Vintage in McLaren Vale can begin as early as the start of February in early ripening varieties such as Chardonnay and is usually completed by the end of April. Vintage is the most important time of year in the winemaking calendar, and Vintage 2022 is currently underway in McLaren Vale. Wineries are abuzz with activity, with all hands-on deck picking grapes to be made into premium 2022 McLaren Vale wine.
McLaren Vale has a strong tradition to celebrate the commencement of harvest. The annual McLaren Vale Bell Ringing Ceremony heralds the beginning of a new vintage. It’s a special event allowing winemakers and cellar staff from around the region to get together for one last time before vintage kicks off in earnest. The Bushing Monarchs have the honour of ringing the Angelus Bell at Wirra Wirra Wines. This is inspired by the European tradition where church bells ring out and all would know that was the time to start picking. Watch footage of the 2022 Bell Ringing Ceremony here.
What does vintage mean?
For new wine drinkers who might not be familiar with the term, a wine vintage is simply the year in which the grapes were picked to make a wine. If a wine does not have a declared vintage, or it states NV (Non Vintage) it means it was created from a blend of different years. Did you know that around 80% of plantings in McLaren Vale are dedicated to red wine grapes? Find out more about our wine production here.
What affects the quality of a vintage?
Optimal weather conditions leading up to vintage, and during the vines’ growing season, are pivotal to how the year’s harvest transpires. Different weather conditions, especially rainfall and heat, affect different grape varieties vastly. For instance, a particularly hot or dry growing season will be great for some grape varieties, while not so great for others. This then affects the grape’s quality, which in turn influences the quality of the vintage itself. Overall, McLaren Vale enjoys warm dry summers, moderate winters, with winter-dominated rainfall, low relative humidity, and relatively high evaporation.
How to know which grapes to pick first?
Producers in McLaren Vale will consider grape ripeness, sugar, acidity, and tannin levels, and measure these to determine when certain varieties are ready to pick first. Typically, the southernmost point of our region will ripen first with harvest dates occurring later, travelling in a north-easterly direction from Aldinga through to Blewitt Springs.
What happens during harvesting?
Generally, grapes for sparkling and white wines are the first to be harvested as they reach maturity first. Less than 20% of grapes grown in McLaren vale are white varieties, meaning vintage starts slow, with just a few harvesters visible in the region. A few weeks later, as the red varieties mature, the real fun begins!
After harvesting, it is the winemakers turn to shine and work their magic. McLaren Vale grape growers and winemakers have a proud history of sustainable winegrowing. This year's vintage will see the highest ever number of certified producers in the region, under the Sustainable Winegrowing Australia Program.