Australia's Year of the Drought

Vintage 2007 produced some great grapes—but they are fewer and more expensive.



Following the record 2006 harvest, there was a glut of grapes across Australia, raising concern that the bounty would mean lower wine prices. Mother Nature quickly reversed those concerns with a vintage-long drought in 2007 that severely cut grape production.

According to the Australia Wine & Brandy Corporation, red wine production is down by almost 40% and white by 17%. Yields per acre are the worst in 30 years. Western Australia was affected least by the drought, and production there helped offset the 50% harvest reductions some other wineries suffered. 

"In all the 38 vintages Grant Burge has made wines, 2007 stands out as the worst ever," says Burge of his South Australia properties.

Further, predictions coming out of the recent Wine Australia Export Conference call for a short crop for 2008 due to predicted carryover problems in bud development and probable ongoing water restrictions, boding significantly price hikes for consumers.

Actually, it was a one-two weather punch, beginning with spring frosts Down Under in late 2006, where seasons are reversed. "I drove the kids to Watervale for their tennis lessons early one morning, and the vines were green, recalls Mount Horrocks' Stephanie Toole of her Cordon Cut Riesing vineyard. "By the time I came back, they were all black."

The frost damage was followed by the worst countrywide drought in memory, with even irrigated vineyards suffering because of water restrictions. Grapes in some areas also suffered smoke taint from wild fires.

"The harvest looks good, but I have empty tanks," says Allister Ashmead at his family's Elderton winery in Barossa Valley. Jeff Grosset, owner and winemaker at his own Grosset winery, says the reduced crops at his mountainside Gaia vineyard should make intense, flavorful wines, pointing to marble-sized Cabernet Sauvignon berries just a few days before they were picked. Burge says his wines will be "decidedly Italian in style, with low fruit weight and high tannins."

The drought also made the 2007 vintage a very early one. "Due to lower yields, sugar levels rose 2-3 weeks earlier," says Torbreck winemaker David Powell, "but we had to be patient for the grapes to reach full physiological ripeness."

"I never see Dean at Easter," says Lou Hewitson, who operates the Hewitson winery along with her husband. Normally the holy day falls in the thick of the Southern Hemisphere harvest, but not this year. Dean Hewitson's wines were already in tanks and barrels by then—so the family celebrated a rare holiday together.


 

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