High hopes for Clare Valley 2017 vintage

“Everything was in place: late, great acid, wonderful fruit, etc. Love all the ‘17s I’ve tasted so far.” – Andrew Hardy (pictured) (Photo: Petaluma Wines)

Are the 2017 vintage Clare Valley rieslings as good as the great 2002s?

While others ponder the meaning of life, this is what’s been on my tiny mind lately.

Petaluma senior winemaker Andrew Hardy came out recently declaring 2017 is “one of the best, if not the greatest Clare Valley riesling vintage in living memory.”

I recently re-tasted for the umpteenth time a 2002 Mitchell Watervale Riesling and was gob-smacked at how complex and fascinating it had become. I’ve also enjoyed Petaluma Hanlin Hill, Mount Horrocks, Jim Barry Florita, Grosset Watervale, Pikes Traditionale and Richmond Grove Watervale in recent months. It’s not only that so many 2002s are still so fresh and vibrant at 16 years of age, it’s also that they have gradually accumulated such wonderful complexity of flavour and aroma while gradually surrendering the freshness of youth. And they haven’t acquired ‘kero’ character. Most wineries had adopted the screw-cap two years prior, which guaranteed the wines would hold their freshness better than under cork.

Petaluma senior winemaker Andrew Hardy, who has been at Petaluma 36 years, came out recently declaring 2017 is “one of the best, if not the greatest Clare Valley riesling vintage in living memory.” As the press statement very truthfully said, Hardy isn’t prone to wild claims, so when he makes such a statement it’s worth taking note.

According to Hardy, the very wet winter and spring leading up to the 2017 vintage delayed picking at the Hanlin Hill vineyard from mid-February until March.

“We hadn’t picked Hanlin Hill that late for the last 15 years. It was more like the vintages of the seventies and eighties,” he said.

The vineyard was hand-picked over a 10-day period and the fruit transported from Clare to Petaluma’s Woodside winery in the Adelaide Hills, where it was destemmed, crushed and chilled into tank presses. According to Hardy, “only the finest free-run juice is used” for Petaluma riesling.

“It’s one of those vintages that you get really excited about showing to people. It’s drinking well already and like all great vintages of Hanlin Hill, it has a long life ahead of it.”

I followed up and asked Hardy if he really thinks the 2017s are as good as – for example – the ‘02s.

“I do think ‘17 will become a classic,” he said. “Everything was in place: late, great acid, wonderful fruit, etc. Love all the ‘17s I’ve tasted so far.

“The 2002s are unreal, I agree. It’s getting increasingly difficult to cellar them and not drink them! Those great years don’t get the kero, just layers of toast and honey.”

I analysed my tasting notes for the 2017s (select ‘Riesling’, ‘2017’, ‘Clare Valley’ and ‘Huon Hooke’ from the drop-down menus on the righthand side) and found I’d tasted 55 to date, with 16% attaining gold ribbons and 53% silver. And there are more yet to taste.

Here are my stats for the past three vintages:

Year Tasted Gold Silver G & S
2017 55 16% 53% 69%
2016 62 19% 45% 64%
2015 54 15% 41% 55%

Irrespective of stats, the wines are tight and refined and should age wonderfully. I think it’s a “Buy!”

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