It’s one thing to go on a wine appreciation tour of all the vineyards and wineries of the Hunter Valley. It’s another to really appreciate all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.
If you’ve taken a drive out to Wine Country recently you may have noticed that the place has come alive with the sound of music, but also – and far more importantly – the sight of verdant vines converting sunlight into wine through the miraculously fortunate process of photosynthesis.
“The 2019 vintage is looking exciting,” remarks viticultural consultant Liz Riley.
“At Scarborough we dry-sowed cover crops across all three Lower Hunter vineyards, but with the ongoing drought, no rain came when we expected it. We felt like we’d blown a heap of cash.
“But then we had a couple of perfectly timed rain events during spring, which saw our vineyards flush with clover and rye and radish and cereals, which helps with organic matter and soil nutrients. The rain also helped to push canopy volumes up prior to flowering.”
The 2017 and 2018 vintages were warm and dry. Supplementary irrigation of vines in some parts of the valley was an advantage for many winegrowers. However, the Hunter Valley has some of the oldest vines in the world – 150 years old, in the case of Tyrrell’s Old Patch vineyard – and many of these older vineyards are unirrigated.
This means that the vines need to find their own natural source of water to survive, typically from somewhere underneath the ground.
“A lot of our dry grown vineyards have been planted near a water course so that they have good access to water,” explains Tyrrell’s viticulturist Andrew Pengilly.
“We’ve had around 188mm of rain throughout the growing season, but the dry conditions of the last two years have taken their toll, which has had a bit of an impact on expected crop levels. No doubt, the quality will still be there,” he continues, “especially in the shiraz, which is looking red hot at the moment.”
Fellow old vines and dry grown winegrower, Usher Tinkler of Usher Tinkler Wines, is cautious but optimistic.
“I’m got some mixed emotions at the moment,” says Tinkler.
“Yes, it’s been hot and dry and unusually windy lately, which has caused a bit of stress in parts, but spring rainfall at the right time has been good and everything is looking fine at the moment.”
West of Pokolbin, at Broke-Fordwich, winegrower Andrew Margan isn’t too concerned. Indeed, like Liz Riley, his excitement levels are palpable leading into the 2019 vintage.
“The winds at the end of November were a bit hectic and we experienced some shoot loss, but nothing drastic,” reports Margan.
“Some of the later ripening varieties, like shiraz and cabernet (sauvignon) are growing in line with some of the earlier varieties, like chardonnay, so we’re seeing a general compaction in ripening times, which is clearly related to the effects of climate change. But, I’ve never see my vineyards looking more beautiful as they do right now as we head into véraison.”
Wine lovers are urged to keep one eye on the sky and pray for benevolent conditions, so we can enjoy the iconic fruits of the 2019 vintage, thanks to the hard, unseen graft of our Hunter Valley winegrowers.