Every vintage in Margaret River has its own set of opportunities and challenges. Senior Winemaker Matthew Byrne talks us through each vintage.
In short, the 2018 vintage in Margaret River was extraordinarily good and one that winemakers always hope for. The season commenced with the winter and the first month of Spring all being wet (all over the long-term rainfall average). This set up vine health very well especially as it was coupled with ideal temperatures from September-December inclusive (budburst onwards) – no cold periods and even maximums devoid of heat spikes.
November 2017 was very dry – the driest since 1999 – which resulted in excellent flowering and fruit set conditions. A rare rain event resulted in the wettest December since 1996, then dry and warm conditions followed so the event was ideally timed. So too was rain from the tail end of Tropical Cyclone Joyce on 17th Jan 2018 which saw only 17mm fall in Margaret River. After this mid-Jan rain event, an extended dry and warm period followed right up to mid-April. Rainfall was well below the long-term average and max temps being bang on the long-term average (with the return of cool summer nights Margaret River is renowned for and an essential element for exceptional vintages).
Our first pick was on Thursday 8th Feb and the season “broke” on Mon 23-Apr with our last pick (Cabernet of course!) being Friday 20-Apr.
A prolonged cool and wet growing season meant the vines were lush and healthy heading into ripening and carrying slightly higher than average yields. This resulted in later maturity and harvest dates which was accentuated by the cool and wet ripening months of January, February and March providing the coolest and wettest conditions experienced in the Margaret River region for over 15 years. These conditions, coupled with the absence of heat events, produced highly aromatic whites with very low phenolic levels and high natural acidity – ideal especially for Pinot Gris wines. The month of April however, really saved our vintage! Although cool, it was extremely dry and allowed the last of the white varieties to achieve full ripeness. Full ripeness was achieved before the fruit was handpicked into early April.
A very distinct 2016 vintage. The dry, warm spring and summer meant it was tracking early but a tropical rain event in January saw heavy rain fall across the region which pushed back harvest dates slightly. The reds (especially Cabernet and Merlot) benefited from this rainfall and while we thought the whites may suffer berry split and subsequent high disease pressure, the hard work of our Vineyard Managers, coupled with the warm dry conditions and fresh daily sea breezes, resulted in not having any issues – another "lucky" vintage in Margaret River!
Of our main white varieties, Sauvignon Blanc stands out, with great aromatics, perfume and length of flavour. Chardonnay though, is yet again the pick of the white varieties, with extraordinary flavour depth and length. Following Easter, the tail-end of a weak tropical system moved through which saw approximately 12mm of rain to the south-east. Most reds were picked by this date with the rain being a great freshener for the older Cabernet vines in Wilyabrup, which still had fruit on them.
Fruit quality was again very good, with Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon displaying intense varietal characteristics such as crisp natural acidity on the palate accompanied by a citrus to lemon and lime fruit aromas on the nose. Chardonnay also had a great length to its acidity, with quite a soft line of phenolics. The flavour profile covered the spectrum from early summer peach to nectarine as well as a fine contour of citrus.
From early March a more autumnal weather pattern prevailed and with the passing of cyclone Olwyn, the region experienced some rain with cooler night time temperatures. This effectively extended the ripening period for red wine varieties quite nicely giving them more ‘hang time’ to enhance fruit development flavour profiles with softer tannin levels arising as a consequence.
The 2014 growing season in Margaret River commenced with what seems like text book spring conditions when looking at the data. Coming off a lovely cool, wet winter only just under the long-term rainfall average and consistently low temperatures. The August, September and October temperatures were right on the long-term average with no extremes. November was a copy of October with ideal temperatures for that month. The rainfall data for these months also portrays an ideal picture with September and November being spot on their average and October being only slightly under.
The region then moved into weather from December to March that Margaret River is renowned for. Four months where the temperatures were right on the long-term average with no spikes and lovely cool nights. Then the 39mm of rain received from 17 to 19 March from the tail of Cyclone Olwyn was perfectly timed as all the white varieties had been harvested. The timing and volume of this rainfall event was ideal to freshen the reds and kick them on to achieve full ripeness and ideal balance – a trait of the vintage.
The 2013 vintage in Margaret River is the 7th consecutive vintage the region has experienced that has been rated excellent to exceptional; a testament to the suitability of the region to the growing of world class table wines.
The spring of 2012 saw intermittent rain events in September, October and November, punctuated by long, cool sunny spells; ideal for encouraging healthy, even vine growth. A brief storm in late November reduced crops in some of our more open vineyards as it coincided with flowering.
A warm period was then experienced over the New Year which pulled up vine growth and was then followed by a 19mm rain event in early January from the tail end of a cyclone. This was well timed for our dry grown vineyard Blocks and simply replaced a scheduled irrigation for our white varieties to retain freshness and vitality in the canopies in the lead up to ripening. Immediately following this, the region experienced perfect "traditional" Margaret River weather throughout January, February and March; sunny, warm days with strong, moderating afternoon sea breezes, very cool nights and crisp morning dews; all conducive for excellent ripening conditions.
The 2012 vintage in Margaret River was the sixth consecutive outstanding vintage that the region has experienced. The lead up to vintage was dry and warm with only a couple of very warm spells in January and early February which the vines handled well and ideal for tannin maturation in Cabernet Sauvignon. The night temperatures were cool (cooler than in 2011) which has produced full flavoured Cabernet wines with elegance and medium body, typical of Margaret River.