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Australia's 2014 vintage gets underway

Published:  15 January, 2014

Australia's  2014 vintage kicks off, with winemakers predicting high quality grapes, despite this week's heatwave in the south east.

Australian Vintage's UK general manger Julian Dyer told Harpers that Neil McGuigan kicked off Chardonnay picking in the Hunter Valley last Wednesday, "the earliest in 40 years in the Hunter".

Dyer said that overall the vintage "looks solid", with plenty of water in river systems, despite the current heatwave in South East Australia. Temperatures are set to hit 40-45 for the remainder of this week, which Dyer said "will affect yield but to what extent we don't know. Those with irrigation should be OK."

Earlier in the year frost affected Griffiths and Riverland and it's estimated that 100-150,000 tonnes were lost.

Overall Dyer said it looked to be a "normal to slightly less than normal crop, but good quality on average".

Giles Cooke MW, wine development director for Alliance Wine in the UK, is shortly heading out to Australia for harvest. "Up until this week it's been pretty mild and was looking very good. There were a couple of problems in McLaren Vale with hail and black frost in Barossa. Most of the people we're working with are a couple of weeks later than last year. It's very hot this week - between 42 and 44, so I'm not sure yet whether that will slow down or speed up the process. We're looking at it being potentially extremely good."

He said the exchange rate change - the Australian dollar has moved back to $1.85 against the pound versus $1.40/50 a couple of years ago. "That should make export markets a bit easier," he added.

Tim Wildman MW, who is currently working in Australia's McLaren Vale, said that while the Hunter Valley had started harvesting "most other regions are still quite a few weeks away, even here in McLaren Vale, a warm region, most grapes haven't gone through veraison yet".

He said that McLaren Vale had so far had a good season, with a healthy, large crop, but that the current heatwave was a challenge.  "Heat spikes are the biggest risk to crop size and quality at this time of year. Lessons have been learnt from the heat spike of 2009, which came early, and the horrendous heat of 2008, when it was over 40 for fifteen days, but late, in March. Viticulturists have been making pre-emptive strikes with irrigation, getting water deep into the rooting zone to help the vines cope with hydric stress."

On Battle of Bosworth vineyard, where Wildman is currently staying with owners Joch Bosworth and Louise Hemsley Smith, Bosworth has been getting up at 4am in the morning to start the irrigation programs for the day, and is still going out at midnight to check that night time irrigation is working.

Wildman added that some of the vines on the main road between Willunga and McLaren Vale have been "painted white", which is a "sunblock"  for the vines made from bentonite.

As for the winemakers themselves, under the #V14 or #Vintage14 hashtags, they are posting mainly positive updates on Twitter.

McWilliam's Wines @McWilliamsWines, tweeted: "Everything is looking amazing for #v14 in #HunterValley"

Meanwhile Deakin Estate @DeakinEstate is getting ready to pick: "#Vintage14 begins tomorrow for @DeakinEstate with #Chardonnay. Who else has started? @WeLoveMildura #V14"

On Monday Tempus Two @TempusTwoWines, tweeted: "And so it begins for another year. Vintage 2014 and the first grapes have arrived. Stunning Verdelho #Hunter #V14."

While Chris Tyrrell @TyrrellsWines was yesterday tweeting: "Chardonnay, Verdelho, Semillon and Pinot Noir being processed today. Now it feels like a normal day of vintage"