Vintage 2021 Roundup
After a disastrous 2020 vintage severely impacted by drought and bushfire smoke taint, closely followed by COVID, this year's vintage is looking very promising with high-quality fruit and reasonably good yields.
Hunter winemakers and vignerons are extremely optimistic about this year’s vintage, which typically kicks off in the first or second week of January each year. Semillon is one of the first varieties to be picked, followed by Chardonnay and Verdelho. The red varieties are harvested after the whites – which can take place from the first week in February.
Ken Sloane, owner of Mistletoe Winery, said that all is on track for a good vintage, thanks mostly to the December rains followed by some warmer weather.
“After four years of drought, the wet start to the year concerned many, however, the (above average) rainfall left the vineyards looking bright and healthy with strong canopies and good crop levels. The warm to hot days then leading up to the harvest were ideal for ripening the fruit and producing good flavours,” said Ken.
In a region with notoriously wet vintages, many were concerned that the November storms and the December and January heat would damage the grapes, but the damage has been minimal.
Extremely high temperatures - such as the 40-degree temperatures that can occur leading up to harvest puts too much stress on the vine and can make the vines shut down and stop accumulating sugar and ripening the fruit. Also, sunburnt grapes can have a terrible impact on the juice – making it taste bitter like burnt sugar or toffee. To avoid this, winemakers and vignerons let the leaf canopy grow longer on the vines to give the grapes increased shade protection from the hot afternoon sun.
While a few days of rain often do not necessarily pose a problem, a sustained and heavy downfall could be dangerous to the crop. Direct rain can cause the vine to take in a lot of water, making all the cells turgid, including the grapes – which can burst. Hail, on the other hand, could destroy the whole crop in less than an hour.
Image top: Mistletoe Wines
What is Vintage?
In winemaking terms, 'vintage' is the process of picking grapes (harvesting) and creating the finished product. In some parts of the world, it is known as 'the crush'.
The harvesting of the grapes is understandably one of the most critical stages in the winemaking process. The timing of the harvest is determined by the grape's ripeness, which is measured by the sugar content and acid and tannin levels. The weather also plays a crucial role in deciding when to pick with the threat of rain, hail, humidity and heat potentially delaying vintage or at worst damaging the grapes and even bringing about various vine or grape diseases like Botrytis (Grey Rot or Noble Rot).
The Hunter Valley is the first wine region in Australia to begin vintage and the first to finish. January and February are when harvesting of the fruit typically occurs, and at this time of the year, the winemakers and growers work closely together to determine the optimum time to pick the fruit to ensure the best wine quality.
March can be a continuance of harvest, depending on the temperatures and how the vintage year developed over the Summer. Fermentations are monitored by checking how rapidly the grape sugars decline as the alcohol level increases.
April is typically the completion of the harvest. All the wines are now in the tanks or barrels. The winery crush equipment is thoroughly cleaned and put to rest until next year. The grower may perform some post-harvest irrigation and fertilization of the vines in the vineyard before they go dormant.