A vintage with an ever-repeating conundrum: below average rainfall (especially in winter), above average temperatures, above average yields, record early vintages, and good to excellent quality. I’ll come back to this shortly but, as with any sweeping generalisation, there are exceptions. At the quality end of the spectrum, Western Australia had rainfall (erratic in most regions) punctuating a cool vintage, and a stiff upper lip when it came to quality. Then there are the mighty engines of the regions fuelled by the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers. It is these that will determine the national crush.

Coming back to the 63 regions outside the river regions spread from Queensland to Tasmania, the pattern was of vintages with very early budburst (dry soils warm more quickly than wet), and dry conditions during flowering providing perfect fruitset. One of the less easily explained features of many regions was abundant canopies with a high number of leaves per bunch. From this point on, supplementary irrigation played a major role, but often ran out.

Once harvest was approaching (at record early dates) all varieties seemed to ripen simultaneously, and crops usually exceeded estimates. Winemakers tried in vain to find extra barrels and tanks, and some high quality grapes had to remain on the vine for days after their optimum picking dates.

The best explanation I can find for the conundrum is elevated levels of vine nutrition: CO2.

Next article: View the Australian Vintage Chart

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  • South Australia

    The Barossa Valley vintage was shaped by low rainfall, 72% of the long-term average. Despite the dry conditions and hot December and February, yields were average to above average (after four vintages with below average production). The generally ideal conditions for ripening, coupled with generous yields, resulted in one winery saying vintage was like ‘an intense chess game, juggling tank space to capture everything at optimal ripeness.’ Shiraz and grenache were nominated as outstanding, and most of the reporting wineries are hopeful that 2016 will become part of the Barossa’s fabled vintages.

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  • Victoria

    In the Yarra Valley a dry winter and spring, with record warmth in October, saw the vines leap out of the starting blocks and race to another very early harvest. Yields were all higher than in recent years, but even though a hot (though not windy) January was to follow, the vine canopies remained in perfect health with no leaf senescence; there was an exceptionally compressed harvest.

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  • New South Wales

    The Hunter Valley had the narrowest of escapes with above average rainfall in December and January, the latter ending up with 338mm for the month. Then nature did a U-turn, with negligible rain throughout February and up to the conclusion of vintage. Those who ran a stringent sorting system for semillon got out of jail, although the net impact on some vineyards was a loss of 50%, others a total loss.

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  • Western Australia

    Good winter rains in Margaret River were followed by dry weather until 90mm fell in January, with rainfall continuing at above average levels through February and March. Rigorous control of disease (mildew, botrytis) in the vineyard was essential, and not all producers were up to the challenge. For those that were, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon were the highlights, some rating them as superb, others very good.

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  • Tasmania

    A dry winter and spring in Southern Tasmania along with record warmth in October saw the vines race to another very early harvest. Yields were all up on recent years, but such was vine health that almost all blocks looked balanced. Quality seems to have been shielded by a notable absence of extreme heat during the ripening phase for red varieties in particular.

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  • Queensland

    The Granite Belt had absolutely perfect weather up to vintage except for a short week of rainfall in late January (a small frost and hail event in October 2015 did lead to a loss of 10% for some producers). Yields were moderate to high across the board; the standouts vermentino, sauvignon blanc and semillon in the whites, tempranillo, malbec, durif and shiraz in the reds. Quality is very high, on a par with 2014.

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