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2005 Vintage

Published:  23 July, 2008

Across the continent it appears to have been an extremely good year, with the happy combination of high - indeed, record high - quantity and quality. The chief reason for this success was the absence of extremes: a comparatively mild spring and summer, and a dry, warm autumn in most regions, resulting in a healthy, ripe crop. As always there were exceptions to the rule - a little frost and hail in Western Australia and Hunter Valley, New South Wales, in the early spring and summer, continuing drought in Hunter Valley, heavy rain for a few days in Eastern Victoria, and wet weather between the picking of the whites and the reds in Western Australia and New South Wales. But the exceptions were fewer than normal, and consistently high quality across all regions and varieties is one of the hallmarks of the vintage.

According to the Winemakers' Federation of Australia (WFA, whose report is the source for most of the following statistics), it was the largest ever vintage, the estimated crush of 1.924 million tonnes being 107,000 tonnes (6%) higher than the previous record of 1.817 million tonnes set in 2004. Some industry insiders, however, suspect that the final figure may well top two million tonnes, and the total would have been even higher if rising stock levels and falling prices had not persuaded some growers to leave fruit on the vine. The Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation reckons that some 40,000 tonnes (2% of the total) may have been left, though some growers suggest that the figure should be far higher. Yields per hectare were around average, however, and generally lower than in 2004.

The red wine grape intake rose only slightly, up 0.5% from 1.063 million tonnes in 2004 to 1.069 million tonnes in 2005, representing 55.6% of the total. Shiraz rose 17,500 tonnes (+4%) to more than 454,000 tonnes, maintaining its dominance as Australia's most important variety, accounting for 24% of the total (red and white). Cabernet Sauvignon fell by 16,000 tonnes to less than 304,000 tonnes (-5%) but is still the second most important red variety, comprising 16% of the total. Merlot (no.3), on the other hand, rose by more than 20,000 tonnes (+17%) and now represents 8% of the total. Pinot Noir (no.4) fell by 3,500 tonnes (-9%, 2% of the total), and Ruby Cabernet (no.5) by 1,000 tonnes (-4%, also 2% of the total). Other red varieties with volumes over 20,000 tonnes include Petit Verdot (no.6, +11% to 25,600 tonnes, 1% of the total) and Grenache (no.7, -2% to 24,600 tonnes, also 1% of the total). The biggest falls were for Muscat Petits Grains (-34% to 850 tonnes), Mataro (-31% to 9,675 tonnes), Cabernet Franc (-25% to 4,594 tonnes), Tarrango (-22% to 2,945 tonnes) and other reds' (-50% to 8,890 tonnes). The biggest rise was for Durif (+46% to 5,999 tonnes). While the figures certainly mask the diversity, let alone the quality, of Australia's red wines produced on a smaller scale (Nebbiolo, for example, does not even make it into the rankings), the raw statistics do little to correct the impression of a strong performer who always sings the same few songs.

The white-wine intake rose much more steeply, up 13.5% from 753,482 tonnes in 2004 to 855,143 tonnes in 2005, representing 44.4% of the total. By far the most significant increase was that for Chardonnay, which surged by 105,000 tonnes (+34%) to 416,000 tonnes, easily overtaking Cabernet Sauvignon as the second most important variety and now representing 22% of the total. Semillon (no.2) fell to 98,000 tonnes (-1%, 5% of the total), while Colombard (no.3) rose from 70,000 tonnes to 89,000 tonnes (+28%, also 5% of the total). Riesling (no.4, excluding multipurpose varieties) was up 6,000 tonnes to 42,000 tonnes (+16%, 2% of the total), overtaking Sauvignon Blanc (no.4, again excluding multipurpose varieties), which fell 364 tonnes to 39,410 tonnes (-1%, also 2% of the total). Multipurpose Muscat Gordo Blanco (no.4 among white varieties overall) was up from 52,462 tonnes to 55,968 tonnes (+7%, 3% of the total), while Sultana (no.6 among white varieties overall) tumbled from 57,327 tonnes to 40,070 tonnes (-30%, 2% of the total). Even larger falls were those for Doradillo (-66% to 1,503 tonnes), Muscat Petits Grains Blanc (-61% to 762 tonnes), Muscadelle (-51% to 626 tonnes) and other whites' (-60% to 10,598 tonnes). Among more fashionable varieties, Verdelho fell slightly to 18,551 tonnes (-2%, 1% of the total), while Viognier rose from 3,903 tonnes to 5,324 tonnes (+36%) and Pinot Gris/Grigio recorded the largest percentage change of any variety, red or white, soaring from 2,094 tonnes to 5,492 tonnes (+162%).

While the large combined harvest will result in further upward pressure on inventory levels, the relative shift from red to white varieties may actually help to reduce some market imbalances', suggests the WFA. At the same time, it warns that there will still be strong downward pressure on prices, due to a strong Australian dollar; continuing expansion in the number of small wineries; retail consolidation and discounting, both in Australia and key export markets; and more intense global competition'.

On the positive side, Huon Hooke, co-author of The Penguin Good Australian Wine Guide and columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald, is able to note: We might have too much wine, but at least it's good wine!' He concludes his own report (in The World of Fine Wine issue 7): There is little doubt that 2005 is even better in quality terms than 2002, which makes it the vintage of the century so far, to trot out a well-worn clich. Winemakers with a national perspective, such as Southcorp chief winemaker Peter Taylor and Hardys chief winemaker Peter Dawson, say it is nearly, but not quite, as good as the 10/10 year of 1998.' As for the regional and varietal highlights, Hooke says: Everyone is trumpeting the whites in Margaret River, especially Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, but also Chardonnay; Riesling in the Clare and Eden Valleys; reds, particularly Shiraz, in McLaren Vale; and pretty well everything - but, above all, Chardonnay - in the hot inland irrigation areas of Riverina and the Murray Valley. Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon also looks excellent.'

In Western Australia, Bob Cartwright, winemaker at Leeuwin Estate, avows: Block 20, the cornerstone of the Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay, has produced the best-quality fruit I can ever remember', while Rob Bowen, senior winemaker/regional manager for Hougton Wine Company, says the quality of the whites is as high as he has seen over the past five years. In South Australia, Barossa Valley Estate winemaker Stuart Bourne, responsible for its flagship E&E Shiraz, confirms: We had an awesome vintage for a number of reasons. There are already comparisons with the cool and mild summer of 2002, which gave rise to wines of brilliant structure and body, and this year's reds are looking as impressive.' In Clare Valley, Leasingham Wines' senior winemaker/manager Kerri Thompson sums up: In general, the 2005 vintage was a fantastic year for whites, which are fresh, racy and exciting, yet showing delicacy on the palate.' She thinks that the reds have even more density and weight than the 2002s, previously regarded as the winery's yardstick year. The final word, though, goes to Philip Shaw, CEO of Cumulus Wines, covering Orange and the Central Ranges of New South Wales, who goes as far as to say that 2005 was undoubtedly the best vintage of my winemaking life'. As Hooke observes: That's a big call, coming from a 45-vintage veteran who was chief winemaker of Southcorp, Australia's biggest wine company, from 2000 to 2003 and chief winemaker of Rosemount for the 20 years before that. But his excitement is echoed by winemakers across Australia.'


Despite its smaller size, New Zealand experienced more mixed fortunes than Australia did in 2005. Generally speaking, quality was high or very high. But quantities varied widely, so that while the grape-producing area was at a record high of 20,500 hectares, 12% up on 2004, the harvest was smaller than the record set the previous year, down 15% from 166,000 tonnes to 142,000 tonnes. It was still, however, the second-highest vintage on record, and stock levels in most regions are sufficient to make up for any shortfall.

The lower yields were the result of a difficult spring, with cool, wet December weather affecting the flowering and fruit set. But according to wine writer Paul White, based in Wellington, This natural reduction left many growers with about as much tonnage as they would have thinned down to anyway, while bringing the advantage of excellent concentration, balanced structure and fruit intensity from tighter pulp-to-skin ratios.' New Zealand Winegrowers chief executive, Philip Gregan, says that from early January onwards, growing conditions were ideal, producing high-quality grapes through nearly all wine-growing regions. The Indian summer during the main harvest month of April was a great finish to the ripening season.'

The only region where production rose significantly was Northland, up 27%, from 144 tonnes in 2004 to 183 tonnes in 2005. All other regions except Otago registered considerable falls, with producers in some regions suffering reductions of more than 50%. Marlborough is still by far the most important producer, despite its 12% fall from 92,581 tonnes to 81,034 tonnes, accounting for 58% of the total. Hawke's Bay (no.2) fell 8% from 30,429 tonnes to 28,098 tonnes (20% of the total), while Gisborne fell 11% from 25,346 tonnes to 22,493 tonnes (16% of the total).

Reflecting the overall trend, most grape varieties were also down in volume. Crucially, however, Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand's leading export style, was only marginally affected, as new vineyard areas largely offset the lower yields. Sauvignon was down only 7%, from 67,773 tonnes to 63,297 tonnes, while Chardonnay (no.2 overall) fell 16%, from 35,597 tonnes to 29,741 tonnes. The leading red grape (no.3 overall, with 10% of the total) was Pinot Noir, though it saw the largest percentage reduction of any major variety - down 28% from 20,145 tonnes to 14,578 tonnes.

In quality terms, White believes that skilfully applied viticultural intervention countered the difficult weather conditions, lifting quality above recent vintages'. He cites Chester Nicholls, Obsidian's viticulturalist, who asserts that 2005 is Waiheke Island's best vintage yet'; Tim Finn of Neudorf Estate in Nelson, who contends that it has produced the best Chardonnay ever'; and Clive Jones of Nautilus in Marlborough, who reports a riper spectrum of Sauvignon flavours, more tropical than in previous years'. George Elworthy, winemaker at The Crossings Estate in Marlborough's Awatere Valley, agrees, saying: Diminished herbaceous characters and heightened tropical flavours appear to be the signature of the vintage.'

In Hawkes Bay, early-harvested Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay appear to have performed more successfully than later-picked Chardonnay and Sauvignon, and Merlot more successfully than Cabernet, so careful blending and selection will be the key to quality in the reds. At Esk Valley in Hawke's Bay, winemaker Gordon Russell describes his Merlot-rich wines as the best for many seasons. Deep colours, ripe flavours and tannins seem to be the order of the day.' In Central Otago, warmer Cromwell Basin was more consistent than cooler Gibbston Valley, and Peregrine's Greg Hay is reported by White as speculating that the region's best Pinot Noirs may be blends of the two.


The challenges of the 2005 vintage in South Africa were many and serious; though where these have been overcome, the quality of the wines is reported to be high, with quantity down 12% on 2004 at 1,157,631 tons.

According to SAWIS (South African Wine Industry Statistics), the biggest challenges arose from either drought or, at the opposite extreme, heavy rain. As a result of a relatively mild winter, budding in the spring was earlier but also less regular than usual. Rain in October meant that growth was vigorous, with a looser bunch set, while high humidity and low winds in November and December promoted widespread rot during the summer. There were also plagues of insects - beetles, grasshoppers and snails - in regions such as Paarl and Stellenbosch. The harvest was up to four weeks early in some regions.

Overall, the reds seem to be more successful than the whites, with good quality Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc being in short supply, though there were considerable differences across the regions.

Paarl Despite the driest season for 16 years, aggravated by downy and powdery mildew and insect problems, production was roughly the same size as in 2004, at 140,000 tons. Although Sauvignon Blanc appears promising, with full, tropical flavours, the whites are generally less successful than the reds, with high expectations for Cabernet, Merlot and Pinotage in particular.

Stellenbosch Although botrytis took its toll, the crop size was again similar to last year's - and maybe even a little higher overall (up 1% or so). Among the whites, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc suffered more from the rot than did Sauvignon Blanc, which is reckoned superior to that in 2004. Where the crop was carefully controlled to promote more even ripening, quality among the reds is reported to be high. An overview of the Coastal Region is provided by Martin Meinert, who, as well as with his own grapes from Devon Valley, worked with those from Ken Forrester in Helderberg, Morgenhof in Stellenbosch and Eagle's Nest in Constantia. It is a mixed vintage in which careful selection, both at picking and when buying wines, will again prove to be crucial, but many very good wines will be taken to bottle,' he says. While being one of the most difficult vintages I have ever come across, due to adverse weather conditions, many of the wines are surprisingly good, in particular those from grapes harvested relatively early in the season. At this stage, it appears that the cumulative heat was less kind to the later varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon. Chenin Blanc was problematic due to rot caused by the January/February rains, and the grapes from Constantia were less affected by heat due to the milder conditions there.' Lowell Joste of Klein Constantia confirms that the quality of all varieties was higher than last year.

Swartland In the Malmesbury district, the crop was approximately 6% down on 2004, which in turn had been roughly 5% down on 2003. Although there was little rot, some vines suffered from sunburn and water stress in January and February, resulting in small bunches. Ab Beukes of Darling Cellars describes the relative success of the varieties as follows: I am very satisfied with the Sauvignon Blanc and the Pinotage, because they were picked relatively early, before the heat wave and the rain. The Chenins took a knock: their pH is relatively high and the acids low. I have tasted a few Chardonnays and they are exceptionally good, and there are some really nice Merlots. With regard to Shiraz - this area produces such great wines! Even when you expect nothing much, the wines are still fabulous.'

Robertson As a result of many climatic challenges, ranging from drought to heavy rain and rot, the harvest here was 16% down on 2004, at around 154,640 tons. Nevertheless, the quality from the loose bunches and small berries is again reported to be surprisingly good in most instances'. Pieter Ferreira of Graham Beck Wines says: The base wines for our Cap Classiques are world-class. The Chardonnay is medium potential although quite elegant at this early stage, so too the Viognier. Shiraz is looking good to very good. The Cabernets are quite disappointing.' Roelf du Preez of Bon Cap Organic Wines sums up: In a nutshell, very small, very early and very good quality! Our crop is about 30% smaller.'

Walker Bay After an exceptionally dry winter, beneficial rains in October and November, and again in February, meant that the drought situation was less severe than in other regions. Peter Finlayson of Bouchard Finlayson reports that the summer season was generally moderate in temperature, which ensured that the fruit arrived at the cellar in excellent condition. Another feature of this vintage was the fact that the grape acidities were higher than the previous two years; this is normally a positive quality indicator. The different varieties all performed well.'

Of the large inland regions that give higher quantities of bulk wine, production in Olifants River was down 1% on 2004 overall, though it was higher for reds due to new plantings coming on stream. In Klein Karoo it was down 19% at 36,018 tons; in Worcester it was also down 19% at 274,993 tons; while in Orange River it was 21% lower at 162,274 tons. For all four regions, however, quality is officially reported to be outstanding', very good', fantastic' and most promising', respectively.

Respected South African writer Michael Fridjhon supplies a rather more sober summary. From a commercial point of view, the South African wine industry is relatively satisfied with 2005,' he says. The lower yields come at the right time for an industry that is feeling the pressure of a worldwide wine glut. The lower volumes of commercial white wines (probably the most obvious victims of the adverse weather conditions) will help producers to resist downward pressure from the multiple specialists and supermarkets. Since most of the country's quality red-wine producers use fruit-sorting strategies, the best of the reds won't reflect the difficulties of the year.'


A late, slow-ripening vintage here in 2005, with quantities seemingly slightly higher for the whites and lower for the reds, but quality is extremely good, especially for the latter.

According to the latest (though still preliminary') report from the National Association of Chilean Winemakers and Agricultural Engineers, spring was generally cool, with average temperatures 2-3C lower than in 2003/04, and frost damage in Casablanca Valley and Curic. Summer, too, was cooler than normal, with average temperatures 1-2C lower than the previous year. Rain on 11 March - varying from 5-10mm in the Curic and Maule Valleys, to 10-15mm in the Colchagua Valley and 15-20mm in the Maipo, San Antonio, Casablanca and Aconcagua - caused losses to botrytis rot of roughly 5-10% among Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The reds were not affected; nor were they affected by the later rains on 4 and 9 May, resulting in a very healthy crop, though dehydration reduced the Merlot harvest by 15-20%, and millerandage reduced the Carmenre harvest by roughly 30%.

The long, slow ripening season meant that Chardonnay was harvested roughly two weeks later than normal and Sauvignon Blanc two to four weeks later than usual. Although Sauvignon may have the edge in quality terms, both styles are aromatic, fresher and less alcoholic than normal, with a more pronounced minerality. The reds, picked one week later than typically, benefited even more from the gradual maturation process. Physiological ripeness did not lag so far behind sugar ripeness as sometimes, resulting in less alcoholic, better-balanced, more elegant, intensely fruity wines, with less-green aromas and flavours and fully ripe tannins.

Demand from export markets forced up the prices for white grapes, some of which doubled in value by comparison with the previous year, and prices for red grapes also rose, though less steeply. In order not to damage exports, however, producers are more likely to absorb such increases than to pass them on.


On the opposite side of the Andes, Argentina appears to have enjoyed at least as good a vintage as Chile in terms of both quantity and quality, and for many of the same reasons. According to the National Institute of Viticulture's early estimates, the harvest was roughly 6% larger than last year's.

Although a dry, warm spring encouraged early growth in La Rioja, and there were a few days of hot Zonda winds in San Juan, the winter and spring were cool in other regions such as Mendoza and Patagonia, retarding ripening. Despite a late spring frost in Mendoza and a couple of hailstorms, flowering and fruit set proceeded relatively smoothly, and the warm, dry summer and autumn allowed the gradual accumulation of flavours, with no rapid decrease in acidity or increase in sugar levels. Daniel Pi, Trapiche's winemaker in Mendoza, reports that the average temperature in March was only 17.4C and that temperatures never rose above 40C.

The vintage seems to be equally successful across all regions and grape varieties, but it is particularly good for Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. The resulting wines are reported to be well balanced and fresh, with intense fruit and typical varietal character. The whites have good acidity and pH levels, meaning that they will require less adjustment than normal, while the reds do not suffer from excess alcohol or overripeness but have fully ripe tannins and good ageing potential. Pi explains: This season was very special, because we had to wait longer than in previous years to get ripe tannins from the seeds. But the most important thing was that we achieved 1 Brix less than usual.' He says that while early-harvested Malbec, picked in fear of rain, can be dilute and lacking in structure, those who waited reaped the rewards. This year has been better for us than the previous three,' he concludes.

The high quality, combined with lower yields per hectare, especially among the white varieties, resulted in grape-price rises of 35-40%, though, as in Chile, it seems unlikely that these will be passed on.