The 2021 South Australian vintage
The Barossa Valley experienced mild conditions of generally below-average temperatures for the entire growing season, making for an elegant and classic vintage boasting the best acidities in many years. Good rainfall made for close-to-average crops, a welcome relief after two tiny drought harvests. Extended and unhurried picking proved to be a blessing, without the labour shortages feared in the wake of border closures. Quality was said to be exceptional across every variety, with reds showing great density of colour and flavour and whites pristine aromatics, finesse and high natural acidity. One top maker declared it the best odd-year vintage since 1991.
Eden Valley likewise experienced an outstanding season, in spite of significant frost damage in October and November knocking the yields of later-budding varieties.
The Clare Valley, too, produced wines with excellent quality and high acidities across every variety, the only caveat low yields in riesling, down 30–40% as vines continue to recover in the aftermath of drought.
McLaren Vale enjoyed healthy yields, bolstered by early February rainfall, and the equal earliest start of vintage on record, triggered by some February heat. A mild autumn kept sugar levels at bay and furnished excellent quality in whites and reds, with strong varietal definition, concentrated aromatics and deep colours and tannins in red varieties.
The Adelaide Hills heaved a sigh of relief to harvest a large crop of outstanding quality, a welcome reprieve after the challenges of the previous vintages. Fears of ripening a big crop in a cool season were alleviated by an Indian summer, making for remarkable flavour development, producing elegant, aromatic wines of high levels of natural acidity.
As an earlier ripening region, the Adelaide Plains loves cooler seasons, and 2021 was touted by one grower as his best in 16 years across all varieties.
Coonawarra and Wrattonbully experienced warm conditions during flowering, locking in big yields, and thereafter much colder conditions than usual. A long, cool, dry ripening season made way for a late harvest, lingering right until the end of April, reminiscent of the late 1980s and 1990s. Exceptional, long-enduring reds promise cool-season characters of red fruits and black pepper, backed with fine tannins and intense colours.
Similar conditions in Padthaway made for standout sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. Apart from one day of extremes in the high forties, it was the same story in Mount Benson and Robe, with amazing flavours in sauvignon blanc and pinot gris and great colour, density and structure in shiraz, in spite of high yields.
Langhorne Creek enjoyed a ‘cracker’ vintage that is already being compared with the best (2016 and 2012), with firm tannins reminiscent of 2015.
Yields were decimated in the Southern Fleurieu, first by a late September hail storm, then cold and windy flowering, and finally very dry conditions from December through to harvest, with one estate reporting 60% losses. Cool conditions made for a late harvest of exceptional wines of delicacy and high natural acidities.
Kangaroo Island deserved a kind season after the devastation of 2020, and 2021 certainly delivered, described by one prominent grower as ‘nearly perfect’. Yields were up and quality was above average, on par with 2018 and 2013.
Mount Benson and Robe, two adjacent regions in the Limestone Coast Zone, suffered less than most, with no smoke taint a huge relief. But red grape varieties were 60% down, white varieties 30% down.
Dry conditions in the Riverland necessitated careful irrigation, while a mild season made for a late harvest of fresh, vibrant whites and bountiful volumes of promising reds.
To discover more regional insights from the 2021 Australian vintage – click here.