A very disappointing harvest
Despite the occasional exceptional red from the Barossa Valley and Coonawarra, the Margaret River was the only Australian red wine region which really performed anywhere near its best during a very disappointing 1989 grape harvest, thanks largely to the robust nature of its mature vineyards. The southern regions in the eastern states began the season with lower rainfall than expected before a February heatwave simultaneously caused vines to stress and berries to shrivel. Sugar levels shot up well in excess of flavour development, so grapes generally failed to reach full physiological ripeness. The result is a lower grade of red, deepish in colour but lacking fruit integrity and often with cooked fruit characters. The cooler regions in the south of the continent also experienced consistent rainfall from mid-December until Februarys heat, after which it became very cool again. The wines are generally very unremarkable.
While it suffered similar conditions to much of the country, the Margaret River managed to produce some excellent cabernet sauvignon and cabernet blends. A small number of Barossa reds did justice to their typical richness and style, but even these are more confection-like and less complex than usual. Coonawarra was a major disappointment, but a couple of excellent wines do beg the question of why others couldnt do likewise.
The leading Margaret River cabernet vineyards of Cullen, Cape Mentelle and Moss Wood did absolutely no harm to their reputations in 1989, while the Cabernet Sauvignon from Killerby (Geographe) and a very smoky Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon (Great Southern) from this vintage were and remain fine red wines. Coonawarras leading lights were the Parker Terra Rossa First Growth, Hardys Thomas Hardy Cabernet Sauvignon and Orlandos very restrained, cedary St Hugo Cabernet Sauvignon. Peter Lehmann turned out a couple of fine Barossa reds in the Stonewell Shiraz and Cellar Collection cabernet blend (now known as the Mentor).