A good part of the vintage growing season happens in the prior year. For vintage 2021, the growing season was a mild spring in 2020, with reasonable but not extreme rainfall, which is excellent growing conditions for vines.
Budburst and flowering across all varieties were normal. Crops were good but not excessive and things looked promising from very early on.
The La Niña weather system created a strong cyclone season in the north of Western Australia resulting in increased rainfall and unusual conditions across the region.
November was significantly wet, double the long-term average, with 14 days of rain.
Fortunately, in December and January, the region experienced virtually no rain and warmer than average mean maximum temperatures. The cool nights allowed the vines some reprieve from the hot days.
As harvest was commencing in early February, the region saw significant rainfall. This rainfall soaked deep into the soils and was great timing for the later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon to have a drink. Warm weather and a period of high humidity (for Margaret River) followed, which increased the risk of disease pressure in some vineyards.
“Overall a vintage of extreme weather conditions. Weather conditions resulted in a lot of work in the vineyards. It was a season that we had to keep tweaking canopy structure and potentially taking some risks as the weather changed and it was hard to predict what was going to happen next.” David Moulton, Cape Mentelle, Viticulturist
Early February was very windy, and then on the 7th and 8th, there was a significant rain event that had most of the region a little bit on edge. The whites had finished veraison, so all the berries were soft, and the reds were still mid-veraison.
Marri tree blossom was moderate, therefore there was not too much bird pressure, but nets were still applied to the vines across the region.
It was quite humid for a while, which made it a bit more challenging than what the region is accustomed to. The humidity caused a bit of botrytis pressure in some vineyards and required careful fruit selection. Growers reacted with leaf plucking across the reds to improve airflow and some fruit dropping to ensure physiological ripeness was achievable.
Reds progressed nicely into Autumn with some expressive fruit, the tannins seemed to take a little longer to evolve which saw a rush at the end to take the fruit off before cyclone Seroja hit Western Australia on 11th April.
Those who put in the extra work will no doubt reap the rewards. As usual, the best vineyards will rise to the top.
Labour shortages deserve a mention. It necessitated a lot of pre-planning and forecasting by the wineries to ensure harvesting could be achieved when required. Many were affected and called on anyone available to help with the harvest. Many wineries called on their cellar door staff, stranded travellers and retirees to assist with some hand picking this year.
It seems everyone across the region rolled up their sleeves and got to work to ensure that it would be another successful vintage.
“Across the region, the vineyard teams all look a little weary but the winemakers seem to be pleasantly surprised and excited about the quality that they have received.” David Moulton, Cape Mentelle, Viticulturist
Early observations indicate that white varieties had incredible flavour at lower baume than usual and retained natural acidity. There is purity and varietal expression and all at lower potential alcohol levels. Chardonnay is looking very elegant. Sauvignon Blanc is a standout this season.
The 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon is looking great in ferment. It has a purity and aromatic profile that should progress into a wine that will age gracefully. The tannins are super polished and fine.
The 2021 yields were below the Margaret River long-term average but up 6% versus last year to 30,150 tonnes.
Image: David Moulton, Viticulturist at Cape Mentelle and the Langton's Margaret River Wine Show 2020 Viticultural Excellence Award Winner.