What a vintage! 2003 will not be quickly forgotten. The results were exciting, with an Eclipse of huge proportions, Reserve Shiraz as big as ever and Reserve Cabernet, by contrast, of surprising elegance yet excellent depth of flavour.
To understand all of this we need to look back to the spring of 2002. We were well behind in winter rainfall and the temperatures had already begun to soar by flowering time in early November. As a result the set was very poor, with the vines anticipating a hard season ahead. Most affected were our old Grenache and the Cabernet block at Langhorne Creek but the Shiraz too was down.
The summer continued hot and incredibly dry and we actually lost 4 old vines this year – three that had been battling with ever encroaching gum trees from the car park and one old vine in the middle of the block weakened by many years of fighting dead arm, all lost the battle to stay alive this summer, so severe was the drought. Not a rate of loss we would like to see repeated!
Then suddenly and unexpectedly in February 2003 tropical moisture descended on us from cyclone activity in northern Australia bringing not only a couple of days of heavy rain but a week of very humid, overcast conditions. Some berry skins, small and toughened by the hard summer, could not expand to contain the sudden ingress of moisture from the soil and the atmosphere and split. We have never experienced this to a significant degree before and it wasn’t a good sight to see. Most affected was the Grenache with around 5-15% of berries split. The Shiraz showed one or two split berries per vine but none was found in the Cabernet. A few of the split berries miraculously healed over but most went on in the warmer weather that followed to shrivel up, further reducing the crop.
The return to fine, more settled weather was a blessing of course and we were amazed at the speed with which the sugar levels now rose. We waited as long as we could to allow flavour development to catch up with the rapidly rising sugars then once we began harvesting we had to keep moving quickly. Fortunately the small crops meant we had plenty of fermenter space to do this.
The crop proved to be even smaller than we all thought once we began picking. The Shiraz was the first to be harvested (as usual) and the crop was down around 45% on average, setting the pattern for the rest of the harvest. I was amazed at how long it was taking to pick a bucket of Grenache this year and so, just for interest, I decided to count the bunches required as I went along (I don’t normally have time to do much picking myself these days but this year was an exception!). I counted an amazing 400 bunches to fill one bucket, many having just 3 or 4 berries!!
The Grenache crop was down 60% resulting in no Solaire, V.P. or Cleanskin and a significantly reduced production of Eclipse. Last to be harvested as usual was the beautiful Langhorne Creek Cabernet block, yielding just 50% of what we expect in an average harvest. The harvest period was very short, being all over in 15 days and finished before the end of March, something that is very rare (in 2002 we only began on the 25th of March!).
The good news, as often happens when the crop is reduced, is the quality was high. In particular, I have never seen our Eclipse so dark and rich in flavour! All three reds display a lovely ripeness and concentration, along with great structure thanks in part to the long fermentations this year. Remarkably the musts contained good natural acid levels and although the degree of ripeness was high there was very little acidification required.
Overall, a memorable vintage for the drama it provided, with exciting results in terms of quality but sadly down in quantity.
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