Quiet optimism is bubbling just below the surface of conversations with grape growers and winemakers as vintage 2018 swings into gear.
While high temperatures in recent weeks in South Australia have tested vineyards across the Barossa and Eden Valleys, growers utilising best management practices are benefiting from the fruits of their labour.
Barossa Grape and Wine Association viticultural development officer Nicki Robins said reasonable soil moisture after rainfall events from September through to early December had resulted in largely healthy canopies leading into the heat of summer.
“With the heat of the past three weeks some vines are struggling, with scorching and loss of basal leaves,” she said.
“But most vineyards are still reasonably lush and green, with berries well-protected.”
Growers able to measure their soil moisture status were a step ahead.
“As one grower said: soil moisture monitoring shines when we have conditions of extreme heat,” Ms Robins said.
Handpicking shiraz from his Dallwitz block at Ebenezer on Tuesday morning, Dimchurch Vineyards’ Adrian Hoffmann echoed these thoughts.
“The extra canopies (on the vines) from the December rains have protected the fruit well in the last two weeks,” he said.
“We lost a bit to sun scorching, but the losses could have been higher if not for good management.”
While yields in 2018 are expected to be slightly below those of the abundant 2017 crop, they are still set to finish higher than the lower yielding five years prior to 2017.
“For us, after last vintage, it was always going to be down – last year was a hell of a crop,” Mr Hoffmann said.
“In saying that, we are more looking to average (yield) and the bunch count is about normal, but looser clusters, allowing for better quality.”
Mr Hoffmann said while last year’s vintage delivered high yields, he expected to see more concentration, tannin and complexity in 2018 wines.
Harvest duration was expected to be shorter than last year’s extended vintage.
“Normally we pick our shiraz over a five week period, but I think that could be condensed to as short as three weeks.
“As a result of the condensed harvest, there could be infrastructure pressure on some wineries.”
Mr Hoffmann uses pruning techniques to delay ripening on some of his blocks.
But with current Baumes of 11-15, he said he could still see his eight week picking window coming back to as little as four weeks.
With 75 per cent of his 135 hectares of vineyards devoted to shiraz, his other mainstream varieties are grenache and mataro.
“This is one year where I’m very excited for the crop and yield of mataro and grenache; the berry size is smaller, which is good.”
With the recent success of grenache across the wine show circuit, Mr Hoffmann said there had “definitely” been more demand for the variety.
“I’ve had a lot of enquiry for aged grenache – anything 30 years plus.
“I think people are understanding it better – growers tend to grow everything like shiraz and winemakers are similar when it comes to processing.
“Now some are not fermenting it as long or keeping it on skin and getting the flavours as a result.
“Shiraz is never going to be replaced in the Barossa, but I’ve seen a trend in winemakers wanting different varieties.
“People are understanding (the grapes) and being a bit more creative with things like whole bunch and extended skin contact, or the other way round treating reds more like whtie varieties.
“I think it’s an exciting time to be in the industry.”
Winemaker Fraser McKinley of Sami-Odi wines said while it was “just the start”, he was hopeful of a quality vintage.
Mr McKinley sources all of his shiraz from Mr Hoffmann and said at this point, his parcels were looking promising.
“It looks pretty good as far as Mother Nature is concerned – we could probably do with a frost.
“Our harvest is typically four weeks … last year it was six … this year it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s three to four.”
Picking of the Barossa’s main white varieties, semillon and chardonnay, began last week, with Eden Valley chardonnay and riesling likely to be picked early to late March.
Barossa shiraz also started last week at Gomersal and Lyndoch, and will continue through February to mid-March for other areas.
Eden Valley shiraz harvest is estimated at early April.
Barossa cabernet sauvignon is estimated to be picked one to two weeks after shiraz, with grenache and mataro a couple of weeks later.