Barossa 2016 Vintage Report (as at Friday 8 January 2016)

What are the challenges?
Barossa vineyards with good access to water, and the ability to irrigate efficiently, are looking good this year. For those without these two key ingredients, growing conditions are more challenging.

The very hot and dry December has reduced bunch weights below earlier estimates (some areas by around 10%, others possibly more), and berry expansion has been restricted by the lack of recent rain – as well as low sub-soil moisture from the dry winter.

What are people doing to mitigate the heat?

  • Those who are able to, have been irrigating their vines more. Water use in some areas is reported as being 30% higher than previous years.
  • Vineyards with mulch undervine look much healthier, and have a higher cropload, than vines with no mulch. For example, estimates for mulched vines in one Northern Barossa block are 7 tonnes per hectare, compared to unmulched vines in the same block at around 5 tonnes per hectare.
  • Some growers have applied grapevine sunscreens, some earlier than usual, which has saved berries from burning. They will apply this again if another heatwave of 40 degrees-plus is forecast.
  • Barossa growers are seeing tremendous benefits in equipping their vineyards with soil moisture monitoring. “The value in this is so high in a year like this, to know exactly what’s happening in the soils. Some growers are planning to install more soil moisture monitoring next year, saying ‘if you don’t measure it, how do you know what’s happening?’”.
  • In the Eden Valley, with no access to BIL water and no surface water in the dams, vineyards with bore water have been wholly reliant on these. One vineyard has reported two thirds of ground water allocation used so far, with irrigation times reduced from 10-day to 5-day irrigation cycles. In the same vineyard, soil temperature is currently 26 degrees, compared to 22 degrees the same time last year.

Has grape harvest already begun in some areas? If not is it close?

  • Veraison in some Chardonnay around 28 Dec suggests harvest for sparkling white grapes may start in the Barossa around 18 to 24 January. And some veraison in Shiraz from 1 to 4 January suggests some will be picked by the end of the first week in February.
  • The Barossa ripening pattern looks more traditional this year, with sub-regions ripening at different rates, compared to a very compressed ripening pattern last year. However Shiraz looks to be ahead of Semillon and Riesling – and some Cabernet Sauvignon is ahead of Shiraz, so compression seems likely.
  • One the Barossa’s earliest ripening areas, Gomersal, is looking on track to pick Shiraz around 5 February, which has been the new ‘norm’ for several years now.

How is vintage 2016 shaping up?

  • It is too early to tell but, in terms of yield, some growers are estimating yields at around one tonne per hectare above last year – which would be an improvement on the 2015 yield for Barossa Shiraz which was a very low four tonnes per hectare.

What are grape growers’ feelings?
Barossans are extremely resilient people. They have been through many tough vintages throughout 170 years and six generations of Barossa grapegrowing and winemaking history, making their way through drought, frost, heatwaves, extreme rainfall events – to name a few.

A small rainfall event soon would be a very good thing.

Nicki Robins, Viticultural Development Officer, Barossa Grape & Wine Association (in conjunction with the Barossa VitiTech Group)

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