The old wine saying that there is no two vintages the same was perfectly illustrated in 2014. In more than 20 years of winemaking I cannot recall a vintage quite like this and that is for many reasons. In short, one of the strangest vintages but it delivered some really lovely wines – all in all we are very happy.
A reasonably short and dry winter was followed by an early and very warm spring. Late frosts gave a few vines a bit of a touch up but it was nothing of great consequence. Not much in the way of spring rains and as summer rolled in, warmer and earlier than usual we were irrigating more than I think we ever had. Still the vines had developed nice canopy volume capable of ripening their crop loads which we looking to be a bit lighter than long term averages.
When we got to Christmas, we were expecting the earliest vintage on record (even earlier than 2013) and expected more yield reduction due to small bunch weights and berry size. There were no surprises in January – warm and dry. It looked like this was going to be one of the simplest and most straight forward vintages of my career. The concern was that sugar accumulation was going to occur at a rapid speed and there might be a lack of phenolic ripeness and depth of flavour. Then February came and so did the rain. Not only that, the temperatures cooled down dramatically. That was the end of summer. Autumn had come early. The complexion of the vintage was turned on its head.
Those varieties that were on the cusp of harvesting were unaffected. We harvested pinot gris, merlot and shiraz in beautiful condition and still a week or so earlier than 2013. These varieties have produced some really lovely wines. Chardonnay and pinot noir from high elevation cool sites were also harvested in beautiful condition and have held up extremely well in what was for them, a hot and dry vintage. The rain started to have an effect in for our growers higher up the mountain requiring a lot of vigilance, hard work and extra costs to keep the fruit in good condition. The final stages of ripening slowed dramatically, the rate of sugar accumulation dropped and aromas and flavours really started to develop nicely. Credit where it is due, despite the challenges our growers harvested chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling and pinot noir with excellent ripeness and flavour development and not a hint of disease.
I have seen seasons with less rain and of shorter duration where the vines have struggled and disease has consumed fruit with losses in quality and quantity. However, this year the vines seemed to largely take it in their stride and coped with it extremely well. Why? I am not quite sure.
Cabernet sauvignon probably struggled the most for us at Printhie. The ripening process yoyo-ed, then stalled. The vines just need a decent week or two of warmth and sunshine to get over the line but mother nature was unwilling – there was no Indian summer this year. In the end the vines had had enough and we harvested the grapes. They are just being pressed as I write this and the jury is still out. Cabernet was probably the one variety with a question mark next to it in a highly successful vintage.
What are the real highlights. Sparkling bases have pleasantly surprised, merlot is as good as it has ever been, shiraz is complex and attractive, chardonnay has fruit and funk without being heavy and sauvignon blanc is showing wonderful intensity. There is a lot to look forward to.