2012 Southern Hemisphere Harvest Report
A guide to your favorite wine regions and how they fared in 2012.
Mother Nature turned up the heat this past summer throughout Chile and then forgot to turn the dial down to normal until well into the winegrowing season’s late stages. The result of one of the country’s hottest summers on record was a very early harvest—at least two to three weeks earlier than usual—across the country.
“Almost all the red grapes have been picked already, with high sugars that will result in high alcohol levels, but still with aggressive tannins,” said Andrés Sanhueza, chief winemaker for Viña Santa Ema, on April 20, a date when Cabernet Sauvignon would be coming out of the fields during a normal vintage. “I have a lot of work to do in the winery this year, and I expect lush red wines in 2012.”
With white wines, particularly Sauvignon Blanc from cooler coastal regions, heat was an unavoidable issue, pushing harvest dates up by several weeks. “While we are happy with our results, Sauvignon Blanc this year will probably not reach its potential,” said Adolfo Hurtado, general manager of Cono Sur Vineyards & Winery. “For varieties like Chardonnay and even Viognier that can resist higher temperatures, it could turn out to be a really good year.” –Michael Schachner
A cool March in Mendoza—Argentina’s premier wine region—slowed and settled what had up to then been a fairly warm growing season, allowing vintners to harvest when they wanted and generally at optimal conditions. If there is any downside to the 2012 vintage in Argentina it will be low quantity; strong spring winds called zondas caused inconsistent flowering and scattered hail.
“We have not quite finished the harvest, but if the weather remains stable and we have no frost until the end of April, the quality will be extraordinary and homogeneous across all varietals,” said Pablo Cuneo, winemaker for Mendoza-based Bodega Ruca Malen, on April 16.
“Quality overall is very good,” echoed Santiago Mayorga Boaknin, vineyard manager and enologist with Mendel Winery. “I’m seeing a lot of color, tannins and healthy grapes. For the whites, the harvest was a little early because of the heat in January that advanced things along. Also the low yields in general made for more concentrated grapes.” –M.S.
In mid-April in Marlborough, where 70% of New Zealand's wine is produced, the sweet smell of Sauvignon Blanc juice wafts through the air. It's a late start to the 2012 harvest, delayed by a poor fruit set and an unusually cool, cloudy summer. But the occasional long bursts of autumn sunshine could propel this low-yielding season into a benchmark Marlborough year.
“Sauvignon Blanc is still being harvested, but the flavors are possibly the most intense I have tasted and the Pinot Noir is the best I've seen,” says Matt Thomson, consultant winemaker for Saint Clair Family Estate.
In Central Otago, the Pinot Noir harvest commenced after Easter. Mid- and late-summer rain created a challenging vintage, but warm, sunny days during the last week of March mitigated potential problems.
“The fruit has excellent flavor and balance, and I am really excited about the quality potential,” says Matt Connell, winemaker for Akarua Winery.
In Nelson on the South Island and for most of the North Island, where summer rain was regular, the word “challenging” best describes the season. But those vintners with good viticultural practices will persevere.
“It's during the challenging years that Martinborough comes to the fore,” says Paul Mason, winemaker for Martinborough Vineyard. “Pinot Noir is 25% down, but with the smaller crop, the fruit has ripened, even with below average weather."
At Moana Park Winery of Hawke’s Bay, “Chardonnay seems to be the star of the crush so far,” says Winemaker and Owner Dan Barker. The reds had not yet been picked, as of April 17.
In Auckland, Kumeu River picked pristine Pinot Noir in early March, and David Evans from Passage Rock on Waiheke Island compares the season to a cool yet great 2006. “[This year] there’s good fruit, concentrated flavors, slightly higher acid and lower brix,” he says.
New Zealand Winegrowers predicts a national harvest of 300,000 tonnes, down approximately 10% from last year. –Sue Courtney
In general, the 2012 harvest in South Africa can be considered a huge success. But why and what are the defining characteristics?
Since mid-January, the Cape has been characterized by refreshing lower-than-average temperatures, which resulted in what could best be described as an idyllic environment for the steady accumulation of sugar and the pursuit of phenological ripeness. In many of the vineyards, such as Warwick Wine Estate and Vilafonté Vineyards, there was advanced ripeness at modest sugar levels.
On the other hand, there was also an unseasonal heat wave that descended on the Winelands in early January—a critical period for phenological ripeness. Thanks to advanced weather forecasting methods, the heat wave was identified about a week in advance, allowing vintners to respond as quickly and effectively as possible.
The only thing that really helps with excessive heat is irrigation. For those who decided not to invest in irrigation and prefer dry-grown viticulture, 2012 will likely prompt interest in supplemental irrigation. Dry-grown vineyards in the Cape lost significant tonnage and many of the remaining grapes suffered from heat stress, resulting in high pHs and low acidities. Berry shrivel has also been a problem, leading to elevated alcohol levels in the finished wines.
The heat wave was the only speed bump in 2012, so for those who were able to manage it, there was no measurable negative outcome. The 2012 harvest could come to be known as a top vintage. –Mike Ratcliffe
After what can be described as a challenging vintage in 2011 for the majority of Australia, the 2012 harvest is shaping up to be one of great potential for several wine regions.
While some regions suffered from heavy rainfall in February, including the Riverina, Northern Victoria, Central New South Wales, the Hunter Valley seemed to ultimately thrive, with white wines showing the most promise.
“Semillon looks excellent and classic, [and] low-alcohol Hunter Valley dry reds are going to be the feature of 2012,” says Iain Riggs, chief winemaker, managing director and part owner of Brokenwood.
In Canberra, heavy rain and a cruel hailstorm hit hard, but what followed was a helpful late a late burst of sunshine. “It was a rollercoaster vintage and we were saved by the bell of an Indian summer, with Shiraz, laden with spice, showing great finesse,” said chief winemaker and CEO of Clonakilla.
In Victoria, the Yarra Valley also has great potential. “Syrah is a real highlight and Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir look excellent,” says Steve Webber, chief winemaker and manager at De Bortoli Wines.
In Tasmania, chief winemaker at Peppertree Wines, Jim Chatto, claimed in later March that the 2012 vintage shows “great promise,” even though it was still in full swing.
“Cabernet wines are elegant and perfumed with Merlot also a standout,” said Peter Bissell, winemaker at Balnaves of Coonawarra in South Australia.
In McLaren Vale, Chief Winemaker and Viticulturist Chester Osborn, of d’Arenberg is excited about the “rich, bold reds, with excellent structure and superb quality across all varieties.”
Dave Powell, chief winemaker and managing director of Torbreck Vintners in the Barossa compares 2012 to the excellent 1999 vintage. “It’s a classic vintage for the Barossa.”
Similarly, in the Eden Valley, Henschke’s winemaker, Stephen Henschke considers this year an “exceptional year and a hypothetical cross between 1994, 2002 and 2005.”
“It’s an outstanding year for Riesling,” said Jeffrey Grosset, owner, founder and winemaker at Grosset Wines in the Clare Valley.
Vanya Cullen, chief winemaker and manager director at Cullen Wines concurs. “It’s an excellent year, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc the standouts."—Dave Brookes