Vintage 2021 stands in stark contrast to vintage 2020. In late 2019 and early 2020 2020 many parts of the Hunter Valley were on fire and we were in our fourth year of drought. Now we are surrounded by lush green paddocks, full dams and fat livestock!
The four-year drought in the Hunter began to break in March 2020 but it has taken huge amounts of follow up rain to finally get the groundwater levels back up. Many growers reported that that even by Christmas the soils were still dry not far below the soil surface, a measure of just how thirsty and parched the land was.
By early January there was some anxiety that the rain would not stop. Incessant rain brings unwanted mildew and botrytis, but in the second week of January the skies cleared and near perfect conditions for the beginning of the white grape harvest followed.
Now that vintage is all but wrapped around the Valley we can report (with a huge sigh of relief) that our winemakers are a happy bunch. The whites were pretty much all tucked away in the winery by the end of January with some rave reviews of the quality of Chardonnay by Liz Silkman, David Hook and Gwyn Olsen (Peppertree). There was also some excitement over new varieties by Ian & Suzanne Little bringing in their first Pecorino and Albarino grapes and Keith Tulloch is over the moon with his single vineyard Semillon.
There was strange lull between the whites and the reds with a lot of nervous checking of the weather radar. Most winemakers start the reds not long after all the whites are picked but this year they just weren’t ready. Winemakers do a lot of walking in the vineyards tasting the grapes, assessing flavour and ripeness as well as the condition of the fruit. Samples are taken back to the winery for analysis of sugar, acid and colour. A lot of factors determine the decision to pick and by mid-February it all started to come together for the reds. Beautiful flavours in the reds, more reminiscent of the elegance of say 2011 and 2013 than the recent block bluster drought years of 2017 to 2019. The general consensus is the Hunter Valley has pulled a rabbit out of the hat and it’s wearing a very smart bow-tie!