West Cape Howe Winery

The Vintage Report

 

2015 Vintage Review

Great Southern Region

The 2015 vintage in Western Australia was a tale of what might have been. With good spring rainfalls and early season warmth we thought our main problem was disease control, until a 20 minute hail storm in the Frankland region wreaked havoc. In 20 minutes vineyards went from having to lift wires to re-pruning vines and what we thought would be the loss of the entire crop for the year. Mount Barker on the other hand escaped the carnage and for the entire season looked to be the most balanced and productive of the three regions that we source fruit from. Margaret River while having good rains was still recovering from exceptionally strong winds and a false start to the season that had chardonnay bursting in July, only for it to be hit hard by spring winds and rains that greatly reduced yields though the region.

As the season progressed it became very apparent that Mount Barker was producing the most consistent fruit. There was ample soil moisture and none of the nasty heat spikes that can come unexpectedly through December and January. Canopy manipulation to remove leaves in the fruit zone was undertaken on all reds and the 'Styx Gully' chardonnay blocks to produce riper styles, which turned out to be a very good decision. Frankland started to grow again and a small crop was appearing and the resilience of the vines and the people that work with them was coming to the fore. With plenty of water and lower crops the vines were looking at an early harvest, but autumn came early and temperatures were mild and flavour ripeness took time to achieve.

We started harvest the earliest ever with the first pick being on the 2nd of February in Karridale, the final pick was after ANZAC Day in late April, it was a long and protracted season, not without challenges in all regions but some excellent parcels of fruit were achieved.

The sauvignon blanc from Mount Barker and Margaret River were particularly strong. Moderate temperatures near harvest and cooler nights saw the delicate aromatics and fine acid structure preserved in the fruit. The semillon was also very strong with true varietal grassy, citrusy characters being evident. It augers well for some great early drinking sav blancs and SSB’s.

The rieslings from Mount Barker and the Porongorups were exceptionally strong. Cool nights and moderate days being ideal for slower ripening and greater flavour development and complexity. Linear acid and delicate aromatics with length and depth of palate will be the result.

Chardonnay yields were light across the board. Premium Margaret River fruit was most affected. A hot burst in July on the west coast got the vines growing before desired and potentially wasted energy reserves which was evident in lower yields and smaller canopies. Mount Barker avoided these problems staying cold through winter into spring resulting in a normal budburst and average yields. Canopy manipulation was done to alter the flavour profile in the vineyard to create points of difference throughout blocks. The 'Old School' blocks were heavily leaf plucked to increase the sunshine exposure on the fruit, while the 'Styx Gully' blocks had minimal morning sun leaf removal creating two vastly different styles of wine - hopefully something for everyone!

Pinot grigio and vermentino again continue to impress and look like they will be strong wines from the region. The grigio is harvested quite late to let the full flavour develop and reduce the acidity to create a richer, complex style. The vermentino is fresh and spicy and will give great current drinking.

All whites were finished by early March in line with a good traditional harvest in south west WA, which was surprising given the lack of yield and strong canopies.

Reds commenced as whites were finishing and again Margaret River yields of premium parcels were down, Mount Barker was consistent and Frankland produced a few surprises.

The tempranillo in Frankland recovered from the hail and produced a small crop which we hand picked for the West Cape Howe Regional Series. The fruit was full flavoured and looked tremendous. Deep brooding fruit characters and supple tannins. Another exciting release to look forward to.

We were fortunate to have leaf plucked early in the season and the reds developed fantastic flavours and despite a mild summer and autumn produced ripe rich flavours. With an early Easter it was all hands on to get the reds off before the impending rain and all of the premium shiraz and cab sav blocks were picked before the 115mm of rain that fell between the 10th and 14th of April in Mount Barker. It was only some later picked fruit that was phenelogically behind at Frankland due to the hail damage that we brought in late.

The early picked shiraz and cabernet blocks in Mount Barker look to be deep in colour and flavour. Soft ripe tannins with no green characters are evident across all ranges. The low crops of cabernet through Margaret River also saw it ripen before the rain event on the 10-14th of April. All of the premium parcels were ripe and secure in the winery.

While a difficult season, some fantastic, ripe, varietally true fruit has been harvested. Climatically the difficulties arose from Margaret River’s spring winds. Margaret River was also between 1 and 1.4C below its long term average maximum temperature in March and April. It also had a 35mm rain event in mid March followed by 75mm in mid April. The whites look fantastic however some of the heavier cropped reds struggled towards the end of the season. Mount Barker conversely was .5C above long term average for both March and April and didn’t receive the March rain so it was more forward in its phenology and flavour development enabling full ripeness and greater depth of flavour and colour.

 

2014 Vintage Review

Great Southern Region

The 2014 vintage in the Great Southern region was one you would dial up year in - year out if you could.  While it was a relatively mild winter, spring had well above average rainfall and the vines entered the season with good soil moisture resulting in strong growth.

Exposed sites may have suffered some wind damage, but for the main most vines enjoyed good growth and above average fruit set. This above average fruit set combined with strong canopies was instrumental in creating a steady ripening in white varieties enabling harvest to commence in late February and finishing late March. It is beneficial for the whites to be harvested as we enter Autumn so they can be picked in cooler nights enabling great acid structure and flavour to develop. And that was a feature of this year, constant warm dry days but nights that cooled down giving the vines a chance to catch their breath before the next sunny day.

The Summer of 2014 will be remembered for the long dry spell and temperatures through Spring and summer were above average. With good canopies the fruit flavours and acid balance developed nicely throughout summer, and moderate irrigation was required during this period to keep the canopy healthy and functioning. Fortunately the vineyard managers were proactive through this period and the vines went into the final ripening phase in great condition, with good cropping levels, strong canopies and no disease to speak of.

By the middle of February the flavours were presenting beautifully and harvesting commenced. It was an intense period as the flavour window was quite narrow and the fruit had to come in. It was all hands on deck with the fruit coming in from Frankland and Mount Barker all at the same time with no discrimination between varieties. There is usually a regional time gap and a varietal gap as well but not this year. It seemed like all the whites were ready within a 3 week period and wineries and vineyards worked tirelessly to get the fruit harvested within this picking window. And thankfully they did.

The resulting white wines look fantastic. The cool evenings and lack of extreme heat have seen sensational flavours develop in the aromatic varieties such as Riesling, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc which look truly varietal in character with lovely ripe flavour profiles and underlying acid structures.  The chardonnay was manipulated skilfully in the vineyard with designated blocks being given great attention to detail to create the subtle differences required for the different styles of “Old School” and “Styx Gully.”

Our ‘new kid on the block’ Pinot Grigio is a wine to watch out for. The winemakers just LOVE playing with new varieties like this one. Great drinking in the near future!

And a brilliant season just got better.  The reds started coming in late March and finished in late April.  During this period we had exceptional ripening weather with a small amount of rain in late March, early April to refresh the canopies of the vines enabling them to reach their optimum ripeness.

It was a year where knowledge of the region played a great part in understanding what the vines and subsequent wines would develop into if given the opportunity.  I say this as is often the case with Great Southern reds (particularly in warm and dry years) the baume was reached early but the flavour ripeness needed time to develop.  It takes courage and knowledge to leave your year's crops out in the elements because you believe that better flavours will develop and this year is a great example of that.

The Cabernet Sauvignon benefitted from the little rain in late March and soft tannins and true varietal character are a strong feature of the year.  Our dry grown 40 year old fruit and estate grown Mount Barker cabernets look exceptional. Look out for stunning quality in the Single Vineyard Series.

The shiraz too looks magnificent from both our Frankland and Mount Barker vineyards with ripe fruit flavours and elegant tannin structure.  It will go down as a very good vintage in the region and one that we will enjoy in the bottle for years to come.

The Tempranillo from the Frankland region also look wonderful with some brooding, full, rich flavours starting to show through in both.  Again, the lack of heat spikes and consistent warm weather will see some of the best wines from these blocks produced to date.

Glen Harding
Viticulturist
West Cape Howe Wines
7 May, 2014

 

2013 Vintage Review

Great Southern Region

The 2013 vintage in the Great Southern region was one that presented many challenges, but as in most circumstances with challenge comes reward.  While it was a relatively mild winter, spring was above average for rainfall and the vines responded with good growth.  Unfortunately, a storm in late November occurred during flowering and the sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon flowering was particularly affected by small rice sized hail.  This resulted in below long term average yields for these two varieties but fantastic flavour intensity.

The temperatures through spring and summer were above average, and with good canopies the fruit was ripening quickly.  A hot spell between Christmas and New Year meant that moderate irrigation was required during this period to keep the canopy healthy and functioning.  The vines went into the final ripening phase in great condition with moderate crops, good canopies and no disease to speak of.

By the middle of February the flavours were presenting beautifully and harvesting commenced.  It was an intense period of harvesting as the flavour window was quite narrow and the fruit had to come in.  It was all hands on deck with the fruit coming in from Frankland, Mount Barker and Margaret River all at the same time with no discrimination between varieties.  There is usually a regional time gap and a varietal gap as well, but not this year.  It seemed like all the whites were ready within a 2 week period and wineries and vineyards worked tirelessly through the period to get the fruit harvested within this picking window.  And thankfully they did.

The resulting white wines look fantastic.  It was feared with a warmer summer and early harvest that the aromatic varieties may have struggled but the Riesling, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc look truly varietal in character with lovely ripe flavour profiles and underlying acid structures.  Great drinking in the near future.

Following the harvest of the whites, we were starting to think of booking holidays in March!  Unheard of good weather gods intervened.  March came in cold and damp. 3 degrees below the long term average and we started to wonder if the sun was going to shine and finish what we saw as being a vintage of great potential.  And this is where with challenge comes reward.  With the whole red harvest in the balance the easy (less stressful) thing to do would be to harvest, it was close to the right flavour profile, but not quite there.  In the Great Southern region this year fortune has really favoured the brave.  The sun came back with a vengeance in April, with the temperature maximums 3C above long term average, the vines basked in its warmth and the final ripening was complete.

The cabernet sauvignon from the region will be outstanding, a long ripening period, soft ripe tannins and beautiful blue fruit, cassis flavours will see them drink well early and have great aging potential.  The shiraz will have spicy notes underlying red fruit characters and also have good aging potential.

In all, another fine vintage from the Great Southern region, though not without moments of intensity and stress, but the end result has made it all worthwhile.

Glen Harding 2013 Vintage Review Climate Data.pdf

 

2012 Mount Barker Vintage Review

2012 was a near perfect climatic vintage in the Mount Barker wine region.  For the first time in a number of years the region experienced above average winter and spring rainfalls.  This resulted in a full soil moisure profile and ample water storage during the early growth period of the grapevine.

A combination of the consistently warm spring and summer temperatures also promoted good growth and strong canopies.  Good fruit set was achieved in the majority of varieties leading to moderate to good size bunches and an even fruit ripening.

Whilst the mean January temperatures were warmer than average, no extremely hot days were seen.  This promoted strong functioning canopies, rapid fruit flavour development and early but even ripening.

Good spring rains also saw a fantastic flowering in the region's Marri gums.  The flowering stretched through the whole ripening period and resulted in the lowest bird pressure that the Great Southern region has seen in years.  The low impact of bird damage assisted in the overall high fruit yield and quality that was seen.

White varieties came into flavour ripeness in late Febrary to early March and the resulting Riesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc wines look excellent.  Riesling displays delicate floral and citrus flavours and linear natural acids, with this acid giving mineral backbone the region is known for.

The Chardonnay variety was also a standout.  Minimal temperature variation and the lack of rain during the final stages of ripening, allowed the winemakers to harvest Chardonnay at optimal flavour development and create the style of wine they wished to produce.  Earlier harvesting gave a more restrained and elegant style and the wine from later picked fruit displays a richer and fuller flavour profile.

While the whites were being harvested, the reds were building fruit flavour, accumulating sugars and developing an elegant tannin structure.  Little or no rain through summer and early autumn reduced disease pressure and resulted in the berries being of smaller than average size.  This led to a concentration of flavour in the fruit and a great depth of colour and firm but elegant tannin development in the finished wine.

The Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2012 vintage is a standout and will result in outstanding wines on release in 2014.  Small berries and moderate yields from vines with still fully functioning canopies will result in rich and elegant Cabernets.  The season cooled down as we moved into March and April and the sugar accumulation was reined into line with flavour development.  This enabled the red varieties to be picked with full flavours and resulted in wines with moderate alcohol.

All in all, another fantastic vintage for Mount Barker and the Great Southern region and one to watch out for in the future.  Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon Sauvignon Blanc wines are tracking for a late June release and look fresh, clean and vibrant.  The 2012 reds are currently maturing in a mix of new French oak and tracking for release in 2014.

 

2011 Vintage Review

The 2011 vintage in the Great Southern was a classic! The intensity of colour and fruit depth in the red’s is exceptional, while the whites are exhibiting vibrant fruit characters and fresh acidity.

The surprise out of Mount Barker, given the warm season, was the quality of the Riesling. What is often considered a delicate variety is very strong this year with lime citrus characters and steely acid. The benefit of picking in the coolest part of the day from 3am-6am and processing immediately reduced any of the oxidation of these desirable flavours. Chardonnays were also strong with acids holding on giving winemakers the option of picking to style.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz were the standouts for the reds. Full tannin ripeness at desirable sugar ripeness and full flavour was achieved. The January rains helped maintain canopy health and with moderate crops the vines ripened the fruit easily. Notably, small areas of Tempranillo that were planted also had
possibly their best vintages to date.

Overall, the 2011 vintage will be remembered for near perfect weather conditions. Warm, sunny days, and cool rainless nights, characterised the ripening season. This allowed for slow, even ripening and optimal flavour development with no disease pressure.