The 2011 vintage – the 'worst ever'???
The always objective and never sensationalist Adelaide daily, The Advertiser, reported on March 22nd that the 2011 vintage was the “worst ever”, quoting a “veteran” Barossa grower: "This is the worst that I have ever experienced... by a long shot".
From the La Linea perspective, we do not agree. In our short history we have experienced a succession of unusual vintages, and at this stage consider that the wines of 2011 may well out-rank the heatwave-affected 2008 vintage, from which we made what we thought was a pretty good Tempranillo. We are quietly confident that we have done so again; but under conditions that were as different from 2008, for example, as the proverbial chalk and cheese.
It certainly was difficult: unusually wet and cool, from Spring right through Summer and into Autumn. And yes, some vineyards were seriously affected by rain, fungal disease, and larger than average crops. In our case, aiming to source fruit from four different sites, only three made it. And while one of these produced fruit perfect for our rosé (which is picked earlier than for dry red), sadly for all concerned, the fruit that we had left hanging there for the latter was wiped out by rot before it could adequately ripen. So instead of one batch of rosé and four batches of red, we have one of rosé and two of red. This comes at a cost to the growers, who have foregone income here and now – and us, who will have less wine to sell in future.
At this early stage it is too hard to call the final quality, but the fruit from the northerly, warmer, drier site near Kersbrook looks to have the greatest promise: firm, dry and fleshy. This same site was obliterated by the heat of 2008, when the cooler sites shone – a very good example of why we choose to work with very diverse, different blocks, spread the length of the beautiful (and this year, lush and verdant green!) Adelaide Hills.
Vintage 2011 will be remembered in Central Victoria for having presented more challenges than any year in the last forty. The year was wet, cool, humid and therefore disease ridden.
During spring, budburst, flowering and fruit set were very promising but unfortunately the rains began in earnest late spring and continued intermittently throughout the growing season up until and during harvest.
Larger vineyards with the capacity to source and apply sprays fared the best while many smaller vineyards lost their entire crops to downy mildew. Compounding the disease pressure was the lack of chemical availability. Again those companies with the ability to purchase Ridomil fared the best. It’s availability as well as its cost being prohibitive to many. Vineyards also had to compete with other fruit crops for the chemicals which exacerbated the problems.
Those vineyards that survived the downy mildew then had to contend with powdery mildew and post verasion botrytis and other secondary moulds.
Significant rainfall was forecast for the weekend of the 19th March. Both our Tempranillo vineyards were at a delicate point in their maturity. The forecast was for 100ml of rain over the coming days and given the extremely humid conditions that have accompanied the rain over the last month we made the decision to pick all our parcels over that weekend.
The Tempranillo out of the Alpine Valleys was ripening very slowly and was showing early signs of botrytis while the Camelback blocks were still quite sound. We decided to harvest these two vineyards as we believed that the fruit would not survive a severe rain event. We were concerned that the combined Tempranillo’s lacked some sugar ripeness so we purchased 5t of young vine Tempranillo at 15Be from our mainstay shiraz vineyard, the Kennedy’s. This fruit helped bring up the overall blend of our Tempranillo significantly.
Our barrels of Tempranillo are now in the shed undergoing malolactic fermentation. We have used all 220ltr barriques with 15% new french oak. At this early stage the wine looks to be a good follow on from our 2010 which we are extremely happy with.
After a decade of warm dry seasons, we have had a cool wet change.
Budburst came late with good soil moisture and cool weather and vine development stayed two-three weeks behind normal for the duration of the season. The really challenging part came with two weeks of almost constant rain during flowering athe end of November and beginning of December. We were able to deal with the high downy mildew pressure, but the botrytis infections that started at flowering were a headache closer to harvest.
Rain and cool weather continued until mid-March, after which we had wonderful dry autumn ripening. Crop thinning before veraison was important in getting good ripening, especially of the later varieties. Tight-bunch varieties were hand-picked at lower ripeness to avoid botrytis damage, while open-bunch varieties including tempranillo fared much better.
Tempranillo was the best-ripening variety and was picked at the beginning of April at 13 Baumé and 7g/l titratable acidity. The wines in general are aromatic and the reds are deeply coloured; tempranillo quality is promising.
Wonderful August and September rainfall in the Barossa set the vines for a great season. Temperatures through spring were within 1°C of the average, leading to a good set with harmonious crop levels. The warm to mild weather also encouraged balanced and healthy canopies.
The mild summer and early autumn allowed for a longer ripening period in Tempranillo than in the preceding years, producing great flavour intensity. Harvest dates were approximately three weeks later than in 2010, but still well ahead of the other red varieties in the region.
First pick was on the 7th March, with the majority being picked between the 15th and 18th - escaping the inch of rain over the 21st and 22nd, and the even greater falls in April. Sugar levels at harvest were between 12.4 and 13.6 baumé.
The aromas and flavours are very strong; a lot of lavender and rose petals from the early fruit to the classic dark cherry, liquorice and ironstone in the riper parcels. The tannins are cocoa powder like, ripe and long.
In a nutshell it would have been difficult to have designed a more ideal season.
© 2011 TempraNeo