In the midst of the pandemic, there is reason to rejoice with Great Southern wine producers reporting one of the best vintages in living memory.
Vintage 2020 will be remembered as the earliest harvest on record with exceptional fruit quality thanks to warm sunny weather early in the summer months and below-average rainfall. That’s the good news.
The not-so-good news is that yields were down, which means there will be less wine made and thus less of the good stuff for us to drink.
The Great Southern Wine Region is the largest mainland wine region in Australia that comprises the areas of Albany, Denmark, Frankland River, Mount Barker and Porongurup, each with its unique climate and soils that produce distinctive fine wines.
Great Southern wine producers have reported the following:
The first contemporary vineyard was planted in 1967, with a number of vineyards established by the 1980s. Today, Frankland River has 1,600 hectares under vines. Frankland River fine wine region grows a diverse range of grapes that make award-winning wines. The standout varieties are Riesling and Shiraz supported by Cabernet Sauvignon and well-suited whites, including Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc that are fast finding favour.
Hunter Smith, Frankland Estate (Frankland River)
The trend throughout is that the dry winter and warm dry spring had a greater effect on yield than many anticipated resulting in, on early indication, a 20 per cent decline on average. The core varietals through the region, Shiraz and Riesling, were strong performers. Whilst yield was down the quality was exceptional and will be regarded as another very strong Frankland River harvest. Red wines particularly Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are very strong and will produce some exceptional premium wines, as will some of the late ripening emerging varietals such as Mourvèdre, Grenache and Touriga Nacional. Riesling in the white wines was less effected by reduced yield and will again show why this varietal is so well suited to the Frankland River sub region.
Craig Grafton, Ferngrove Wines (Frankland River)
Vintage 2020 will be remembered as the earliest harvest on record with great fruit quality. The growing season started warm and very dry. Spring rainfall was also below average and our soils were quite dry as the vines came out of dormancy and watering commenced earlier than normal. These dry conditions kept disease pressure low which was a positive, but also led to lower vine vigour compared to other years. Harvest began on the 5th of February, with a pick of Chardonnay out of Block 18, followed by hand-picking fruit for our Diamond Chardonnay. The favourable weather for the remainder of the ripening period meant we had an “early” vintage. Riesling is a stand-out variety with wonderful acidity and minerality. The colour of the reds has been amazing with great intensity.
The first grapevine plantings in Denmark occurred along Mt Shadforth Road in 1974. These were followed by further early plantings of Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon at Tinglewood in 1976. Denmark’s vinous reputation is becoming more acclaimed with principal varieties including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc thriving and red Cabernet blends and Riesling also performing well. Winemakers are showing a developing interest in producing sparkling wines of distinction.
Dr Steve Hall, Rockcliffe Winery (Denmark)
Very good quality but a small tonnage. The small quantity will allow us to focus on making really great wines in the winery during the next two years.
Porongurup offers a range of quality grapes and wines that have been consistently awarded over the years. A Mediterranean climate and long ripening season produces exceptional quality fruit with intense flavours. Varieties include Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, but its Riesling is a particular hero.
Eugene Harma, Ironwood Estate Wines (Porongurup)
The moderate to warm daytime temperatures with cool nights developed great flavours in an earlier than normal vintage pick.
Duke Ranson, Duke’s Vineyard (Porongurup)
Drought produced our lowest yield ever, but with intense fruit characters. They’ll make beautiful wines, but very little of them, so the 2020 vintage will be a very a precious liquid.
Rosie Singer, Zarephath Wines (Porongurup)
After a dry growing season this vintage, fruit is of high quality, particularly so in the reds, but yields are down, particularly with whites.
Mount Barker is the site of the original vineyard planted in the South West in 1965. It is prime territory for award-winning wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. The vines experience warm days and cooling nights and, although often low yielding, they produce high-quality grapes. This creates elegant and complex fruit, which shows fine tannins and incredible length. Other key varietals of the area include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.
Luke Eckersley, Plantagenet Wines (Mount Barker)
The Great Southern produced one of the earliest vintages ever with Chardonnay picked in the first week of February and Riesling by the end of the second week. The region had near perfect climatic growing conditions, low disease and bird pressure, which allowed the production of exceptional quality fruit across all varieties, although yields were down the quality will be one to remember.
Guy Lyons, Forest Hill Vineyard, (Mount Barker)
Vintage 2020 is the earliest harvest we have seen in recent times with picking dates up to a month earlier in some varieties impacted by below average rainfall and some warm weather in early summer. Yields across the vineyard were very low leading to small berries and bunches with incredible concentration of flavour. Our Rieslings have a fantastic balance of acidity and depth of flavour. Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are looking very strong at this stage, the small berries helping to build very vibrant and intense colours.
Kim Tyrer, Galafrey Wines (Mount Barker)
Vintage was solid, volume was down but the quality is exceptional. It was a difficult vintage with the onset of COVID-19 which kept us distracted.
Clinton Gilbert, Gilbert Wines (Mount Barker)
In what was a very dry season, yields were low. Fruit quality was still high. It was also an incredibly early start and finish to the vintage. We were finished vintage at Gilberts on the 8th March. Six to seven weeks earlier than normal!
Albany produces wine in a broadly Mediterranean climate featuring wet cool winters and warm dry summers with a cooling sea breeze off the Southern Ocean. The daily temperature range is minimal and moderate levels of humidity during summer reduce stress on the vines and assist ripening. Both white and red varieties grow strongly and established varieties include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz.
Pamela Lincoln, Oranje Tractor Organic Farm (Albany)
Despite the warm season, the yields were low due to the unusually dry start. However, the quality of the grapes harvested were exceptional and all ripened very early.
The vintage was not just exceptional for grapes.
Stuart Douglass, Denmark Heritage Cider Company (Denmark)
A small controlled vintage of predominantly sweet and sharp apple varietals that will produce a classic German style apfelwine. This vintage was planned to be a small controlled crop to allow the trees to develop some canopy strength for 2021 vintage. A good balance of natural yeasts in the canopy have provided a brisk ferment and we expect a lot of early tannins.
The Great Southern Wine Region produces on average 12,000 tonnes of grapes per annum. Take this isolation as an opportunity to explore the wines of the Great Southern and drink greatness. A list of producers offering specials and delivery can be found online here.