dates of phenological growth stages for Willunga Plains 2000-2006

30cm shoot
Early Flowering
80% Capfall
Berries Pea Size
Cabernet Sauvignon
Sauvignon Blanc

This week CropWatch McLaren Vale records the 2012/13 vintage dates as - 

Vineyards in Willunga are finishing flowering. The most advanced Chardonnay vineyards are at now at 2mm berries (EL-27), Shiraz vineyards are generally at 80% Capfall (EL-25) and Cabernet Sauvignon has progressed ahead to 5% to 50% Capfall (EL-19-23). 

Using these CropWatch observations and comparing to the 2000-06 data it looks as if Vintage 2013 is advanced from those of the first part of the 2000's. It does appear that Vintages from 2006 onwards are getting earlier but is this a definite indication of climate change?

Not definitively.

The Nature paper (1) notes that crop-yield reductions and evolving management practices have probably also contributed to earlier ripening. Also for consideration is the influence of vine age.  As vines mature they tend to have lower crops and ripen earlier. Vineyards in the Willunga Plains where our observations come from were planted in the 1990's - they were still in their adolescence in the year 2000. They are now fully mature. 

Are vines a good indicator for climate change? Yes, scientists consider them to be. Are earlier harvest dates due to climate change? Possibly but vine ages and vineyard management are also having an influence on this.

Whatever happens keep watching your vines. 

(1) Source.

Earlier wine-grape ripening driven by climatic warming and drying and management practices
L. B. Webb, P. H. Whetton, J. Bhend, R. Darbyshire, P. R. Briggs, E. W. R. Barlow
Nature Climate Change
Nature Publishing Group
Feb 26, 2012
Copyright © 2012, Nature Publishing Group