Here at Balnaves, we have a comprehensive list of the individual vintage conditions and evaluations in Coonawarra since 1990.
For evaluations of each wine by vintage by our Winemaker, Pete Bissell please refer to Our Wines. We hope they assist you with your decision making. Happy drinking!
Big winter rains 890mm (instead of 566mm average) flushed the landscape and recharged the aquifers prior to budburst. This has been the wettest winter since 1989 according the S.E. drainage board, setting the vines up really well for summer. However, the spring budburst and phenological development was delayed with cold conditions carrying on into summer, with very cool night time temperatures slowing both sugar and tannin development. Vintage started on the 3rd of March with Chardonnay and we crushed our last Cabernet Sauvignon on the 3rd of May making this one of the longest vintages we can remember.
Whites came off early with good natural acidities and bright flavours, followed by a wait for reds to come up to baume. We picked vineyards as they came flavour ready and picked a lot of fruit in the 13.0s rather than 14.0s, and we saw tannin profiles similar to 2004.
In a cool year like 2017 our best vineyards on better soils and topography were able to ripen earlier and by Easter, were harvested in excellent condition. We were able to do long macerations on our best parcels, again this year. It was also an advantage to have the majority of our vineyard planted to Reynella selection, the earliest ripening of all Cabernet clones/selections.
The late ripening and a series of regular rains during summer, challenged our vineyard and winery teams and meant some, particularly shiraz vineyards, took up the water and had trouble ripening, with serious rain (the Break) coming the week after Easter and continuing. We decided not pick two of our four Shiraz blocks this year, but we picked all our other vineyards and had all Balnaves fruit in before the break.
The flavours and style of this year’s wines are strongly reminiscent of 2004, another late ripening year that produced wines that have aged superbly. At this stage we expect to make all our wines this year, including the Tally, but will assess our Shiraz that we did pick at our post vintage tasting.
Pete Bissell, May 2017.
Overall the vintage is very solid with great colour, good fruit intensity and ripeness. The fruit was clean and hung well compensating for the compression of vintage. Whites came with good natural acidities this year and show a lot of freshness and tang, with fine fruit flavours.
The reds all have outstanding colour, facilitated by a very homogeneous veraison and small berry size this year combined with milder ripening conditions later in vintage. Interestingly Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot have all performed well this year, Merlot in particular does not like seasons that are cool or too hot and generally only performs well in the milder years. The wines are medium bodied with good fruit definition and are reminiscent of the 2012 vintage. Coonawarra definitely benefited again from the cooling influence of the Bonney Upwelling in 2016, allowing longer hang time and a better photosynthetic environment later in the season, particularly for Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.
Another very good vintage in a run of good vintages since 2012.
Vintage 2015 started with good rain falls in winter up until August, but subsequently we experienced dry conditions all through spring and early summer. A big dump of rain fell in January freshening up the vines after the long dry season, but this was the only significant rain of the growing season. Temperatures were generally cool running up to a single hot spell of 2 days around Christmas hitting 40 C then followed by cooler weather with very cold nights, right through to harvest.
Many regions experienced very early vintages in Australia in 2015 and budburst was indeed early, however Coonawarra was cooled down and ripening slowed by its proximity to the Southern Ocean and cooling onshore winds. A phenomenon known as the “Bonney upwelling” occurs along the limestone coast where very cold water from deep in the Southern ocean wells up along the coast keeping water temperatures low and cooling on shore winds. Night time temperatures were as low as 4 - 5 C during late January and February dramatically slowing ripening and pushing our harvest period back to late March and the first 3 weeks of April, very close to long term average timing.
Cool weather during flowering again reduced fruit set and yields were down, with noticeably smaller berry sizes this year particularly noticeable in Shiraz, but also in Cabernet and Merlot. This year we picked the entire harvest using berry sorting technology on our picking bins, removing unwanted stalks, petioles, leaf etc, having trialed various units for the last 3 years.
The wines are brightly coloured with lovely fresh dark fruit aromas and perfumed aromatics typical of vintages with even mild temperatures. Tannins are delicate and refined, giving the wines a very elegant and perfumed quality. Vintage temperature dynamics were very similar to 2014, except for hotter temperatures for longer in January in 2014. Both look to be very good vintages in Coonawarra.
Vintage 2014 started with good winter rains and a full recharge of the aquifers and complete soil flushing, setting the vines up for a good start to the season. However weather remained cool during the start of the season and was cold during flowerings, which lead to a reduced set and spread set. This resulted in crops being down, approximately half of a normal year.
January and February brought an unprecedented three heat waves, however a big dump of rain before this and the persistence of cool nights moderated the effects of this heat and the vines came out in very good shape.
Following this heat the season turned cool again and we saw a long slow ripening finish to the season with vintage starting with Chardonnay mid-February followed by a 2 week break between whites and reds, then final fruit coming in during the first few days of May. Coonawarra miraculously missed the heavy rains that swept across most of SA and Southern Victoria in the last few weeks of vintage, with the cold fronts passing either above or below our region, leaving us with a few mms falling here and there.
White wines look delicate but ripe in flavour profile, while red wines are densely coloured with deep fruit flavours and medium bodied tannins. They will be elegant wines structure wise, but the Cabernets in particular have beautiful “just ripe” elderberry and mulberry fruit typical of cooler years and remind me a lot of the of 2004s. We have been incredibly lucky with the weather this year and fruit has benefited from extended hang time, due to the cooler dry weather in March and April. This will be a very good vintage for Coonawarra.
Pre-season saw reasonable winter rains and a cooler start to the year, with phenology on long term averages. Particularly cool nights were experienced leading up to fruit set.
Set was even and crops in general light to medium, slightly better than 2012, but not by much, leading to shortages in Cabernet Sauvignon. One of the main drivers however was the lack of rainfall, with the growing season from November on being exceptionally dry and the viticulture challenge being to maintain good healthy canopies without causing vigour issues.
January and late February saw some brief hot spells, that brought vintage start forward to 17thFebruary on Chardonnay, 3 weeks earlier than long term average. Fruit flavours in chardonnays are very good with good natural acid balances.
Vintage stretched out from February to May making this one of the longest vintages we have done. As usual we handpicked parcels for The Tally and used the Pellenc Selectiv Harvester on one block as a trial.
Wines are showing fantastic colours with medium body and flavours ranging from just ripe with some seaweed/ herbal elements to very ripe. Similar to 2012 tannin ripeness is slightly behind typical. Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot are the standout varieties.
Overall quality I would say is very good, with long macerations going full term on skins and plenty of options for the Tally in oak.
Very good winter rains set up an excellent start to the season, but poor weather during flowering and the hangover from 2011 poor weather during bud initiation affected set reducing yields down to 0.8-1.8t/acre particularly in Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Chardonnay and Merlot yields were better with 2.5-3.5t/acre crops.
An early short heat spell brought on Chardonnay and Shiraz very early, with Chardonnay picking starting on the 20th February the earliest we have ever picked. This was followed by mild conditions with cool nights that gave the rest of the vintage time to catch up with sugar ripeness. The balance of vintage took place in excellent Indian summer weather conditions and fruit obtained a better balance, with no disease pressure.
Reds look to have deep colours and nice, not too ripe flavour profiles with more medium body structure. Tannin ripeness was definitely delayed and while tannins show a little more astringency than ideal, similar to 2004 they should balance out with oak treatment and time.
Merlot and Cabernet Franc have performed well this vintage, testimony to the milder vintage conditions. We anticipate we will be able to make small volumes of reserve wines, and that these will show good cellaring potential.
Good winter rainfalls in winter 2010, followed on from good winter rains in 2009, recharging the aquifers. This became somewhat of too much of a good thing when rain continued in regular intervals through summer and into autumn 2011.
Unprecedented incidence of downy mildew and powdery mildew, followed by botrytis, put our vineyard staff under intense pressure to maintain protection of canopies and fruit.
Vintage began with Chardonnay with high natural acids and low pHs. These have produced fine elegant Chablis style wines. Red fruit followed with lower baumes than normal 11.5 -12.5 for much of the vintage with a jump in baume at the end.
Flavours however were riper than the baumes suggested. Disease issues caused picking of many varieties and some vineyards were not picked at all notably Shiraz and Merlot.
Our best blocks on shallower soils have produced better wines as usual and our focus was squarely on Cabernet Sauvignon, with resultant wines being more in the old Coonawarra Claret style with lowish alcohols and medium weight and structure.
Selective harvesting of our blocks and careful attention to the condition of fruit has produced fine bright wines with cooler vintage aromas of violets, blackberry, blackcurrant flower, together with some seaweed, olive, mint and leafy characters.
We reduced our long macerations to 15-18 days on skins and have reduced our new oak input this year to produce a more delicate Old Coonawarra style this vintage.
Excellent winter rain in 2009 set the scene for a very good 2010 vintage. While the total amount of rain that fell was on long term average, it fell in solid blocks, filling the swamps in the region and percolating through into the underground aquifer.
November saw an early heat wave during flowering and produced a light set in late ripening varieties particularly Cabernet Sauvignon.
The overall season was warm and mild with regular small rains, keeping the vines fresh.
Harvest started very early with handpicking Chardonnay on the 25th of February with most reds coming in during March. The winery was exceptionally busy during March with the last Balnaves fruit coming in on the 7th April, just before a break in the season and significant rain, which brought a rapid and abrupt end to vintage in the region.
Quality looks very good to excellent, with fantastic colour and bright fruit flavours. Tannins were a little behind in maturity but are balancing out in wood. The wines are solid without being big and show good fruit- tannin balance. We did a lot of long maceration on our better parcels and these responded well to time on skins.
Winter rains were again well below average for the winter of 2008 leading up to vintage 2009. Crops were slightly below average and bud burst again very early 2-3 weeks ahead of average timing.
Once again in 2009 we had a heat wave of approximately a weeks duration in late January/early February, but in 2009 this came earlier than in 2008, as veraison was just starting. Shiraz in particular didn't like this heat and any berries that had started veraison were shriveled and fell off. Fortunately most of the berries had not started veraison and survived in good condition.
The heat wave delayed vintage back to average timing and we started vintage in early March on Chardonnay and picked almost all of our reds during April.
Apart from the heat wave the season was in-fact quite cool and the wines reflect this with lovely just ripe elderberry and mulberry flavours in the reds and lighter tannin structures than previous years. Interestingly the heat spell did cause some nutrient deficiencies again this year, even in low baume musts. However our experience from 2008 allowed us to better manage the heat this year.
Having spent more than 6 months in oak now and finishing malos the 2009 Chardonnays look fresh and gentle in style and the reds are settling down to show lovely perfumed fruit and again gentle tannins and mouth-feel but with nice intensity and complexity and character.
Cabernet Sauvignon again did better than other varieties under these conditions and we have some super premium parcels that received a long maceration and are now in oak.
we received a very dry winter again without normal winter rains, however we did get 200mm of late winter rain preceding budburst. Spring brought several frosts, which caused damage in a small area, but the frosts were restricted to low lying areas and were limited to a short period unlike last years 5 weeks of widespread frost. Those vines affected this year had time to recover and produced a crop.
Flowering was early by about 2-3 weeks and warm dry conditions prevailed during most of the growing season, necessitating regular careful irrigation to keep the vines healthy and photosynthesizing.
Vintage started early with a similar timing to 2007 with chardonnays coming with very nice natural acid balance and baumes in the 12.0 -12.5 range.
We picked most of the reds late in March and early in April at very good ripeness and we have produced intense wines with fantastic colour and ripe flavours but also with ripe tannins. They are not big wines as one might expect in a hot year but medium bodied with good balance and perfume.
In the winery we did a lot of barrel fermentation this year, the reds fermented more slowly than normal and we transferred them into oak at pressing and allowed them to finish in oak at their own rate.
We were able to do long macerations 25-30 days on skins with our best vineyards as normal and these wines responded well to the extended time on skins. They are now all pressed and in new oak settling down and doing malo-lactic fermentation.
Overall, as they settle down the 2008 vintage wines look to be very very good, lovely ripe perfumed wines with medium body, lovely balance and soft tannins, similar in style perhaps to 2006.
2007 was a very dry winter without normal winter rains preceded budburst. Spring brought a series of frosts (approx 35), with 4 very severe frost events during September, which burnt 70% of Coonawarra vineyard, leaving 20% untouched (which was under frost protection), and approximately 10% partially frosted.
Producers lost varying amounts of fruit depending on their respective areas under sprinkler frost protection. Windfans were largely ineffective against the large masses of cold air that formed in Spring. These were the most severe frosts in living memory.
Balnaves lost 90% of fruit from Balnaves vineyard but fortunately our best cabernet sauvignon vineyard, the Dead Morris Block and our best Chardonnay block were both protected by sprinklers.
A warm very dry growing season produced the earliest start to vintage on record. Similar to vintage 2006, some small rains and 2 weeks of cooler weather mid vintage slowed down sugar accumulation and allowed flavour and tannin ripeness to catch up in late March early April when we were able to pick well balanced fruit.
At this early stage quality in these unfrosted blocks is surprisingly good with ripe fruit characters and soft tannins and elegant structures, with potential to produce reserve wines.
2006 was very early with reds being harvested in March and in some cases wineries finishing vintage in March.
Heat and water stress through the growing season contributed to the early picking with budburst only a week or so early. Yields have been exceptionally low especially in Cabernet Sauvignon many blocks around 1-1.5 tonne /acre.
Rain mid vintage put vines back on a more normal timing and very good fruit was taken later in vintage with the same baumes but better fruit depth and tannin ripeness - a vintage in two halves.
Wine quality looks solid with overall very good quality but volumes will be limited with Cabernet Sauvignon producing the best wines.
Fruit similar in many ways to the 2005 vintage, more mid weight wines but with very good fruit density and length.
Early year where baumes were quite high when tannins and flavours were eventually ripe. A lot of shrivelled fruit. However good flavours and tannin.
Extremely late vintage where tannin ripeness was delayed, wines are middle weight but with good fruit and tannin structure similar to 1994 in many ways. Solid vintage.
Early dry vintage with light crops due to poor set in 2002. Wines had a lot of water stress and ripened early due to light crops. Wines are solid but more earthy and complex flavours, rather than fruity. No Balnaves reds released.
Poor set lowest yields on record combined with a very late year. Wines are unusual in structure. The Cabs retain some leafy notes, while Shiraz was stronger. No Tally made in 2002.
Cool classic year crops were thinned to get balance but nice season and very good wines good depth of fruit and tannins. Strong year at the top end. Tally made.
Very hot vintage, low yields due to poor set, super ripe flavours in wines and soft tannins. Drinking well early but appear to be developing well. Tally made.
Excellent classic year similar to the 2001 but with stronger tannin structure. Deep fruited wines that are going well. While looking dark and closed should continue to age well. No Tally made.
Hot year with big tannins and big baumes. Similar year to 1990, very ripe and very big wines with much riper flavour profile than usual for Coonawarra. Appearing to develop faster than 1997 or 1999.
Cool year with late ripening and rain during harvest which caused some problems. Wines show typical cool vintage aromas of black olive and leaf but are aging well and look better with time.
Cooler year again with rain during vintage causing earlier picking than desirable. Still wines are solid and aging well, drinking well now and probably won't improve.
Most difficult vintage of the 1990's, with early break rain and disease pressure. Limited wines released but still holding on.
Cool season later ripening but with good fruit, and tannins. Same cooler season flavours and fruit starting to fade in these wines now.
Dry season but similar to 2003 Produced austere wines with early complex flavours and harder tannin structures, most are passed now.
Limited wines made due to early break and rain during vintage. Most are passed their best.
Great year strong wines, rich flavours and tannins. Now are mature wines from an excellent vintage and are complex and holding on. Try and drink up.
Hot year with rich opulent wines still holding on and looking good as old wines. Time to drink these wines, now.