Saturday, 2 March 2013

Mother Nature makes a real mess of 2013 Hunter Valley vintage

I had recently published a post where I stated the 2013 Hunter Valley vintage would be among the best of all time.  The content for that post was written in early January, 2013.  However, just before harvesting the bulk of grapes for the 2013 vintage, Mother Nature has deluged the Hunter Valley vineyards persistently and forcibly over the last six weeks.  This has turned the 2013 Hunter vintage from superior to below average on the whims of Mother Nature, God, or some force of bad karma.

The tonnage will be far less than expected and the quality of the grapes far less also.  Many grapes were picked too early, too late, or worst of all - not at all.

I spent a lot of time in the Hunter Valley this vintage and saw the growth of the vines and grapes through almost perfect weather conditions.  My excitement and anticipation of both a large and high quality haul of grapes was unprecedented.  After buying a lot of the 2007 Shiraz vintage and some of the 2009 Shiraz vintage, I was excited that 2013 would be a better vintage than either the 2007 or 2009.

But damn if Mother Nature did not wreak its havoc!  Six straight weeks of tumultuous rain had crippled, if not destroyed the harvest.  The cooperative vineyard where we have a place just released their vintage notes with less than satisfactory results.  I have been following the harvesting schedules of  many of the Hunter wineries and they have had to pick early, late or not pick at all.

There will of course be selected pockets of success and the big growers such as Tyrrell's will have picked as optimally as anyone possibly could have.  But overall, the rain in such a short period of time has turned a once in a decade vintage to an inferior one.  I really feel for the growers and the wine makers.  They may be making 25% - 40% (purely a speculated guess on my behalf!) what they could have had the rain held off.  Why, oh why, is Mother Nature so cruel to wine makers?  And why tempt us all with the promise of such a great vintage to have it mostly destroyed through rain and more rain?

I am heart broken for the Hunter wineries, yet some of them will still do all right.  Bruce Tyrrell will of course still claim it is the vintage of the century as he does most years!  (And having followed in detail the harvesting by Tyrrell's, they seemed to have done as well as they could!)  But many of the smaller wineries would be suffering and wondering why they are in the game at all.  It is one thing to have dry conditions and add a little in irrigation when necessary.  But when you have torrential rains, there is nothing you can do, especially so late in the season.

But so is the cycle of life. And next year is another year.  And many will fail and many will prosper in 2014.  But I was looking to 2013 as the year that many of the coffers of the Hunter Valley wineries would be lined to provide a buffer for future years and that will not happen now due to the cruelty of Mother Nature.

I hope to hear good news from some of the vineyards as to their success in picking grapes at the right time, but am not hopeful that the Hunter Valley overall will have a great vintage when only two months ago, it look like it would be one of the best of all time.

A roll of the dice against the Gods and once more the Gods made their lesson known.  So is the unpredictability and excitement of being a wine grower or wine maker.  Not for the faint of heart!

Steve Shipley
Twitter: @shipleyaust
My other blog (on business, tech, world issues):  Steve Shouts Out!

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