It appears that every year throws a new challenge at grapegrowers and winemakers. This time last year we were talking record rains from the winter of 2016, leading to an almost perfect, dry, warm harvest. What a difference a year makes. Last winter was dry. Very dry. So the 2018 growing season and vintage will go down as another year of extremes.
From a growing perspective this has a negative side. Vineyards start the season with a moisture deficit and growers play catch up for the rest of the season.
And this summer was a warm season – high temperatures for Orange through January and February peaking at 37°C – that’s warm for around here!
On the positive side, warm dry conditions and lots of UV means low disease and high potential colour despite the risk of water stress. Looking around the region over the past month, the vine canopies held up remarkably well and reports of fruit quality are very encouraging, particularly for the richer reds – Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
And where is it up to? Virtually all of the Region’s grape harvest has been picked. The exceptions are some small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and even smaller amounts of late varieties like Aglianico and Zinfandel.
Warm seasons like this tend to favour red varieties, and whilst I get my hands dirty with Shiraz, this vintage I have been very impressed with the quality of the Cabernet Franc and Merlot. As the late varieties come through Cabernet Sauvignon is also going to show it’s strength.
From a grape-growers' perspective these warm, dry days are perfect and the storm rain last month gave the vines (and the land generally) a welcome drink. And the verdict? Definitely an excellent growing season – the vintage of the century? Time will tell.