Vintage 2013 #v13 UPDATE - 4/3/2013

Grape picking has being progressing for four weeks now in McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley. Picking has also begun on the Southern Fleurieu and Adelaide Hills. Universally vines have been reaching harvest ripeness (EL-38) earlier than was expected, and in many cases earlier than ever before. 

In the background it has been officially announced to be the hottest summer in Australia since records began and this heat explains some of the rapid ripening seen.

During February, in some parts of McLaren Vale, sugars accumulated extremely quickly and fruit was potentially unbalanced with high acid levels. Not in all cases though. Many vineyards held their fruit in good condition and it was picked at the right time (acids were moderate @ 4-6 g/L). Getting feedback from your winery is very important. Were they happy with your fruit? If your sugar levels ‘spiked’ was there anything you could have done earlier in the season to moderate this?

Chardonnay night picking on the Southern Fleurieu at Mt Compass.  Yields from this vineyard were very low at less than 2 tonne/acre but the fruit was in excellent condition.


There is a often a race to get in the paper lauding the vintage. From a viticultural point of view it is never 'black and white'.

It is always difficult to make generalizations about quality, although many media reports have an early stab. These have ranged from the overly optimistic - 'McLaren Vale winemakers predict bumper vintage' (growers resented the use of the word bumper) - to the sour grapes over reporting of the 2013 Hunter Valley vintage in NSW where it appears blogs 'celebrating' rain at the expense of wineries have been pulled.
The topography of the McLaren Vale Wine Region, the Adelaide Hills, north into the Barossa and south down to Goolwa via the Southern Fleurieu varies from coastal plain to rocky peaks at 350m altitude. A two hour car ride can see rainfall vary by 500mm and temperatures by 5-7 degrees centigrade. This means weather that harms grapes in one area, may not have the same affect on a different site.

This topographical variation the reason we can grow different wine styles from high Eden Riesling to Mataro in a relatively tight area. If South Australia was a flat, featureless plain on the other hand... 

Variable sites - Jason Schwarz from @SchwarzWineCo took these grape samples, Chenin Blanc, Graciano and a couple different Shiraz and Mataro vineyards from a 50km round Barossa trip - 4/3/2013. 

For our clients the majority of stories are positive and important demand for their grapes has increased prices and helped make up for any shortfall in tonnages. 

DJ's Derek Cameron with Dudley Brown of Inkwell Vineyards and the Wine Rules.
Derek says - "Vineyards targeted at A-Grade or B-Grade generally had yields a third down on estimates. Those that were targeted for C-Grade grown with bigger canopies and pruned with higher bud numbers were much closer to what was expected."
In some parts of McLaren Vale, sugars accumulated extremely quickly and fruit was potentially unbalanced with high acid levels, but in many other cases fruit was picked in good condition and at the right time - acids were moderate 4-6 g/L). 

Fruit in the Adelaide Hills and southern Fleurieu may have benefited from a hot summer, certainly disease levels are very low. As a case study one of Ben South's clients has harvested over 100% more Pinot Noir from their Adelaide Hills vineyard at a price per tonne better than last year. They are naturally ecstatic about the year.

Vintage is far from over, with many iconic vineyards still to be picked. Philip White interviewed Barossa grapegrower Bob McLean, who is yet to harvest, on his Drinkster blog:
“I dunno about these Hooray Henries who say they get the same quality every year.  I know the big guys do that deliberately, to maintain their style, like they think they’ve got to please the market, but the littlies who make small batches – I dunno, but I’ve only got one vineyard and I can say every year’s been different,”  Bob says.
Shiraz from cool sites in Kangarilla and Clarendon (coolest part of McLaren Vale wine region), the Eden Valley and the Adelaide Hills need a few more weeks of good weather. Cabernet Sauvignon will also be ready in many sites over the next 14 days. While late season varieties like Mataro / Mourvèdre and Grenache are still developing flavour.

Grenache on the vine.
Grenache doesn’t have much natural tannin. Also it is a variety that holds onto its acid – meaning that is can get quite ripe (high sugar) before it is picked – and it often tastes sweet and sugary before it is ready.

Flavours should be more complex. Grapes should taste of raspberry or strawberries – sweet but with fruit characteristics. Crossing over into jam is a step too far.

Other good indicators to look at are the state of the seeds. Do the seeds still have pulp on them i.e. does the pulp stick to the seeds? Are the seeds green? Are the seeds bitter when you bite into them? Ripe seeds have a nutty flavor. 

The weather forecast for southern South Australia is clear weather with low 30's oC for the next 7 days. Harvest will continue unabated - and we are sure many pundits will put their own reports out lauding the harvest.