The 2016 Barossa vintage is shaping up to be a stand-out, with strong indications of very high quality and yields generally above the five year average.
As at 22 February, winemakers are reporting dense colour, and rich, vibrant flavours in Barossa Shiraz picked to date. A fortuitous 1.5 inches of rain fell from 21 January, followed by mild conditions throughout late January/early February, which has seen phenology keeping up with sugar levels in Shiraz - lots of brown, crunchy seeds early, yielding rich, ripe tannins.
The mild conditions have also been kind to Barossa Valley whites, including Semillon and Chardonnay, which have been building delicate flavours slowly, whilst retaining crisp acid levels. Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Mataro are still yet to be picked – as are most Eden Valley varieties, including Riesling.
In early January, the Barossa growing season had been summarised as “low winter and spring rainfall, followed by a very warm and dry December, which reduced bunch weights”. Growers able to top-up soil moisture with irrigation in winter and spring were faring well, but some were looking at tired canopies and lighter crops. Many growers successfully responded to the warm, dry conditions with best-practice techniques such as increased attention to soil moisture monitoring, having mulch under-vine, and applying ‘sunscreen’ (to the grapes!)
Rain fell between 21 January and 3 February, recording between 40mm and 34mm at the BGWA weather stations from Lyndoch to Ebenezer. There was a slightly nervous collective ‘inhaling of breath’ as growers and winemakers waited and hoped for only the slightest filling of bunches and minimal splitting. Thankfully, generally, this did occur, and temperatures have remained mild, allowing flavours to develop in optimal conditions since.
At 22 February, wineries have been harvesting Barossa Valley whites for about four weeks. Chardonnay yields are reported to be 10-20% above estimates while Semillon yield is variable, depending on irrigation practices.
Harvest of Barossa Valley Shiraz has been underway for around 12 days, with around 40% picked. Other key varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Mataro will follow over the next few weeks.
Yields reported for Shiraz so far have been between average to 10-20% or more above the five year average, but still likely to be below the 10 year average.
In Eden Valley, Shiraz is holding up well, but yields are looking slightly below average. Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling quality and yields are tracking nicely, with potential harvest dates late Feb/early March for Riesling and Viognier, mid/late March for Shiraz, and late March/early April for Cabernet Sauvignon.
In summary, the Barossa is headed for a high quality vintage, with a general increase in average yields for the majority of red and white varieties. This will be a welcome development for Barossa wine lovers!
Nicki Robins, Viticultural Development Officer, Barossa Grape & Wine Association (in conjunction with the Barossa VitiTech Group)