Erratic conditions reduced yields and dramatically compromised quality
Despite a perfect lead-up to summer and emerging expectations that the record levels of quantity and quality set in 1996 might even be bettered, erratic conditions thereafter reduced yields and dramatically compromised quality. Yields were never likely to be high after the very cool 1996 ripening season, which promoted very low bud fruitfulness. Spring had been healthy, soil moisture levels were adequate after a very wet winter, but the early to mid stages of the growing season were punctuated by rains which then gave way to an extremely long, hot, dry summer in January and February, even by Australian standards. In some warmer regions this caused greatly accelerated sugar ripeness well in advance of ripe fruit flavours, while in others it had the negative impact of actually slowing ripeness, as vines simply shut up shop in a bid to survive the heat. A cooler March and steadily warm April saved the day for several regions, but by then it was too late for many vineyards.
The best 1997 Australian reds tended to come from the cooler regions like the Yarra Valley, the Pyrenees, Heathcote and Margaret River. Pinot noirs from the cool Victorian regions of the Mornington Peninsula, Geelong and Macedon can be exceptional. South Australia had the worst of the conditions and makers in the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Clare Valley generally struggled to make wines of their usual ripeness. Typical of many are an unusual combination of vegetative under-ripe and porty over-ripe flavours in the same wine. The southeast of South Australia fared particularly poorly, especially Coonawarra, most of whose reds fall well below its average benchmark.
Since it wasnt much of a shiraz year in the warmer regions, the best examples came from cooler vineyards like Dalwhinnie and Taltarni (Pyrenees), Clonakilla (Canberra), Yering Station (Yarra Valley) and Craiglee (Sunbury). Other fine shirazes made despite the climatic difficulties are Tim Adams The Aberfeldy from Clare, Mamre Brook and Penfolds inaugural RWT (Barossa Valley) and Rosemount Estates Mountain Blue from Mudgee. Petaluma defied the odds with an exceptional Coonawarra Merlot and Coonawarra red blend. Some first-rate Mornington Peninsula pinot noir was made by Main Ridge Estate, Stoniers and Paringa Estate, while Bannockburn (Geelong), Bindi (Macedon), Yeringberg (Yarra Valley), Bass Phillip (Gippsland) and Ashton Hills (Adelaide Hills) performed equally well with this variety.