Hunter Valley wine harvest earlier than expected but 2018 vintage looks good

It has been an out of the ordinary wine vintage, but it’s looking like a good one to Agnew Wines chief winemaker Jeff Byrne.

“It’s been a little fast and furious,” he said. “You stop and think ‘what just happened’.”

Months of dry weather meant the grapes were ready to come off the vines several weeks earlier than usual. This year’s harvest started on January 8 – one of the earliest Mr Byrne has seen in his 20 years in the industry.

“It’s left a few winemakers and vineyard managers scratching their heads,” he said. “It’s pretty rare to be picking shiraz in January.”

“Because it’s so early people are second guessing thinking ‘is it right’?”

But if a similar situation in 2013 was anything to go by, Mr Byrne said he was confident of a top-notch vintage.

“[In 2013] we brought a press load of chardonnay off on the 6th,” he said.

“Then we stopped and didn’t pick for a week.”

How did that block turn out?

“Sensational,” Mr Byrne says.

And signs from this year’s crop point towards another wonderful year.

“It looks pretty good,” he said. “I’m pretty excited about what’s in the tank now.

“It’s a very different year but what’s in front of us looks exciting.”

While more favourable than rain or hail, the hot weather did bring some challenges.

Mr Byrne said days above 35 degrees had the same effect on the grapes as they did on humans.

“The plants are pretty uncomfortable,” he said. “They start to hurt a little bit.”

But the vineyard, along with several others in the Hunter Valley, made use of sunscreen designed for grapes, which offered some protection to stop the grapes from burning.

At Agnew, all of the whites have come off including the semillon, chardonnary, gewurztraminer and verdelho.

Picking is also well-advanced with the reds – shiraz, tempranillo, merlot and cabernet sauvignon – and is expected to be done by the end of this week, about 2-3 weeks ahead of the usual schedule.

Mr Byrne said he was not the sort of person to sprout the “best year ever” line but said this year was looking comparable to 2003 and 2013, both of which he called “excellent vintages”.

This story Ready or not, harvest is coming in hot first appeared on The Maitland Mercury.

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