By Neil Larson (Tahbilk winemaker)
There are few Australians on the Eastern seaboard who will forget the summer of 2019/2020 – bushfires roared through southern Queensland, coastal NSW, the Adelaide Hills and Eastern Victoria. The land was parched from a dry winter and spring, and lightning strikes created massive blazes that devastated rural communities, isolated townships and cut roads for months.
Thankfully there were no fires in central Victoria, and although it was smoky at times in Nagambie Lakes and Melbourne, Tahbilk fruit was not affected by smoke taint.
The fires capped off a difficult growing season – the dry winter and spring meant our vineyard staff had to monitor soil moisture and irrigate very diligently. Although there was some slight frost and hail in the district, our vineyards weren’t impacted.
Temperatures see-sawed through January and February, with some blazing hot 41-degree days, and some very mild 20-degree days too. Initially the very hot days seemed to slow the ripening, but we started picking Chardonnay for sparkling wine on the 18th of February – a very similar date to recent vintages.
The unforgiving season continued through February, with tropical storm fronts resulting in weekly rainfall and early March saw a dumping of 93 mm of rain in one event that paused picking for a few days. The rain was irritating to the vineyard and Winery crews, not enough to effect yield or initiate disease, but enough to grow annoying weeds. The temperatures maintained their crazy rollercoaster ride, but picking continued with good flavours in the whites, and deep colours in the reds.
Yields have been lower than expected, the result of the dry winter and spring, and some windy weather at flowering (October). The fortunate trade-off is that the grapes have come in with excellent colour and flavour. Standout varieties look to be Marsanne, Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
It looks like it will be a vintage with good whites and terrific reds – not unusual for a dry season.