It seems to have been taken for granted that early vintages are bad news for wine quality. I have begun to ask winemakers whether they believe the quality of their wines has suffered from early picking, and, so far, with the exception of the cauldron of 2009 in the Yarra Valley, all have responded in the negative.
In Alex Head’s autumn newsletter and mail list offer he touches on the November 2009 heatwave that savaged fruit-set for grenache, reducing yields by up to 90%. He then continues (and I quote), ‘One feature this early burst of heat introduced was an accelerated ripening of all varieties across the Barossa. One grower pointed out that in 25 years he had never seen riesling and cabernet picked at the same time. This unusual occurrence meant that all my vineyards had ripe, brown, crunchy seeds, deep colours and physiological ripeness at lower than normal baumes (potential fruit alcohols). I took advantage of this feature and picked in the first weeks of March, pushing hard my philosophy that freshness, natural acid and low alcohol will ultimately produce the more balanced and drinkable wine.’
Incidentally, he also characterises the 2009 vintage as similar to the very cool 2002 growing season. And so it was, except for the terrible two weeks of heat and fire in early February; the weather either side of that event was particularly good, and is the reason why many quite beautiful chardonnays and rieslings were made.