Rain, while desperately needed in the pastoral and cropping regions of the eastern States is proving to be a huge headache for winemakers, as David Pike discovers.
Last week I briefly mentioned that Margaret River’s wine community received some less than desirable rain.
The weekend rain was followed up by close on a week of unseasonable weather.
Misty rain, little sight of the strong easterly and southerly winds normally associated around the region and high humidity, creating much concern with both viticulturists and winemakers.
Driving around the region last weekend and talking to several vineyard managers I found that most of the concern centred around diseases – in particular the increase of botrytis in bunches of grapes. While the disease is manageable at present nobody wants to see any more humid days without wind.
Another cause for concern has been berry splitting, which occurs when the vines take up water that accumulates in the ripening grapes and causes – just like the Monty Python character who had just one wafer too many – the grapes to split open.
Yet more disease pressure.
With many grapes varieties in their final weeks of ripening nobody in the wine industry wants to see any more rain.
Compared to the rest of Australia, and although things are not looking prefect here in WA, things are looking good.
A number of eastern States winemakers are wishing that this year was over.
Large rainfalls have been reported in many regions and situations in several of those regions are dire.
Contacting winemakers, producers and viticulturists over the past few days for a frank appraisal of how things are progressing was an interesting and enlightening experience.
Take the poor old Coonawarra region for example. Last year they were still picking fruit near Christmas and this year they may not be picking at all.
One winemaker I spoke to suggested that the situation is the worst he has been in since he has been in the region. An average of 40 millimetres of rain has fallen across the region in recent time and there is no end in sight for the misty rains with warm conditions and little or no breeze.
The winemaker I spoke to suggested that the high humidity and rain might result in substantial loss of fruit.
Another winemaker has told me that most of the red varieties have suffered widespread bunch splitting, and that spraying programs have been employed around the clock.
It certainly is looking grim in Coonawarra.
The McLaren Vale situation is not much better, with more than 25mm of rain falling and more of the humid conditions.
Berry splitting is again a problem.
Luckily for many of the producers of white varieties in McLaren Vale they have finished harvesting most of the white grapes.
Padthaway is also experiencing problems with berry splitting reported after the region received nearly 30mm.
Clare Valley has had more than 80mm dumped on the vineyards of its region and the situation has also been described as anxious, if not serious, with plenty of signs of berry splitting.
Barossa has had varying reports of between 60mm to 70mm of rain and more reports of berries effected by berry splitting. The situation there is less than ideal.
Eden Valley has received an average of 65mm with the continuing story of berry splitting the result.
Further across the border in Victoria, the shining light, somewhat ironically, is Yarra Valley that seems to be progressing along in its normal route.
However, it is a little too early to comment on the results.
Else where in Victoria it is again a little early to tell if there are any problems as harvesting will not really get under way for a few more weeks.
The Great Western region has captured more than 50mm of rain.
Winemakers commented that as long as there was not much more rain and “normal weather patterns” continued, no real problems would be expected. However, there have been a few reports of berry splitting.
Out in bulk wine territory, the Murray Valley has had more than its fair share of precipitation with more than 24 hours of continuous rain. There is lots of disease pressure on the region after 60mm of rain fell.
The only way to describe the northern New South Wales wine region of Mudgee is a disaster. Harvesting has been stopped there after non-stop rain for more than several days.
There have been reports of flooding, massive berry splitting and diseases. Significant crop losses are expected.
The next few weeks will be critical for many regions across the border, but currently things are less than ideal.
While it is still probably a little to early to call, I do not think I will be stashing away cash to stock up on the 2003 vintage from South Australia or northern New South Wales.
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