A difficult vintage throughout all regions, producing wines of variable quality
It takes a season like 1999 to remind you how large Australia is and how diverse the outcomes facing winegrowers in different regions can be. Much of the south-eastern part of the country began with one of the hottest summers on record, which promised to ripen well the reduced crops of small bunches and berries left after a very heavy frost on October 28. Poor weather in Victoria in the New Year further reduced yields by affecting fruit set, but as the summer remained warm to hot, a string of very humid days arrived, providing first-rate conditions for botrytis and other fungal disease. South Australia copped steady rains from mid-March through Easter, leaving results in the hands of the weather gods and the ability of growers to manage their canopies in very adverse conditions. On the other side of the Nullarbor, a comparatively cool season led to the very late harvest of Margaret River cabernet and a very patchy vintage in the Great Southern.
While most South Australian reds have failed in their struggle to achieve their customary richness and ripeness the states south-eastern regions of Coonawarra, Padthaway, Wrattonbully and the Limestone Coast managed to miss most of the rain collected by the areas closer to Adelaide and should produce some very sound reds, especially from cabernet sauvignon but less likely from shiraz. It stopped raining for long enough to develop better than average richness in Hunter Valley shiraz, while the occasional pinot noir from southern Tasmania offers fine, clear varietal flavour.
Although most quality blends of red Bordeaux and Rhne varieties are still in cask at time of writing, some exceptional pinot noirs have already been released by Wantirna Estate in the Yarra Valley and Giaconda in the hills of northeast Victoria. Coldstream Hills and Diamond Valley have also made a fine early-drinking Pinot Noirs. Barrel tastings of cabernet varieties and shiraz at Cape Mentelle and Evans & Tate in Margaret River looked very promising, while cask samples of a Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon from Len Evans new Hunter Valley project of Tower Estate and Orlandos Lawsons Shiraz both impressed for their brightness and clarity of fruit.