The notoriously cool and wet 2011 vintage in south Australia left many producers short of grapes, while accelerating a move towards leaner wine styles and reminding the world that not all the country’s harvests are the same.
It was also a vintage which drew attention to some of the country’s top producers – only the best were able to handle the challenging conditions in the vineyard and cellar and still make good wine.
“It was an important vintage for us to have because anyone with skill came through ok,” said Tessa Brown, winemaker at Mornington Peninsula’s Kooyong, speaking to db about the effect of 2011.
“2011 has encouraged people to follow the good producers,” she continued.
She also said that it has helped dismantle the myth that all Australian harvests are similar.
“I hope from 2011 people will get the idea of vintage variation, that it’s part of our story,” she added.
As for the stylistic impact, Brown believes the lighter and higher acid whites that were made in 2011 will have a long future, particularly the Chardonnays.
“2011 Chardonnay [in Mornington] is likened to Chablis, and the 2011s are probably the closest we have made to something Burgundian… I would love to see what people will be saying about 2011 in 4-5 years time when the wines have some bottle age,” she said.
Similarly, Michael Hill-Smith MW, co-owner at Shaw + Smith in the Adelaide Hills likened 2011 to whites from northern Burgundy.
“In 2011 we had rain and it was cold, and there was a race between rot and ripening, and the rot won,” he began.
As a result, he made no Pinot Noir or Shiraz, and one tenth of the normal quantity of Chardonnay.
But, speaking of the latter grape in this vintage, he said, “If 2010 Chardonnay was more Meursault, then 2011 was more Chablis.”
He also said, “We made terrific Sauvignon Blanc – everyone loved the skinnier style.”
Explaining further the impact of 2011’s conditions in the Adelaide Hills, Brian Croser of Tapanappa, which uses Chardonnay grapes from Croser’s Tiers Vineyard in the Piccadilly Valley, put some numbers to the vintage.
“If 1172ºC is the average heat summation – which is the same as Burgundy – then in 2011 it was 1050ºC, which is very Chablis-esque.
Meanwhile, in the Yarra Valley, De Bortoli’s Steve Webber was full of praise for the whites.
“2011 I think is the best Chardonnay vintage for at least 10 years – the 2011s have a lovely purity about them and I think it will prove a lovely vintage.”
Supporting this view, Andrew Browne, export manager at Geelong’s Scotchmans Hill said, “When we first bottled our Chardonnay 2011 I thought we couldn’t release it to the trade because it was too lean and acidic, but now it is fantastic and it’s the first harvest we haven’t had to adjust the acidity.”
The poor weather did not affect all parts of Australia however. Western parts of the country were not subject to the rains, while McLaren Vale, in the south, “dogded a bullet”, according to Andrew Locke, winemaker for Rosemount.