2011 Southern Hemisphere Harvest Report: Part I, II & III

2011 Southern Hemisphere Harvest Report: Part 1

A first look at vintage quality in Australia and New Zealand, with eyewitness reports from growers and winemakers
Posted: June 1, 2011


Vineyards in the U.S. and Europe are just flowering, but there’s juice fermenting in the tanks down south, in the Southern Hemisphere, that is. This year, Mother Nature brought wet weather to both New Zealand and Australia, forcing vintners to fight off rot. In Australia, where some regions faced heavy flooding, cool weather meant long hang times, ripe tannins and lower than normal alcohol levels in the country’s big reds. In New Zealand, temperatures were warmer than average, which meant a constant struggle against mildew and botrytis. Winemakers in both countries report lower yields, but good quality fruit.

Here’s a sneak peek at the upcoming vintage. Check back tomorrow and Friday for reports from Argentina, Chile and South Africa.


Vintners in some of Australia’s key growing regions, including Barossa, McLaren Vale and Victoria, are reporting that they picked their grapes at low sugar levels this harvest. The wines could have some of the lowest alcohol levels in years, resulting in a very different style from southeast Australia’s typically rich, full-bodied reds, especially in Barossa and McLaren Vale.

The growing season was marked by cool, wet conditions. This delayed harvest, allowing the grapes to hang on the vines and develop their flavors. “Harvest sugar levels were moderate to low, but flavor, tannins and seed ripeness were good because of increased hang time,” said Stuart Bourne, who completed his final harvest at Barossa Valley Estate this year. (He’s moving on to Chateau Tanunda.)

The season started well, with winter and spring rains that helped canopy development and increased vigor in the vines. Summer was mild and sunny with some rain and plenty of warm days in January. But the wet weather returned in February and March as harvest commenced. “The 2011 vintage in South Australia, and indeed most of the southeast of the country, will be remembered as a challenging one,” said Louisa Rose, chief winemaker at Yalumba.

While the rain helped alleviate a prolonged drought in the region, the wet conditions and humidity increased the risk of downy and powdery mildew. Botrytis also became an issue. Vineyard management was imperative, with vintners spraying their vines and thinning the canopies to allow more airflow to protect against rot. “It was definitely a year for diligence in the vineyard, and many blocks were hand-picked because bunch and berry selection was required,” said Chester Osborn ofD’Arenberg, in McLaren Vale.


A winery worker helps as Chardonnay grapes tumble into a press at Petaluma wines.

Vintners in McLaren Vale reported a late start to the vintage with rain during the ripening period, which increased disease pressure among the vines. But the region’s geography—it borders the Gulf of St. Vincent on one side and the Sellicks Hill Range to the south, creating a natural funnel for strong winds from across the water—helped in drying out the vineyards. Yields will be down, and fruit quality was variable, but vintners are happy overall.

Farther north in Barossa, growers had to deal with botrytis as the sugar levels in their grapes started to rise. Some vineyards were too infected and were not picked. But those that survived were high quality. Matt Wenk, winemaker at Two Hands Wines, reports a strong Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon crop this year. “In general, from what I have seen, the wines from 2011 will be subtle with great aromatics and elegant structures,” he said.

The story is similar in Clare Valley and in the Limestone Coast region to the south, with vintners reporting smaller yields of good quality fruit. Bruce Clugston of Wineinc, which produces several wines from South Australia, estimates that statewide the volumes could be down 30 to 40 percent.

To the east, Victoria experienced record rainfall in 2011. Floods hit regions in the western part of the state, including Great Western and Pyrenees, with some vineyards wiped out by the high waters. Fortunately dry periods in March and April helped ripen the grapes in undamaged vineyards, allowing vintners to pick under sunny skies. In Yarra Valley, Steve Flamsteed, winemaker at Innocent Bystander and Giant Steps, says that his Chardonnay is showing minerality, acidity and good flavor at lower sugar levels, while the Pinot Noir is highly perfumed.

Western Australian winemakers will have far brighter memories of 2011. Margaret River vintners enjoyed warm and dry conditions. “The winter rains stopped in September and very little fell after that, making it a magnificent growing season,” said Vanya Cullen of Cullen wines. It was an early harvest for the white grapes with vintners picking in February and early March in above average temperatures.

Augustus Weed

New Zealand

New Zealand’s vintners will remember 2011 as the year a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch on the South Island. It was the worst natural disaster the country has ever experienced. While that region continues to recover from the damage, the country’s wine industry was largely unharmed. This growing season was slightly soggy, with warmer temperatures and more humidity than normal, but vintners are hopeful that extra work in the vineyards saved the vintage.

Some vintners in Marlborough reported a late budbreak, but a subsequent warm spell led to an early flowering. “The period from budbreak to flowering was the shortest of the last six vintages, which shows that it was warm,” said Brian Bicknell of Mahi Wines in Marlborough.

Blair Walter of Felton Road in the Central Otago region says a fast, successful flowering produced solid crops across all varieties. “We were relieved to see things cool down in January, which set the pattern for a cool and wetter midseason,” said Walter. Central Otago rarely sees much rain, however, so Walter said a wetter season there is still fairly dry.

The North Island received plenty of rain and high humidity too, according to Michael Brajkovich of Kumeu River. “The extra moisture caused bunch-rot problems, but not botrytis. We use a team of 70 hand-pickers, and they had to work particularly hard to triage rotten berries,” said Brajkovich.


Fresh picked clusters of Pinot Noir arrive at New Zealand’s Amisfeld.

Yields are a sensitive issue with New Zealand winemakers. Since the 2008 vintage—when volumes exceeded expectations and there was a surplus of grapes—growers have lived by self-imposed crop restrictions, and are more attentive to pruning and thinning. Early estimates projected a bumper crop in 2011, but most vintners reported average yields once harvest arrived.

Bicknell said yields were down in Marlborough due to aggressive pruning. “Growers were pruning to lower bud numbers, which have been so great for the quality of the fruit,” he said. “We are all aware that it is a waste of time putting down too many canes and then having to go through and green harvest a lot of fruit.” Other vintners reported that despite early signs of high yields, by the time they cut fruit to avoid bunch rot and other problems, yields ended up lower than average.

Harvest was slightly earlier than 2010, but not significantly. Most growers reported warm harvest temperatures, ripening grapes quickly and condensing the picking period. Some rains threatened the end of harvest, which meant possible rot for those that didn’t pick early. Most vintners in Marlborough reported they had finished when the rains hit in mid-April.

The wines are expected to be clean and intense, and the earlier picking probably resulting in lower alcohols, particularly with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. “Our wines are always more complex in cooler and more challenging growing seasons,” said Walter. “We have our fingers crossed that the early positive impressions of 2011 are accurate. I don’t think concentration will be a word that will be used to describe [the wines]: words more like precision, mineral, tension. I think the wines will have reasonably firm structures and a pleasant kind of rusticity about them: more complex and European.”

—MaryAnn Worobiec

2011 Southern Hemisphere Harvest Report: Part 2

A first look at vintage quality in Argentina and Chile, with eyewitness reports from growers and winemakers
Posted: June 2, 2011


Vineyards in the U.S. and Europe are just flowering, but there’s juice fermenting in the tanks down south, in the Southern Hemisphere, that is. The 2010-2011 growing season was cool and cloudy in South America. An early frost lowered yields in Argentina, and wet weather made February a nerve-wracking month. On the other side of the Andes, Chilean winemakers just hoped the grapes could hang on the vine long enough to ripen.

Here’s a sneak peek at the upcoming vintage. Check out Wednesday’s report on Australia and New Zealand and check back Friday for reports from South Africa.


An early, severe frost in Mendoza, Argentina’s leading wine region, set the tone for a challenging 2011 vintage for winemakers, who also had to battle periods of high winds, hail, drought and heavy rain. Cool temperatures throughout the season delayed maturation, but an Indian summer ripened grapes before harvest. Winemakers are expecting elegantly styled wines, with higher acidity levels than usual.

“Alcohol levels are between 0.1 and 0.2 percent higher than normal,” said Luis Reginato, vineyard director for Bodega Catena Zapata. “The reason is the extra dry March and April that we had. What is remarkable is the high acidity in 2011 compared with normal vintages.”

Santiago Achával, president of Achával-Ferrer, said the early frost, which hit the second week of November, was the worst of its kind since 1992 and caused vines to lose flowers and experience poor fruit set. Damage was intermittent, with Western Mendoza and Uco Valley to the south being hit the hardest.

According to Laura Catena, president of Catena Zapata, the frost spared Catena’s La Pirámide vineyard in Agrelo, while the Angélica Sur vineyard located in the Uco Valley lost the fruit in 288 of its 360 acres. José Manuel Ortega, owner of Bodegas y Viñedos of O. Fournier in the Uco Valley, said he lost crop in 60 percent of his 312 acres of vineyards.

After the frost, cool, dry weather persisted through February, with droughtlike conditions exacerbated by a dry winter in 2010, which meant limited snowmelt for irrigation. Rain finally arrived at the end of February but then it continued into the first week of March. Some winemakers were predicting a washout. Luckily the weather finally turned for the better, with plenty of sunny days lasting through April.


Picking grapes in Mendoza for Bodega Norton.

“Actually, throughout Mendoza this could be a banner year. Yields were naturally lowered by the November frost,” said Achával, who says his vineyards required less green harvesting than normal.

In the northern Salta province, Bodega Colomé winemaker Randle Johnson said there was warm weather from November to January, but, “in February the heavens opened and there was hardly a sunny day. A lot of rain from one end of the valley to the other.” Johnson said Bodega Colomé received 12 to 14 inches of rain, nearly triple the typical amount.

Hail also hit one high-elevation vineyard, damaging both leaves and fruit. Salta also enjoyed an Indian summer, but wineries needed to carefully sort harvested grapes to maintain quality.

In the southern Patagonia region, Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, who makes the country’s top-rated Pinot Noir bottlings at his Bodega Chacra estate, reported mild summer conditions followed by warmer weather leading into harvest. “Overall for Pinot a great vintage,” he said of his healthy crop. “Our ripeness was good, with no pests or other problems in the vineyard. Our pH levels are high and alcohol quite low, but still higher than the previous vintage.”

—Nathan Wesley


After a long, slow harvest that stretched well into May, Chilean vintners are growing increasingly optimistic about their 2011 wines. A small crop ripened steadily and evenly during a markedly cool growing season in most of Chile’s major wine regions.

“We had a cold and long spring, summer started late and toward the end of the summer we had some rain, but nothing that I was concerned about,” said Sven Bruchfeld, owner and winemaker at the boutique Agricola La Viña, located in the western end of the Colchagua Valley. The cool weather led to a poor fruit set. “Yields were down 22 percent.”

Pedro Parra, of Clos des Fous said it was a cloudy year, but grapes in good areas were able to gradually ripen. “The late ripening varieties on bad terroirs will suffer,” he said. “I am happier with the fruit from the coastal areas and those closer to the Andes [as opposed to the middle of the valleys].”


Fresh-picked grapes await their ride back to Concha Y Toro’s winery.

With the cooler temperatures during the season, many producers reported lower alcohols as well. “We’re seeing Sauvignon Blanc ripe at 11 or 11.5 [potential degrees of alcohol] as opposed to 12 or 12.5,” said Adolfo Hurtado, winemaker at Viña Cono Sur, a top Pinot Noir producer located in the Casablanca Valley. “The ripeness is there, so we’re confident in the quality. We like the aromas and the freshness we’re seeing in the wines.”

Despite the cooler season, grapes came in healthy and clean, thanks to the lower yields, which produced grapes with good concentration, color and fresh acidity. “The 2011 harvest has been a little strange, but not so different than 2010,” says Aurelio Montes, founder and head winemaker at Viña Montes, one of the country’s top producers. “In general, pHs are lower and alcohol levels are in better balance.”

“With the freshness, obviously 2011 will be an elegant year,” said Patrick Valette, winemaker at Viña Neyen de Apalta.

But 2011’s small crop is likely to have some economic effect on the industry. Following the earthquake in February 2010 that destroyed 125 million liters of wines and then a small 2010 crop, many growers say that price pressure for grapes is already on the rise.

“Those wineries that have been selling at a very low price will have trouble with cash flow,” said Montes. “If you add the weakness of the dollar, the increase in energy costs and labor, my feeling is that Chilean wine prices will have to [increase].”

“With the Chilean economy booming on the mining side, there’s been a labor shortage [for wineries]. So harvest logistics were more difficult than in the past,” said Ed Flaherty, winemaker at Viña Tarapacá, located in the Maipo Valley.

It’s hard to be too pessimistic with good fruit in. “Overall, 2011 is a good to great vintage, depending on the variety,” said Flaherty.

—James Molesworth

2011 Southern Hemisphere Harvest Report: Part 3

A first look at vintage quality in South Africa, with eyewitness reports from growers and winemakers
Posted: June 3, 2011


Vineyards in the U.S. and Europe are just flowering, but there’s juice fermenting in the tanks down south, in the Southern Hemisphere, that is. Variety is the spice of life, but South African winemakers may be cursing it. South Africa’s top wine regions produced dramatically different results this growing season, especially between hot, dry inland areas and cooler coastal zones.

Here’s a sneak peek at the upcoming vintage. For more 2011 Southern Hemisphere coverage, see our reports on Australia, New Zealand,Argentina and Chile.

South Africa

South African vintners are happy overall with potential quality following the recent 2011 harvest. But grape quality and yields varied tremendously from area to area, and even within individual estates. “One thing is for sure,” said Peter Finlayson of Bouchard Finlayson, a top Pinot Noir producer located in the Walker Bay district. “You will receive very conflicting reports from around the Cape for vintage 2011.”

The one consistent factor in 2011 was the timing of the season, which ran several weeks early. “The harvest was early and it was very fast too,” said Luke O’Cuinneagain, winemaker at Glenelly Estate in Stellenbosch. “We managed to get some blocks in that were riper at lower sugar levels, but it did require intensive sorting as Cabernet Sauvignon in particular had a lot of green, shot berries. Overall, quantity was the same but there were variations—Chardonnay was down, Merlot was up, Petit Verdot was down, etc.”

Following a warmer-than-usual winter, vines developed buds early. Windy conditions during flowering produced an irregular crop set. Steady rain fell through the early part of the season, but by mid-January the weather turned warm and dry, resulting in a disease-free growing season. “We do natural fermentations, and the health of the vineyards helped give us very strong [yeast] cultures this year,” said Andrea Mullineux of Mullineux Vineyards in the Voor-Paardeberg ward, which specializes in Syrah and Chenin Blanc and Rhône varieties. “The fermentations cruised through to dryness.”

The dry weather reduced yields even more. “Berry size was very low as we received almost no rain during the growing season. Yields were down 20 percent,” said José Condé of Stark-Condé, located in the Jonkershoek Valley ward. “Once we hit veraison, the crop was so light and the vines in good shape that ripening just blasted through. The biggest challenge was the Bordeaux varieties, so I do expect careful barrel selections with Merlot and Cabernet.”


Conditions were hot and dry during harvest at Ken Forrester Vineyards in Stellenbosch.

The problem for the Bordeaux varieties was sugars developing before tannins. “With the lack of cool nights, we had rapid sugar load that resulted in higher alcohols and tough tannins. Tannin management will be key for the reds,” said Miles Mossop, winemaker at both Stellenbosch’s Tokara as well as his eponymous label.

While Bordeaux varieties struggled, other varieties, including Syrah and Chenin Blanc, seemed to relish the growing season. “Both came in early, with lots of flavor concentration and good color,” said Christophe Durand of Vins d’Orrance, a top boutique producer.

While the inland areas dealt with the difficulties of the hot and dry season, the cooler coastal areas naturally offset those conditions, and whites from those areas performed well. “It was a season that really seems to suit us best,” said Duncan Savage of Cape Point Vineyards, a top Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon producer located on the Cape Point peninsula. “The vineyard blocks with a bit of clay in the soil profile performed best of all [as they retained water better] with wonderful structure and intensity in the wines.”

“It shows on the nose of the Sauvignon Blanc that we get from Darling [a cool, costal area],” said Anthony de Jager, winemaker at Fairview, who echoed Savage’s thoughts. “The whites are more tropical than spicy and green, with nice rich mouthfeel.”

—James Molesworth


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: