2023 Vintage Report
From mid-January to end of April, the vineyards around Australia are filled with people picking at the crack of dawn and late at night. They’re taking advantage of the cooler temperatures and rushing the fruit to the wineries where it’s expertly handled to become the great Aussie wines, we all love so much
Each growing season and vintage is different, and every region has its own challenges. This year, due to the extreme rain systems experienced almost nation-wide in 2022, yields are generally down however, the quality of the fruit has been described as excellent.
We’ve been chatting with viticulturists, vineyard teams, and winemakers around the country about the challenges they have faced and continue to face, how this vintage compares to previous years, and their forecast for vintage 2023. Read on to hear from Margan Wines, Thomas Wines, Handpicked Wines, Pipers Brook, Bec Hardy, Nugan Estate, Hither & Yon, Bleasdale, and more.
New South Wales
DE IULIIS – POKOLBIN, HUNTER VALLEY
Update from Mike De Iuliis, Owner, and Winemaker
The start of the growing season was marked by a dry and warm spell, which helped vines to bud and grow quickly. However, we experienced a cool and wet spring, which impacted fruit set and reduced crop yields. Late summer (finally!) brought hot and dry conditions, which helped to ripen the grapes, but also led to some stress on the vines.
Our vineyard teams have worked diligently throughout the season to ensure that the fruit that we do have is of high quality. Even the small hailstorm we had in late January couldn’t dampen our spirits.
Despite the challenges, we are optimistic about the quality of the fruit we have harvested from our family vineyards. The dry and warm conditions during the growing season helped to concentrate flavours and produce fruit with good balance and structure. The harvest season began much later than usual, with Chardonnay the first in the winery on the 30th of January. The hot, dry weather that continued into February meant that all our whites were picked and pressed by 12th of February. If this hot weather continues, we will have our reds in the safety of the winery over the next few weeks.
MARGAN – BROKE FORDWICH , HUNTER VALLEY
Update from Andrew Margan, Owner, and Winemaker
Three years of El Nino moved into the spring of 2022 with further gusto and the cool wet growing conditions provided challenges for all grape growers in the Hunter Valley. As always, it is only the strong that survive and any viticulturist that was diligent around their spray programmes was rewarded with a change in the weather just as veraison started to happen.
From mid-December until the third week in February we have had a few storms that have kept the vines fresh and otherwise it has been warm and dry. Cool nights generally have kept our natural chemistry in a great place whilst fruit flavours and sugars have slowly developed two to three weeks later than normal due to the wet cool spring but that has meant increased hang time providing us with lots of flavour.
Crop levels are generally normal for the whites, and I would be giving the white vintage a 9 out of 10. The reds have only just started, and they look fantastic. Great colour and flavours are starting to develop at lower sugars and with a warm dry forecast in front of us appears that we’ll get great flavour and sugar ripeness.
It’s very difficult to compare this year with any of the 40 vintages I have done in the Hunter Valley – it’s never been this late, and I’ve never had to be this patient, but I’m also not sure if we’ve ever had the intensity of flavour and acid, that this vintage is giving us.
THOMAS WINES – POKOLBIN, HUNTER VALLEY
Update from Andrew Thomas, Owner, and Winemaker
In 2022, the Hunter Valley experienced its third calendar year in a row of above average rainfall, which lead to some challenging conditions and nervous vignerons at the start of the growing season. Diligence in early season vineyard management, abated the disease pressure and we held good canopies.
Fortunately, the predicted easing of La Nina in December came to fruition, and we experienced an almost perfect warm and dry ripening period.
The start of harvest was one of the latest in recent memory (due to the cooler and wet start to the season) with our first Semillon coming off the vine on the 9th February, and we are expecting the last of our Shiraz to be harvested tomorrow 7th March.
It’s been a fast a furious month, but I am pleased to report that all our fruit achieved excellent ripeness and flavour, with great natural acidity, particularly in the Semillons. All the Shiraz have amazing colour and tannin ripeness, and I would go as far to say that these reds are the best we’ve seen in the Hunter Valley since the outstanding 2018 vintage.
BROKENWOOD – POKOLBIN, HUNTER VALLEY
Update from Stuart Horden, Senior Winemaker
It has been a slow start to the season. We received 88mm for the month of January and despite the hailstorm on January 4th and a subsequent smaller hailstorm on January 24th, the weather has been relatively kind with warm/hot days and mostly cooler nights. We took in a small pick of Oakey Creek Chardonnay on January 31st but otherwise the first week of February was really where we kicked off, which is the latest in my time in the Hunter Valley.
The fruit that we have picked so far has come off in sound condition with good natural chemistry. Yields are lighter than expected due to a challenging season with restricted growth due to waterlogging, disease pressure and hail all having an impact.
We have a busy fortnight ahead, with all our Semillon scheduled to be harvested in the next 10 days, following which I expect to continue straight into the reds. We will have Shiraz ready to sample towards the end of this week. Quality looks promising for the Hunter Valley Shiraz, with much of the early uneven bunches having caught up.
The weather forecast looks reasonably stable, with the chance of some rain tomorrow and heat returning quickly thereafter. A little rain will not be an issue as conditions have dried out and the vines will welcome the relief.
Regions outside of the Hunter are also experiencing a similarly late season, the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at Beechworth are currently finishing veraison and I don’t expect to commence picking there until very late February/first week of March. Unfortunately, a hailstorm hit Indigo Vineyard on Monday 16th which caused some crop loss, thankfully due to the late season we have sufficient time for the damaged fruit to dry up and fall off, so the impact should be on yield more than quality.
McLaren Vale has had a mild wet summer, which means that Rayner and Wade Block 2 won’t be picked until late March. Easter is looking like a busy time of year in the winery.
Keep your fingers and toes crossed for continued dry weather across our growing regions.
TYRRELL’S – POKOLBIN, HUNTER VALLEY
Update from Bruce Tyrrell, Managing Director
So far vintage has been about better-quality fruit than expected, but not quite as much as we would have liked.
You can read Bruce’s detailed weekly vintage reports here.
SANTOLINI WINES - YARRA VALLEY
Update from Adrian Santolin, Winemaker
A cool and very wet growing season caused a lot of disease pressure and has delayed the start of vintage by two to three. Because of those conditions, fruit set wasn’t perfect, resulting in slightly below average yields.
However, the silver lining to this cool weather is that we had a lovely, long growing season allowing flavours to fully develop with fruit retaining lots of natural acidity. Overall, vintage 2023 in the Yarra Valley will be low yielding, but the quality is looking exceptionally high.
HANDPICKED WINES - YARRA VALLEY AND MORNINGTON PENSINSULA
Update from Peter Dillon, Senior Winemaker
The lead up to vintage 2023 has been challenging to say the least. Experiencing a third El Nino year in a row has made the 2022-2023 growing season a record-setting year from a weather perspective. With volatile weather conditions at flowering, crops are down in the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Tasmania, and the Barossa Valley. On the brighter side, fruit quality, although still on the vine, looks to be outstanding.
With the recent accreditation of Sustainable Winegrowing Australia (SWA) and NASAA Organic certification at Handpicked Vineyards, this is true testament to these vineyard management practices holding up even in the most demanding years. So, despite small yields we can expect some exceptional wines from 2023.
NUGAN ESTATE – RIVERINA
Update from Glen Snaidero, Chief Winemaker
Challenging is the word that springs to mind when we reflect on the 2023 harvest! This will bring to and end what has been a tough season in vineyards across South-Eastern Australia.
Heavy winter rainfall continued into the start of the growing season, right through spring for most viticultural regions. Significantly cooler than average weather, waterlogging, flood damage and subsequent downy mildew infection saw widespread crop losses. This was particularly felt around Nugan Estate’s home base in the Riverina, with yields on average anticipated to be down by approximately 50% in comparison to previous vintages.
For those with crops still on their vines, there has been an exciting glimmer of hope, with warmer, dry weather as we come into harvest. We are hopeful that this weather trend continues until vintage is complete.
Our summer weather conditions have been very mild, and the subsequent slow ripening along with lower yields are resulting in fruit with fresh elegant acidity and beautifully intense varietal fruit flavours.
Despite many producers looking forward to seeing and end to the 2022/23 growing season, we anticipate that in time, this will become a much sought-after vintage, with low production and high-quality wines expected.
HITHER & YON – MCLAREN VALE
Update from Malcolm Leask, Co-Owner
It is really a small miracle and with good luck, that a healthy harvest looks upon us. Our Petit Blanc will be hand-picked on February 22 to kick things off in fashion.
A very wet and cold winter and spring, indeed the wettest November and lowest solar radiation days of a growing season on our record, made for extremely challenging vineyard management and disease pressure conditions.
The hard work and exceptional skill of our Leask Agri team, along with a lot of good humour, has produced a balanced environment without vine stress, and an ideal number of lovely bunches.
Regenerative agriculture has been again the key and we are holding excellent grass cover, organic material, and soil moisture going into the hot spell.
It will be an exciting time again, with two new varieties being picked, Fiano and Vermentino, adding to our white wine range, and a special Mataro block coming back into the fold.
Wish us well and we will make the best possible wines for you all and have fun along the way.
BRAND FAMILY WINES – COONAWARRA
Update from Peter Weinberg, Winemaker
Every vintage has its own unique differences and problems to deal with. From the beginning 2023 looked like it could possibly be like the disastrous 2011 vintage when continued rainfall and other unfavourable conditions prevailed. However, after a wet and cool start, things started to dry out and conditions warmed significantly. Because of the cool start, veraison and harvest have been delayed and picking looks like commencing around mid-March.
Disease pressure was high in the first half of the growing season but with good vineyard management the crops are looking in good condition. The wet conditions also helped in the replenishment of the local aquifer.
Crop yields have been reduced due to the wet, cool, and windy conditions through much of flowering and fruit set, though the reduced crop levels are now a bonus to match the smaller fruit maturation window. Crops are in good condition and our fingers are crossed for good weather in the coming weeks.
Thankfully it won’t be like 2011, and anything can happen before all the crop is harvested, but at this stage the most similar vintages are 2009 and 2014.
BLEASDALE – LANGHORNE CREEK
Update from Paul Hotker, Senior Winemaker
The season is late, as you are no doubt aware, and this seems to be the case from South Australia to the Hunter Valley, and everywhere in-between.
Locally, vine phenology appears to be aligning similarly to the cool 2017 vintage, and we are harvesting Verdelho today 20th February, about 10 days later than last year, the Adelaide Hills is a few days behind again. The spring rainfall has been above average (not a bad thing in a dry climate) and canopies appear full and healthy, disease pressure is above our usual very low average, but we are staying on top of things - the dry summer with rainfall and temperatures below average is helping but we have a hot few days at the end of this week forecast. With any luck this might get a few things moving in the right direction as we’re all itching to get on with it.
Crop levels in Langhorne Creek look about average, if not slightly above, but the Adelaide Hills overall seems light, with a few exceptions around Lobethal and Kuitpo; our blocks in Hahndorf, Echunga and Woodside were all affected by a windy flowering period and some early hail damage. The fruit that is there looks amazing however, and the cooler vintages are generally our better ones, so I remain upbeat about potential quality.
BEC HARDY WINES - MCLAREN VALE
Update from Bec Hardy, Managing Director
The 2023 harvest season started off with a very mild and wet spring, which ensured that the soil was at full moisture capacity before budburst. The mild weather meant that budburst happened later than usual followed by further cool and wet conditions during flowering, resulting in pollination being impacted and lower yields than normal. It also meant disease pressure was high early in the season, but the vineyards who managed the conditions properly (including having open canopies to allow airflow) fared well. Drier conditions from January onwards halted the mildew pressure.
At this stage (last week of February), harvest is running around one week behind last year - the 2022 vintage Lower Tintara Sauvignon Blanc was picked on 16th February, while this year it will be picked on 23rd February.
Although vintage has started slightly later than last year, temperatures in mid-to-late February were higher, which sped up the ripening. It now looks like it will be a condensed vintage, something that can make things a bit tricky in the winery with a lot of blocks being picked in a short period of time.
The cooler temperatures during most of the ripening period has ensured fantastic natural acidity in the fruit, which is ideal for the style of wine we are making. We can’t wait to see the fruit in the winery!
CASTELLI ESTATE – DENMARK, GREAT SOUTHERN
Report from Andrew Vesey, Chief Winemaker
In the Great Southern of WA, we saw a cold and long winter in 2022, and a very cool spring with regular rainfall up until mid-November.
Only at the start of January 2023 did we really see some warmer days come through, in runs of warm then cool and cold nights, which is fantastic for our cool climate varieties.
Across each of the five sub-regions of the Great Southern (Albany, Porongurup, Mt Barker, Frankland River and of course our home grounds Denmark) the vintage conditions have been mild, yet exceptional with a relatively even flowering due to the mild and stable weather patterns.
Across the board, veraison seems to be tracking similarly to the 2021 and 2022 seasons which on average are two to three weeks later than we saw in the 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons.
Crops levels across the sub-regions seem to be modest with lower overall bunch counts than 2022, smaller berry sizes due to the drier conditions from November onwards coupled with the relatively milder day temperatures and cool nights are developing quite intensely flavoured berries, retaining natural acidity allowing berries to hold onto their freshness and reds building peak colour intensity from long days of sunlight without the intense heat we have seen from previous seasons such as 2018 and 2020.
For Castelli Estate taking fruit from four of the five sub-regions in 2023; Chardonnay and Pinot Noir look to be the highlights from Denmark given our proximity to the Southern Ocean allowing us an early budburst compared to the other sub-regions and a long and even growing season will see our Denmark vineyard the last harvested for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the sub-regions.
Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Chardonnay look to be the Albany highlights this season. Albany tends to be a little warmer than Denmark during the day due the predominant warmer easterly breezes dragging warm air from the Southeast land division, and the Southern Ocean moderating the heat in the morning and evening.
Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon from Frankland River look to be exceptional at this stage of the growing season, with consistently warmer daytime temperatures and cloud free days compared to the other sub-regions, whilst still experiencing the cold night temperatures a result of the Southern Ocean breezes reaching inland to Frankland River.
Aromatic whites look to be the highlights from Mt Barker this year, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay (for sparkling) seem to be loving the warmth in the middle of the day and the cool morning and cool evening/night-time temperatures. Mt Barker sits halfway between Denmark and Frankland River and the result is cooler mornings and earlier cool evenings than Frankland River, however warmer days than Denmark or Albany. The result, particularly for Riesling is the minerality, expression of fruit purity and clarity, driving linear acidity, lemon, and understated florals that I believe are the hallmark of Western Australian Rieslings.
Porongurup is such a reliable home of Riesling and Pinot Noir year-in-and-year-out and needs no introduction to those in the know. Similar to Albany, the Porongurup’s enjoy warmer daytime temperatures due the prevailing warm easterly breeze, however elevation and aspect again moderate temperature, the result is higher naturally retained acidity and seductive floral development in Rieslings and intensely coloured and concentrated Pinot Noir, with crunchy bright acidity retained in Pinot Noir.
Each of the sub-regions of the Great Southern are unique, and the 2023 season is certainly highlighting the climatic differences of each. As I type these seasonal notes, I’m excited and looking forward to getting harvest underway to see the vineyard expression evolve into our 2023 wines.
DOMAINE NATURALISTE – MARGARET RIVER
Update from Bruce Dukes, Chief Winemaker
Margaret River enjoyed a wetter spring than normal, which has provided sufficient soil water reserves to nourish the vines from December to vintage. The mainly 24C to 30C days coupled with night-time cooling from Indian and Great Southern Ocean breezes have placed the fruit perfumes and flavours in the succulent and sweet Chardonnay berries, which are now harvesting. Delicious fruit always parents’ delicious wine!
My feeling is that an early success is the stunning beautiful natural composition of our Chardonnay fruit, so that the fruit can be translated to wine with only the lightest of human touches! Success in Agriculture.
The lack of summer rains in Margaret River has yielded beautifully balanced vines, with very clean and healthy fruit. However, a consequence is the absence of summer grasses, which are normally enjoyed by our local kangaroos. With grasses “off the table”, they are enjoying the grapes, so despite low bird pressures, we are still having to net the vines to keep the roos at bay.
FRANKLAND ESTATE WINES – FRANKLAND RIVER
Update from Hunter Smith, Owner, and Director
It’s been a dry but reasonably cool season, so everything is running about two weeks late. These can be our best seasons, but the late varietals like Cabernet can be a challenge if the season stays cool.
With the challenges can come our greatest success – the cooler seasons are fantastic for aromatics in both red and white wines, the whites at present are looking like it’s going to be an incredibly successful season.
The fruit quality is exceptional. With less than a month now until harvest we’re looking at small bunches from the dry season that are in very pristine condition, the result should be exceptional.
The cold nights that the Frankland River region is so well known for are starting to encroach – these conditions bring great flavour, colour, and balance to the resulting wines.
We’ll have to wait to the end to get a good comparison, but vintages like 2012, 2017 and 2019 come to mind now – all very solid to great years!
PIPERS BROOK – TAMAR VALLEY, TASMANIA
Update from Luciano Caravia, Viticulturist
It has been a challenging season with an unusually wet spring which meant we had to employ a well-planned strategy of canopy management combined with spraying. This has paid off with a clean and promising crop. The flowering was good on most areas at our Pipers Brook sites thanks to a couple of sunny weeks in December, but a little uneven at our West Tamar sites due to some challenging weather conditions during flowering.
The weather during ripening has been cooler this season and we’ve had around 10% less growing degree days compared with last season, which has channelled to ripening being around a week behind when compared to 2022.
However, the ripening is progressing well supported by a good and active canopy size, and we have a healthy crop so far. We’re anticipating great quality and yield for vintage 2023 and expect to start picking in the second week of March.
BALLANDEAN ESTATE WINES – GRANITE BELT
Update from Robyn Puglisi-Henderson, Business Services Manager, and Boxi Zhen, Winemaker
We had a hailstorm on Valentine’s Day suffering 10% loss on some blocks including our renowned Durif. Since then, we have had beautiful hot summer days to ripen our whites to perfection.
At Ballandean Estate we are excited have a new winemaker to welcome into our family, Boxi Zhen! Boxi’s experience at Bird in Hand Wines in the Adelaide Hills and Chateau Nine Peaks in Qingdao is a perfect alignment with our unique terroir and cool climate. Only a few weeks into vintage and he is putting his personal stamp on our V23. Our previous winemaker Dylan Rhymer held the position for 22 years.
We are getting back to full production after a three-year drought. We lost 10% of our vineyard during the drought and new plantings are producing well with our 6 acres of ‘baby’ Shiraz producing their first crop this year.
Quality on the Granite Belt so far has been beautiful for those unaffected by hail. This year, we have been picking parcels instead of whole blocks to maximise maturity. Although its more time intensive, we are really excited about the great fruit.
Other than the hailstorm, it’s been the usual Granite Belt hot days and cool nights. This leads to slow maturation, striking a good balance between maturity and flavour.
This will be our largest vintage since 2016. Drought, rain, and smoke have played havoc on the Granite Belt for a few years. More volume means more opportunity for our new winemaker to put our jigsaw puzzle of varieties in the perfect place. We grow around 20 varieties, many of them alternative varieties which are called Strangebirds on the Granite Belt. We try not to mention favourites, but we are always excited to see what level of spectacular our Saperavi will be.
So, there you have it, a brief rundown on how vintage 2023 is looking from some of our wonderful Aussie wine producers. A big round of applause for all their hard work and dedication bringing us such fantastic quality wine. While they are toiling away, we just have to sit tight and wait patiently to sample the fruits of their labour.