Margaret River wine vintage kicks into action weeks early

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
South By South West winemaker Liv Maiorana with some of her early harvest.
Camera IconSouth By South West winemaker Liv Maiorana with some of her early harvest. Credit: Supplied

Winemakers have expressed surprise at the earliest start to Margaret River’s vintage in recent memory.

Wineries across the Capes went into action picking fruit earlier this month, with some vineyards reporting the picking season started six weeks earlier than ever before.

It was believed low rainfall during the end of 2023 and increased heat primed vines for early production.

There were also some reports the overall yield for vintage 2024 could be down, though only a few operators offered that forecast.

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Margaret River Wine Association chief executive Amanda Whiteland said it was too early to make any call.

“Chardonnay is Margaret River’s hero white variety and it also ripens the earliest,” she told the Times.

“Some Margaret River vineyards commenced harvesting some chardonnay parcels last week and many more are scheduled for this week, which is quite a bit earlier than the average start date in February.”

Howard Park Wines group vineyard manager Stephen Kirby said the early start was down to consistently warm and dry weather producing “ideal ripening conditions”.

“Margaret River has experienced above average maximum temperatures, but no heat spikes, so vines are functioning at full capacity, which is leading to potentially one of the earliest vintages,” Mr Kirby said.

“White grapes are almost ready — some early blocks are being harvested imminently — and both shiraz and cabernet are going through veraison.”

The weather had not harmed the region’s crucial marri trees, meaning bird peck was a lessened risk for vintage 2024, he said.

“Yields look moderate which should help with ripening and quality,” the viticulturist said.

“Disease pressure so far has been low, with warm dry conditions ideal.”

Deep Woods Estate winemaker Julian Langworthy noted the early start was “amazing”.

“Pretty much picking a month earlier than last year at present,” he said.

“We have only really just started, but at present our yields and quality, despite the early start, are looking pretty strong.”

Other operators noted the early start created challenging conditions for labour.

Apart from working in peak heat, several vignerons indicated they were moving away from reliance on backpacker labour in favour of professional picking teams recruited by agencies.

South By South West winemaker Liv Maiorana said unusual warmth in November and dry conditions had eased pressure on her vineyards and given the marri a welcome boost.

“However, we have noticed an increase in weevil activity in these conditions which is very difficult to deal with when you are organically farming, so that has certainly contributed to slightly lower yields across our parcels along with smaller berry sizes and smaller bunches,” she said.

“Fruit we have got in to date has had epic concentration with slightly higher sugar levels, but with higher acid levels as well, keeping it fresh.

“I’m very much looking forward to seeing how the rest of this vintage pans out because I think it’s going to be another great Margaret River vintage, but with a slightly different story.”

Stella Bella’s Luke Joliffe said his teams were going into action this week, three weeks ahead of schedule.

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