Vintage Report

Vintage Report

Most of the wines reviewed in this book are from recent vintages 2013 to 2016. To help you understand the background of these wines, I have for the first time included a summary of each of the last four vintages including, of course, the most recent 2016.

2016

Vintage started in the Swan Valley in the first few days of the new year, some as early as January 4 and 5, and even the state’s biggest and most widespread producer Houghton started on January 11, making it one of the earliest on record for the state.

The growing conditions were typically hot and dry with three significant rain events occurring in each of the months of January, February and March. The January and February rain events placed most varieties at risk of disease and bunch rot development. Quality, however, is generally considered good.

Overall, whites can be considered good, while the reds are good but not great. However, there are a few highlights of the top end from Margaret River and Frankland River from some of the older vineyards.

The period from June 2015 through to November 2015 was exceptionally warm and dry across all WA regions, which resulted in yet another early budburst and forwardgrowing season leading into an early compressed vintage.

It was hot and dry in the Swan Valley in January and February but two major rainfall events placed pressure on vineyard management. Typically the white varieties are fresh, with moderate to high alcohol levels and vibrancy of fruit flavour. In the main they probably lack the punchiness of previous vintages because of the timing of the rain on those varieties yet to be harvested.

A significant fire on January 6 in the shires of Harvey and Waroona exposed the Geographe region to periods of threatening smoke inundation. The fire potentially exposed a number of grower vineyards to smoke. The area towards Donnybrook was largely unaffected.

A localised hail event in Frankland River caused isolated damage. Otherwise a strong year for cabernet and shiraz. Shiraz towards Mount Barker area was impacted by botrytis.

Picking decisions on a large portion of the Margaret River region white intake were made under duress of frequent rain events. The spectre of botrytis hung heavily. Vigilance at the fruit sorting table ensured chardonnay was the best quality achievable. Early indications on wine quality suggest fresh and free from flavours associated with rot. Higher end alcohols in the wines would have been desired.

Significant rain events occurred in the south-west of WA between January 18 and 20 with isolated measurements of between 150-220mm on properties between Manjimup and Pemberton. The cumulative effect of rain events post veraison placed significant disease pressure on later ripening white patches in Pemberton.

The season will be remembered as a challenging one with solid wines, though not the spectacular wines of some recent vintages.

2015

The 2015 vintage in some regions of WA was one of the most challenging in recent years. Smoke, hail, early rain at the end of vintage, very small fruit set and birds impacted on volumes. Yet in others, such as the Swan Valley and the Perth Hills, it was smooth and trouble free. It was just one of those years.

The Swan Valley and Perth Hills had a fairly typical season that was slightly cooler than the previous three vintages. Vintage started in late January and proceeded pretty much without a hiccup.

White varieties, such as the Swan Valley staples of chenin blanc and verdehlo, were particularly good while the reds were also strong, largely as a result of the nice even ripening period. The really good news was fortifieds such as muscat were excellent because of the absence of any heat spikes.

In Margaret River the 2015 harvest unfolded with fine, mild conditions. There were no extreme weather conditions, allowing for balanced fruit and a slow and steady flow into the wineries.

The quality of the fruit was some of the best and continued the remarkable run of nine consecutive vintages. The only disappointment was yields being down across the region for all key varieties.

Chardonnay was predictably the first variety to be picked with some wineries bringing in their fruit in late January. The key characteristic of the chardonnay is lovely balance, flavour and natural acidity.

The season across the Great Southern was characterised by lower than expected yields. A temperature spike in August led to early shooting and this was followed by inclement conditions that affected flowering and thus yield potential. Despite this post-veraison, conditions were close to ideal with strong canopies and even ripening. In February just before the beginning of harvest, temperatures spiked once again and ripening was accelerated with the first chardonnay being harvested on February 17.

Light crop loads characterised all varieties, but as a result flavour concentration was excellent.

In Geographe a hot January lead to whites coming on quicker than expected, but only slightly earlier.

The vintage in Manjimup and Pemberton was warm and relatively dry. The vines grew well and the fruit developed very good fruit flavours in all varieties. Reds like pinot noir developed good flavours but the tannins are much finer than the robust 2014s.

The Northcliffe bushfires impacted the region greatly with the threat that the Pemberton town site may have been impacted. This obviously did not occur but it did influence a few harvest decisions.

Smoke affected vineyards to a variable way with some suffering smoke taint and many showing no affect at all.

Overall a good vintage with major difficulties that had nothing to do with viticulture. At the end of harvest viticulturists knew they had worked hard and brought in good fruit that have made some fine whites and sound reds.

2014

The 2014 vintage presented a number of challenges to winemakers but in the end it turned out to be another good year with some exceptional wines either already released or in barrel biding their time.

Warm to very hot weather and dry conditions through summer contributed to wines of strong intense flavour.

The reds in general will be long lived with excellent flavour concentration. In the whites the chardonnays are some of the best that have been produced in recent years. The Rieslings are remarkably fine and elegant and the sauvignon blancs and blends are full and intense, providing they were harvested at the right time and not allowed to stay on the vines too long.

In the Swan Valley, Perth Hills and Peel, warm to hot conditions over the Christmas period and several consecutive days above 40C in early January, resulted in premature ripening and some sunburn with white varieties, with vintage up to 10 days earlier than normal in some cases. The heatwave just before harvest resulted in accelerated baume levels, particularly with verdelho. Resulting wines are sound and fresh but with slightly broader, less defined palates. The reds are ripe and full flavoured with strong tannins.

In Margaret River the growing season was preceded by a

dry winter followed by a warm spring with above average rainfall. It was a cool vintage when considering average daily temperatures (warm days, cold nights). In contrast, some areas in the lower south-west experienced the driest summer conditions on record. Windy conditions in December were responsible for isolated vineyard damage, particularly chardonnay, resulting in some vineyards delivering significantly lower yields. Both sauvignon blanc and semillon were of reasonable quality, while the better parcels were very strong.

Pemberton, Frankland and Mount Barker had an exceptional vintage with ripe fruit flavours and good natural acids. In Mount Barker it was a good year from start to finish with reasonable crop levels ensuring an even ripening period and no vintage rainfall. It will be great to see the new Rieslings and how the cabernet sauvignon and shiraz develop in oak as they look full of flavour with ripe fine tannins.

In Geographe it was an exceptional vintage for all varieties with the whites very intense and the shiraz and cabernet plush and full.

It was another good year for Blackwood Valley cabernet and shiraz, with ideal conditions and no disease. The best parcels showed intense varietal notes, incredible colour and exceptional tannin structure.

2013

Winemakers and viticulturists had to contend with the hottest summer on record in managing fruit for the 2013 vintage. While it certainly impacted on water usage with many dams throughout the south almost dry by the end of the harvest, the fruit quality overall was very good.

Part of this was due to the fact that while very hot, it never really spiked excessively and towards the end of the season the warmth brought many of the red varieties to full maturity with good flavours and sugars.

Overall the reds appear to be very good and, although the sugars and the alcohols will be higher than normal in the main, early indications are they are in good balance and will be exceptional wines.

Of the whites the chardonnays were the standouts from what became a very early pick with great flavour intensity and power. The Rieslings too, from the Great Southern, that were tasted for this book look exceptional, with a rare combination of delicacy and persistence with wonderful light fine acids.

The Swan Valley and Perth Hills experienced hot and dry conditions without any major heat spikes producing flavoursome whites without excessive alcohols, but some

sweet and sour acid characters as a result of uneven ripeness. The reds will be sound.

In Geographe and Peel the sustained hot and dry conditions similar to Swan Valley produced good fruit quality in both red and whites.

In Margaret River the warm to hot and dry conditions, with no significant rain events throughout the summer, resulted in good quality whites with excellent flavour in chardonnay. The good news for the stable sauvignon blanc semillon style is that the aromatics were better than the previous year thanks to the quality of the semillon, although the sauvignon blanc suffered a little from the heat, which knocked back the high-end aromatics. The reds showed excellent deep colour with concentrated fruit and ripe tannins.

Pemberton, Manjimup and Blackwood Valley were largely warm and dry and the absence of rain produced excellent chardonnay and very good sauvignon blanc.

The Great Southern was warm and dry with whites lacking some aromatic qualities. The reds are excellent with great depth of colour, richness and flavour.

RAY'S WINE GUIDE 2017