As I write this there are not too many areas that are in the full swing of Harvest. The one notable exception is the Hunter Valley which has all but finished its 2011 Harvest.
The Hunter started out in a fairly atypical way in that an extremely cool ripening period during November and December brought with it quite a bit of rain.
At this stage of ripening, this does not cause the same level of stress as rain at harvest, however those without proper disease measures in place were infected with downy mildew which spreads extremely rapidly. Interestingly, when the dreaded downy looked to have a firm grip on the Valley, the heat finally arrived and those with good spray regimes who had hedged the vines to expose and dry out the fruit saw the downy retreat.
Fortunately, a solid two weeks of incredible heat sped up the very slow ripening fruit from an otherwise cool year. Many of the white varieties in the Hunter were harvested before, or just at the start of, the heatwave and the wines that we have seen so far are nothing short of spectacular. In some years, flavour is hard to find, but the long, cool ripening season of 2011 has yielded incredible intensity of flavour structure and acid profile of the white wines.
The heat spurred on the ripeness of the reds and some Shiraz unfortunately succumbed to the extreme conditions. A selection of the north-facing vines that were hedged due to the downy problem subsequently got sun damaged and some fruit was left on the vine, but this was minimal. Most reds developed flavour earlier than usual, with the only real negative being that the acid contained within the fruit plummeted quickly, as is the case when extreme heat causes the vines to shut down. However, this acid decrease is easily mitigated in the winery and the winemakers and vignerons of the Hunter Valley would relish this given the difficult years they have grown accustomed to. Overall, 2011 in the Hunter Valley looks like a standout year for whites and an above average year for reds.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for some areas of Australia where we have heard of total vintage failure with crops being wiped out completely by mildew or floods. Victoria has been hit hard by lady La Nina; she has reeked havoc in our industry and heartbreakingly, taken some precious vineyards. It is difficult to focus on fruit when so many have lost their homes, but it also needs to be acknowledged that livelihoods derived from the earth are a fickle thing and the weather can be a foul, ill-tempered mistress, so later this year and into the next I would urge you to sip your 2011 wine from wherever it hails and devote a tiny bit of circumspection to the people that rain, hail and hopefully shine work their proverbials off in an effort to bring that glass of goodness to your lips.