25/04/2006 - 22:00

Swan Valley celebrates vintage ’06

25/04/2006 - 22:00

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Swan Valley and Regional Winemakers Association of WA president Arch Kosovich will this week tell his fellow winemakers 2006 has been a pretty good year.

Swan Valley and Regional Winemakers Association of WA president Arch Kosovich will this week tell his fellow winemakers 2006 has been a pretty good year.

As a Swan Valley winemaker and head of the winemakers’ representative body, Mr Kosovich will address the annual ‘end of vintage celebration’ to officially mark the end to this year’s growing season.

The celebration began as an informal meeting of weary winemakers and grape growers, who acknowledged the end of a vintage by gathering together to talk about the season that was, the fruit they had picked and, invariably, how that year compared with the rest.

But in a very real sign of how far the region has come, the Swan Valley Vintage Celebration is now a major event. And while consumption of wine is still an important part of the cele-bration, long gone are the days when winemakers would bring a tank sample of whatever they had just crushed.

The event now attracts producers, winemakers and media from around the state to collect stock of whatever the season had brought. It is often a time to consolidate and plan for the future, and spare a thought for winemaking brethren further south who won’t finish vintage for another few weeks.

So what tales will be told about the 2006 vintage? Well, in a time when there has scarcely been so much pressure placed on the industry, 2006 has proved to be a challenging year for Swan Valley and regional winemakers.

“It has been a different year, most unusual,” Mr Kosovich told Gusto.

“We have never really had a vintage this late. Most varieties are between four and six weeks behind where they would have been last year. It has really tested the patience of some growers out there.”

The real story of the 2006 vintage has been the cool conditions, which slowed the ripening process right down at the start of the year. Besides delaying picking times, these drops in temperatures, combined with odd smatterings of rain, are enough to coax a winemaker’s greatest enemy, disease, out of hiding.

While reports of disease and grape rot have been minimal this year, 2006 proved that well-maintained vineyards are in the best position to maximise crop potential.

This year’s lower temperatures also contributed to lower cropping levels – the amount of fruit that is picked from a vineyard, usually expressed as tonnes per hectare.

While this may mean that total pressings will be down, lighter crop levels usually mean that fruit ripens earlier than usual, shining fortune on those whose fruit was ripening late.

All the Swan Valley fruit had been picked when Gusto spoke with Mr Kosovich, with just small patches of grapes to be collected from regional areas. Already the stories from the vineyards suggest 2006 will be another fine year for whites.

“We are seeing some nice fine flavours in the white fruit,” Mr Kosovich says. “The fruit is not as high in sugar as in other years but there is still plenty of flavour in it.

“This lower sugar level should mean a decrease in the alcohol percentage, but make of a more elegant wine.”

Of the whites, Swan Valley stalwarts chenin and verdelho have all come off looking fresh and clean, while the chardonnay crop is almost 30 per cent down on last year.

This dramatic decline in chardonnay fruit is set to become a common theme throughout WA’s 2006 vintage as all areas report a decline in the variety.

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