Red vintage tipped as great food wine

WINEMAKERS and vignerons are no doubt nursing deep "rain on the roof" sleep deprivation, chewed fingernails and new grey hairs, but the Hunter's vintage 2013 is finished - and without the red grape harvest heartbreak of 2008 and 2012.

My feedback from Hunter industry leaders is that the total crop is 20 to 30 per cent below average and the red harvest is down by as much as 40 per cent.

But there is general agreement that the Hunter will have some excellent 2013 reds.

This contrasts with the 2008 red vintage that was wiped out by rain and a 2012 red harvest in which many growers were forced to drop all their rain-sodden shiraz grape crops on the ground.

Ace boutique winemaker Andrew Thomas told me his semillon crush was down a little and his shiraz harvest was 20 to 25 per cent below early expectations but the quality would be "pretty good".

Thommo's view coincides with that of a man with peerless vintage experience, J.Y. Tulloch and Sons managing director Jay Tulloch, who has just notched up his 50th Hunter harvest, which also happens to be the 118th for the Tulloch company.

Jay said: "Reds in the main should be medium-bodied in the famed Hunter style of the 1950s and '60s, great food wines without the excessive alcohol and harsh tannins found in so many Australian wines today".

"As far as the whites go we can expect excellent verdelho, semillon and chardonnay with good fruit flavour, balanced by natural acidity."

This year had proved to be one of extremes and typically Hunter in both its temperament and volatility, "something we have all seen before and tend to take it all in our stride".

Jay said the season leading up to the 2013 vintage began with good rainfall of 460 millimetres in the first half of the year, followed by only 173 millimetres in the second half of the year, something which meant some grape crops dropped by up to 50 per cent.

Warm to hot conditions came in December, followed by extreme heat in January - with a record 45-degree heat onslaught on January 18 prompting an early start to vintage and harvesting of all white varieties before the end of January.

"The season was looking extremely promising for reds," said Jay, "when the big wet from Queensland swept through on the Australia Day long weekend, delivering 200 millimetres of rain over a week when we were on the cusp of the red harvest."

The rain caused widespread disruption for other winegrowers, with mechanical harvesters getting bogged and vignerons forced to rely more heavily on an army of hand-pickers.

Jay found the fact the season had been so dry, the soil in Tulloch vineyards easily absorbed the rain and had little effect on the red grapes.

"By Saturday, February 9, we harvested the last of our Hunter shiraz in excellent condition," he said.

Tyrrell's wrapped up its red harvest on February 13 and managing director Bruce Tyrrell said he would have some good 2013 reds, but in smaller volumes.

The total red and white crush looked to be down by 30 per cent, and all the Tyrrell's whites were "showing plenty of flavour and softness with just enough acid to keep them fresh".

Pepper Tree Wines' chief winemaker Jim Chatto says harvesting on all his group's Hunter vineyards was completed on February 16, with red crush down 40 per cent and whites 20 to 30 per cent below average. The quality of semillons was the best he had seen for a number of years and reds were showing good flavour and structure.

Agnew Group chief winemaker Jeff Byrne, who makes the Audrey Wilkinson, Poole's Rock, Cockfighter's Ghost and Firestick label wines, said his Hunter harvest was down 20 to 30 per cent, but the quality of reds and whites looked very good.

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