2008 WA Vintage Report
Margaret River and Great Southern wine regions of Western Australia experienced an outstanding vintage in 2008. After a cool to mild winter and intermittent top up rains, Spring arrived prematurely resulting in early bud burst. Cool, wet conditions and strong prevailing winds made it hard going in the vineyards. Some of the leaves were spliced and potential yields were reduced. By November the weather pattern changed resulting in a long extended period of warm dry temperatures. Flowering and fruit set was excellent. Warm to very hot conditions arrived around mid-December accelerating the growing season. The Windy dry conditions over summer allowed the fruit to ripen without any disease pressure. However some vineyards did use top up irrigation to keep the vines in balance. Many vineyards were netted towards the end of the growing season. It was a poor year for Marri blossom resulting in significant bird pressure leading up to harvest.
The cool nights and warm days allowed the berries to ripen perfectly with beautiful fruit definition, flavour development, balanced acidities and tannin ripeness. Many winemakers preferred to walk their vineyards and pick on taste rather than ‘numbers’. Harvesting began in mid February, but most of the reds were picked during March and even into early April. Without the pressure of rain, picking was more protracted and orderly than usual. This year, many wineries used sorting machines for the first time to pick out stems, petioles, leaves and matter other than Grape (Mog!). This has had a major impact on flavour and overall tannin quality. Many winemakers are excited about the overall classicism of the vintage. Steve James, the highly articulate viticulturalist, at Voyager Estate commented that some of his fruit was the best ever seen. Mike Peterkin – not one for hyperbole – said that 2008 is a very impressive vintage, a good all round year for both whites and reds. Many of the winemakers have likened 2008 to 2005 and 2001. While the 2007s are generously proportioned wines, the 2008s will be more refined and classically structured.
The 2008 Great Southern Vintage enjoyed a similarly long warm and dry growing season. Hot weather towards the tail end of the growing season accelerated baumé levels, but intermittent rainfall in April, cooled down the canopies and added much needed soil moistures. Normally this might lead to berry burst and disease pressure. The top-up rainfall, however, allowed the fruit to reach optimum tannin/phenolic ripeness and prevented grape shrivel. The Cabernet Sauvignons arrived in perfect condition. The use of sorting tables allowed the winemakers to focus on achieving pristine fruit quality. Tony Davis of Howard Park described the vintage as 'text book'. John Durham at Plantagenet was also impressed by the personality of the vintage.
Margaret River and the Great Southern have experienced two outstanding vintages in a row. The 2008s are generally more refined, classical and elegant than the 2007s. They are a brilliant pigeon pair, much like the much praised 2003 and 2005 Bordeaux vintages. This is another great Western Australian Vintage. Indeed, judging by the wines in barrel, both Margaret River and The Great Southern have made some of the very best Australian wines in 2008.
Andrew Caillard MW