Summer 2020

Very different to the last couple of years! 2018 and 2019 summers were dry and warm - record breaking warm. 2020 came after a very dry spring in a very dry year. Our rainfall at Saltwater River for 2019 was 469 mm, 100 mm of that falling through the spring.


cool and windy
While the Bureau officially recorded summer as warmer than average, that was mostly about the minimum temps. Apart from the odd hot day (38° on December 30), we will remember the summer as cool and, certainly for the first half, windy. The fronts kept blowing through from the west and the vineyard canopy, stunted by the cold windy spring, struggled to grow. Fruit set was at best patchy, at worst poor and we saw a lot of ‘hen and chicken’ bunches which would cause us some anxiety in March.


a late season
However, throughout the summer we were not too concerned. The dry, windy conditions ensured that mildew diseases were not a problem. We had enough water stored to see the vines through to harvest and irrigate the new block we had planted. We were, like most producers, noticing how late the season was in contrast to the previous two years when everything was early. We were more concerned with de-stocking, taking advantage of the high sheep and lamb prices to minimise our dependence on expensive supplementary feeds in the coming autumn and winter. We had conserved as much pasture as possible, not cutting any hay in light of the “dryer than normal” long term forecast. We were in our fifth consecutive “dryer than normal” year.


spared the fires
The fires which devastated the mainland states through the spring and early summer largely spared Tassie thankfully. The smoke drifting down from the mainland reminded us of the previous fire season when it was all much closer to home and we felt for all the producers who would not be able to harvest their smoke tainted fruit.


nets on
Veraison started mid-February and the last couple of weeks of the summer were spent getting nets on (is there any job less appealing in the vineyard?), mending all the new holes in them (the origin of which is a perpetual mystery) and strapping them down in anticipation of the first of the autumn gales.

We had water in our dams, small but healthy canopy and fruit set on the vines, we had fertilised and netted, what could possibly go wrong?...

Autumn 2020

“Best autumn break for 20 years” was the general consensus in much of Tasmania. The frustration of watching the summer rainstorms carefully skirt around Saltwater River and looking enviously at the green pick that subsequently appeared when we drove, well, just about anywhere it seemed, was fresh in our minds when March rolled around.

We still had plenty of water in storages to irrigate, but the fruit was looking a bit thin on the vines, confirmed when we started bunch counting.  March 2nd brought us 17 mm of rain. Four days later another 32mm in the gauge. And so it continued every week or so right through March (81 mm) and April (81.5 mm).  Our smiles turned to concern. Some of the berries started splitting. Would they dry out or would disease follow?
Disease did follow; Covid-19 made our worries over fruit seem a bit irrelevant. Lock down and business closures brought new questions. Would we be allowed to employ pickers, and would wineries be allowed to process fruit?

low yield
It all worked out in the end; the fruit quality was good although our yield was down about 50% on expectations at the beginning of the season. The poor fruit set and some splitting took its toll, but we were happy just to get it ripe and off to the winery. We heard of others that weren’t so lucky.
We finished picking the last of the Gamay on April 28th, nearly three weeks later than the previous year. It was probably a good year for low yields, with hospitality and tourism facing an uncertain future. We can only speculate how wine sales will be affected at this stage.

next season
The unseasonal weather has highlighted some potential issues that we will address. Providing some extra shelter to the exposed southern side of the vineyard has been a long-term goal. We will put some temporary measures in place for next season to mitigate cold winds that could affect fruit set.
We will ensure the vines have the trace elements they require at flowering and adjust the timing of irrigation to encourage the development of deep roots to buffer rain events late in the season. We will prune late ripening varieties earlier to encourage early development and allow more time for fruit to ripen.

Next season's going to be great!