Brian Croser’s 2017 harvest wrap
The just-completed 2017 harvest was unusually late throughout Australia. A month late was quite common, and it wasn’t unusual to be picking grapes even later.
Tapanappa proprietor Brian Croser, who keeps more detailed records than most, and thinks about these things more than just about anyone I know, explains why in his annual vintage report. I publish here a sneak preview of his findings about the 2017 vintage, based on his three vineyard sites in the Adelaide Hills, the Fleurieu Peninsula and Wrattonbully.
In all three vineyards, the 2016-17 growing season was hotter than average, and not much cooler than the record warm 2015-16 season, so why was the vineyard so far behind this year?
A Contradictory Vintage
2017 vintage was very late in each of Tapanappa’s three distinguished sites. The single outstanding feature of the 2017 vintage was that each of the phenological events of the vine’s growing season was delayed by two to three weeks compared to the average.
The wonderful feature of a delayed harvest is that the grapes undergo the heat-sensitive final accumulation of aroma, flavour and colour in much cooler conditions.
The Tiers Vineyard, Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills
The average temperature at Mount Lofty, adjacent to the Tiers Vineyard, is 17.6 ºC in February, 15.25ºC in March and 12.8ºC in April.
Tiers Vineyard was harvested on the 12th and 13th of March in the very warm 2016 vintage and on the 12th and 13th of April in the cooler 2017 vintage.
The difference of one month in harvest date is a difference of 2.5ºC in the temperature during the critical ripening phase. That’s huge!
My 2016 vintage report was headed “An Extraordinary Vintage” because the accumulated heat of the growing season in each of Tapanappa’s distinguished sites was so much greater than in any preceding vintage. Tiers recorded a whopping 1539ºC days against the average of 1240ºC days.
I have labelled 2017 A Contradictory Vintage because the heat summation for the growing season was 1303º C days versus the 14-year average of 1240ºC days: 2017 was a warmer than average vintage but it is the equal latest, harvested on the same date as the very cool 2011 vintage (1001ºC days).
It is obvious 2017 should be later than 2016 but why was it as late as the much cooler 2011 vintage?
For the answer to that question, we have to reach back to the winter of 2016, which was one of the wettest ever, leaving the soils cold and saturated. Add to that a very cool spring and the vines were very reluctant to get out of bed and welcome the new spring. Bud burst was delayed by 2 to 3 weeks and that delay was carried forward to a late flowering in early December.
100 days into the growing season, in early January, the pattern reversed and the temperatures became consistently above average until at the end the season it is described as warmer than average. But the die had been cast in those first 100 days and the season was later than average by 2 to 3 weeks.
This pattern of a cold start and a warm, late finish is the perfect formula for outstanding fruit quality of intricate and intense flavours, moderate sugar levels and fine acids.
2017 was a very wet growing season at Mount Lofty, 562 mm of rain were recorded for the seven months against an average of 302 mm. Fortunately, most of that rainfall was before Christmas and after harvest in late April, so had a more positive than detrimental effect.
2017 will be recognised as a superb vintage eliciting finesse and intensity in the chardonnay from the Tiers vineyard and the Piccadilly Valley in general.
Foggy Hill Vineyard, Parrawa, Fleurieu Peninsula
Exactly the same pattern of a cool, delayed start to the growing season and a very late, warm and dry finish applied to Foggy Hill as to Tiers.
In 2016, Foggy Hill recorded a massive 1439ºC days against the average of 1210ºC days and the fruit was harvested on the 3rd and 10th of March.
In 2017 Foggy Hill registered 1400ºC days and was harvested on the 31st of March and the 8th of April, one month later than 2016.
The late vintage ripened the pinot noir at Foggy Hill in the cool air of mid-autumn. The results are spectacular as the wine finishes malolactic fermentation in barrique: lovely intense purple hue, delicate and floral aromatics, moderate alcohol and textured structure. The flavours float on water not alcohol.
2017 has the potential to be best Foggy Hill pinot noir yet.
Whalebone Vineyard, Joanna, Wrattonbully
Exactly the same conditions prevailed at the Whalebone Vineyard as at Tapanappa’s other two distinguished sites: a cool, late start and a warm, dry finish in mid to late April.
The Whalebone merlot was harvested on the 9th of April.
The Whalebone cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc were harvested on the 18th of April, fully one month later than in 2016.
Whalebone Vineyard recorded 1585ºC days against the average of 1487ºC days, so, as with Tiers and Foggy Hill, 2017 at Whalebone was a warm year despite its late finish.
The same comments apply: moderate alcohols with intense, spicy aromatics and textured palate structure characterise 2017 Whalebone Vineyard wines.
2017 is a wonderful vintage out of the unique Whalebone Vineyard terroir.