There’s nothing more exciting than the prospect of a new vintage on its way. Here’s a brief overview of the recently completed 2012 harvest in the Southern Hemisphere, with reports from growers. For more details on each region, visit www.winespectator.com/sharvest2012.
In Mendoza, the heartland of Argentina’s wine industry, winemakers dealt with another challenging growing season. It began with frost and strong winds, which reduced yields for most varieties. Hot weather followed from December through February. But in the second week of March, cool and cloudy conditions arrived. Grape maturation slowed and harvest came two weeks later than normal.
Farther north, in Salta, the year saw hail, heavy rain and cloudy weather that lasted into March. April, however, brought warm, sunny conditions that gave grapes a chance for full maturation. To the south, Patagonia’s season began with a warm spring, followed by hot days and hot nights that lasted into January. Harvest arrived 10 days early. -Nathan Wesley
From north to south, Chile dealt with hot, dry growing conditions. Some winemakers reported experiencing the warmest temperatures on record. “[The] main challenge was to make the picking decision at the right time and to manage the vineyard to protect the fruit [no leaf plucking] and [use] more irrigation to avoid water stress,” said Viña Errázuriz chief winemaker Francisco Baettig.
Aurelio Montes of Viña Montes said it was a good vintage for white varieties, which show fresh, typical character, with lower alcohol levels than usual. Red varieties may test winemakers’ skills because the berries are smaller and sweeter than normal, with high potential alcohol but less phenolic ripeness. “We will have to be very careful in extraction of tannins,” said Montes. Many winemakers expect the best results from reds from the country’s cooler microclimates. -N.W.
The 2012 growing season began with the third straight year of dry conditions, following a winter with lower-than-usual rain levels. That, combined with a cool start to spring, resulted in a smaller crop. “Yields are down between 10 and 50 percent, depending on the parcel,” said Chris Mullineux of Mullineux Vineyards, located in the Swartland region.
The heat wave typical to the Cape in February came early, leaving the vines more time to recover from the warmth. Cool and dry conditions prevailed through most of the season, and sugars rose gradually, allowing producers to bring in fully ripe fruit. “The overall effect [of the growing season] was that alcohols are not very high, but [there's] superb phenolic ripeness,” said David Finlayson of Finlayson Family in Stellenbosch. -James Molesworth
The vintage was not without its challenges, especially for growers on Australia’s eastern seaboard. In March, monsoon weather dropped nearly 12 inches of rain over parts of Central New South Wales, including Orange and Hunter valleys, and farther south in Riverina, over the course of seven days. Fortunately, winemakers had picked most of their fruit before the rains hit. Vineyards farther south in Victoria dodged the worst of the wet weather.
In South Australia, which includes the growing regions of Barossa, McLaren Vale and the Limestone Coast, vintners reported an easy harvest with nearly ideal weather conditions. However, overall yields were down by almost 20 percent.
It was a different story on Australia’s western coast. Winegrowers in Margaret River are reporting slightly higher yields, after a growing season marked by hot and dry weather. -Augustus Weed
A cooler-than-average December and January affected the fruit set in much of New Zealand, especially Marlborough, where half of the country’s grapes are grown, resulting in lower yields. A vintage survey from New Zealand Winegrowers suggests the overall crop size is down 18 percent from 2011. But vintner Allan Scott says that a light crop means more concentration and a better balance of sweetness and acidity.
Summer never seemed to arrive, as temperatures remained relatively cool. But autumn brought warmer weather leading up to harvest. Picking was delayed by two to three weeks, as some vintners wanted extra hang time for flavors to develop. For many, once harvest started it was short and compressed. “Everyone has to be thankful the yields were low, as that certainly helped the ripening process-heavier crops would have delayed it even more,” said Scott. -MaryAnn Worobiec