Vintage Report Shaw + Smith 2011
It’s that time of year. Most of the harvest is safely in the winery, winemakers are starting to wean themselves off the caffeine and get back to normal sleep patterns, and news about vintage is spreading like…well, like botrytis.
The natural inclination is to try to mentally summarize, classify, and categorize the vintage in our minds. To take the information and simplify it so we can describe it and pass it on is instinctive and generally useful. Take Burgundy in 2009 for instance. Terrific for reds, with rich, ripe, and vibrant fruit: good but not great for whites, with some lacking a bit of zip.
For the Adelaide Hills in 2011, it’s a harder vintage to pigeonhole. Firstly, vignerons needed to be vigilant with the disease pressure pretty constant right from the start of the season. Initially downy and powdery mildew were the threats, and then later in the season botrytis became an issue. Keeping canopies open with good aeration was important. Keeping on top of spray programs, be they organic or otherwise, was also important. Hand picking was more important than ever in order to select the best grapes and protect them.
Cool conditions in February ensured that vintage was running late compared to long-term averages, and very late compared to recent averages. Although much of February was dry, there was 60 mls on February 19th, which is more than double the long-term average for the month. Late February and early March was mild and dry, until 30 mls over 2 days on March 8th and 9th, which was followed by more cool days, with the maximum temperature exceeding 25°C at Mount Barker on only two days between March 8th and 28th. That period also included 5 days of rain from Sunday March 20th until Thursday March 24th.
We can look back on the total rainfall in February and March, which at 147.4 mls was over 2.5 times the long term average for that period (56.1mls). But it was not just the amount, but also the timing of the rain that set in on Sunday March 20th that was the final straw for some vineyards. From then on the race between ripening and botrytis was on, and some varieties and vineyards fared better than others.
On the positive side, the cool to mild late summer and autumn meant ripening in cool conditions, good acid retention, and, in the case of Pinot Noir, ripe stems. Although somewhat counter-intuitive 2011 is the first vintage in which some whole bunches (10–25%) were included in the Pinot ferments. The long ripening period also meant good flavor development in those varieties and sites that achieved full ripeness in the cool conditions.
So for a quick round up by variety, here is how things have turned out for us at Shaw and Smith.
- Sauvignon Blanc – the most successful variety for us. Warmer sites did better this year. Hand-picking was important to be able to exclude bunches with botrytis. The resulting wine has excellent aromatics and flavor.
- Chardonnay – of the varieties we make, Chardonnay was hardest hit by botrytis. A miniscule quantity of M3 Chardonnay was made.
- Pinot Noir – A small amount of good quality fruit was picked in good conditions on March 19th before the rain set in. While the fruit was very good quality, it was decided that it wasn't of Shaw + Smith quality. A small amount of Ingognito Pinot Noir was made.
- Shiraz – The fruit looked good on the vine, but struggled to reach optimum ripeness levels. A small amount of good quality fruit was picked, but not of Shaw + Smith quality.
The vintage took a toll on grape growers. To have a season that required high inputs in labour and fighting disease, and to then lose the whole crop is a reminder of how cruel the weather gods can be.
So after all that, can it be summarized in a few words? How about “Wet, cool and late, some rot about, but some good results from early varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.”