Embrace the 2020 vintage

By Amelia Ball

2 Feb, 2021

The 2020 vintage proved difficult for so many reasons, but the wines are proving anything but. Here, we look at just some of the standouts worth a closer look.

There are many words not fit for print that sum up last year, and chances are Australia’s wine growers and makers used all of them first. Whether it was due to dry conditions, poor fruit set, bushfires or social distancing in the throes of harvest, the 2020 vintage was incredibly challenging. But don’t believe the hype – excellent wines are rolling out of 2020 nationwide, plus some exciting anomalies that most likely won’t happen again. 

Tessa Brown and Jeremy Schmolzer of Vignerons Schmolzer & Brown in Victoria’s Beechworth lost their fruit to smoke taint last year, so they sourced from other regions. “I felt like a refugee early on, but now I feel like an explorer. You really have to make a choice to look for the positives,” Tessa says.  

By sourcing elsewhere, the pair has made a number of wines for the first time, including three small volumes from nearby Whitfield – a sylvaner, a residual-sugar riesling and a pinot grigio. “We wanted to know what it’s like to make wines with really low levels of smoke taint and we’re happy with what came through,” Tessa says. “We’ve labelled them a little differently for transparency and can’t wait to show them to people.”  
They also made a suite of syrah from Heathcote, Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula, which Tessa says are among the standouts still in barrel, as is a Yarra Valley pinot. “I’ve never touched Yarra Valley fruit before, but we’ve made a pinot that actually looks like a Yarra Valley pinot! That’s looking smart,” Tessa says. Despite the results, these wines are still destined to be one-offs. “We really do want to be people who grow their own fruit. That’s the core of who we are.”    

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Don’t be afraid you’re going to buy wine and taste smoky fruit taint. The knowledge doubles every time these fires happen and the expertise grows.

While smoke taint caused major fruit losses last year, it’s not the case for all fire-hit regions, as seen in the Adelaide Hills. Despite devastating bushfire in the region in December 2019, Halliday tasting team member Tony Love says he’s seeing a number of exciting 2020 wines. “While many producers lost their 2020 vintage to either vineyard damage or smoke taint, most of the region was unaffected, and there are many excellent wines from the vintage where fruit was sourced from outside the impact zone,” he says. 

Tony points to sauvignon blanc as a great example, particularly Shaw + Smith, as well as grüner veltliner, which is fast gaining ground in the region. Tony names pioneers Hahndorf Hill and also CRFT as two producers to seek out. The 2020 pinot gris and grigios and pinot blancs are looking good, too, he says. “Look for Sidewood in both varieties out of 2020,” Tony says. Howard Vineyard is another standout, with its 2020 unoaked chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot gris. “They also made a smashing 2020 cabernet rosé from their Howard vineyard in Nairne, away from the fire zone.” 

Shaw + Smith is one of many Adelaide Hills producers to release highlight wines from 2020.    

With so many other highlight wines coming out of 2020 from regions both near and far from the fires, there are myriad great wines to try. As Tessa says, people shouldn’t be concerned. “Don’t be afraid you’re going to buy wine and taste smoky fruit taint. The knowledge doubles every time these fires happen and the expertise grows,” she says. 

Tasting panel member Ned Goodwin, MW, is seeing some great wines roll out of McLaren Vale, while fellow team member Erin Larkin suggests 2020 proved brilliant for Western Australia across the board. “Overall, it was lower yielding – it was dry – but from what I’ve seen at shows and via samples, the wines are focused, detailed, layered and powerful, particularly 2020 Great Southern rieslings,” she says.  

This is an extract from 'Wine Resolutions' in issue #56 of Halliday magazine. Read the full story here.
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