Australian Vintage 2014: a snapshot

Once again, Western Australia might as well have been in another hemisphere, if not another world. All its many regions had a perfect growing season, the conditions ‘some of the best in living memory’. Yields, too, were generally good.

The story through all five eastern states was very different, with two major weather events. The first was a cool, wet and windy spring which impacted on flowering and fruit set, reducing yield dramatically in many regions, less so in others. Frost, too, struck here and there. The other was a major rain event in mid-February, with a torrential downfall in many places. There was also a March heatwave and bushfire smoke to deal with.

This pattern of reduced yields will count for relatively little when the Australian harvest figures come through, because the engine rooms of the Riverland and Riverina had average yields.

The task of giving numeric ratings in 12 months time will be unusually difficult, because the overall quality belied these manifold problems. One recurrent comment was the surprising fragrance, flavour and (in the case of red wines) colour achieved at modest alcohol levels.

  • South Australia

    A constant pattern of low yields, yet late harvest across all varieties, particularly red, is the mark of the vintage. Topsy-turvy weather, and a cold wet spring, caused very poor fruit set; then a period of hot weather suggested an early vintage; then a statewide deluge between February 13 and 15 brought things to a temporary stop; thereafter ideal, mild weather resulted in fragrant red wines (especially Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon) at modest alcohol levels.

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  • Victoria

    The more or less universal cold and windy spring impacted on most regions, but not all. In the Alpine Valleys, different vineyards at various altitudes gave very different pictures. Yields 40% lower than normal were common; they were lower again in vineyards impacted by October frost. On the upside, there was agreement on the vibrant aromas in the whites, and on the reds showing good flavour depth, extract and colour.

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  • New South Wales

    The Hunter Valley had what most rate as the best vintage in half a century, 1965 the best reference point. A hot spring and early summer gave way to unusually mild and dry conditions in January and February. Vintage started exceptionally early, and continued through to an untroubled conclusion by the end of February. Shiraz is absolutely outstanding, Chardonnay a surprise performer with some cool-climate characters, and high-quality Semillon richer and more full-flavoured than normal.

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  • Western Australia

    Margaret River had 1000mm of winter rainfall, followed by a dry and very warm summer. The only issue was icy southerly winds affecting the yield of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc/semillon in some vineyards. A positive was the higher than average acidity levels in the Chardonnay, leading to bright and fresh flavours in perfect balance; it is supported by very good Semillon Sauvignon Blanc.

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  • Tasmania

    Northern Tasmania was the star performer, avoiding frost and wet weather during flowering. Moreover, temperatures were cool, which saw vintage taking place through March and April, rather than February, as in recent years. The result was excellent quality across the all-important pinot noir and chardonnay crops, riesling also extremely good.

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  • Queensland

    The Granite Belt was a curate’s egg, the outcome all depending on where the vineyards were situated. Some vineyards around Ballandean in the south were totally wiped out, and for the region as a whole yield was down around 30%.

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