Early Vintage in Great Southern

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Mount Barker. Photo: Burch Family Wines

By Fergal Gleeson

Vintage 2020 will be remembered as the earliest harvest on record with exceptional fruit quality thanks to warm sunny weather early in the summer months and below average rainfall. That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news is that yields were down, which means there will be less wine made and thus less of the good stuff for us to drink.

The Great Southern Wine Region is the largest mainland wine region in Australia and one of the remotest. Albany it’s largest town is 4 and half hours drive from Perth. The region still feels undiscovered.

Given the size of the region there is a great diversity in wine styles from full bodied Shiraz in warmer vineyards to delicate Rieslings in cooler sites.

Unusually for Australia the region is divided into designated sub regions. Plantings started in Mount Barker and spread to Frankland River, Albany, Denmark, and Porongurup, each with its unique climate and soils that produce distinctive wines.

Mount Barker

Mount Barker is the site of the original vineyard planted in the South West in 1965. It is prime territory for award-winning wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. The vines experience warm days and cooling nights and, although often low yielding, they produce high-quality grapes.

This creates elegant and complex fruit, which shows fine tannins and incredible length. Other key varietals of the area include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.

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Photo: Plantagenet Wines

Luke Eckersley, Plantagenet Wines (Mount Barker)
The Great Southern produced one of the earliest vintages ever with Chardonnay picked in the first week of February and Riesling by the end of the second week. The region had near perfect climatic growing conditions, low disease and bird pressure, which allowed the production of exceptional quality fruit across all varieties, although yields were down the quality will be one to remember.

Guy Lyons, Forest Hill Vineyard, (Mount Barker)
Yields across the vineyard were very low leading to small berries and bunches with incredible concentration of flavour. Our Rieslings have a fantastic balance of acidity and depth of flavour. Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are looking very strong at this stage, the small berries helping to build very vibrant and intense colours.

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Galafrey Chardonnay grapes. Photo: Galafrey Wines

Kim Tyrer, Galafrey Wines (Mount Barker)
Vintage was solid, volume was down but the quality is exceptional. It was a difficult vintage with the onset of COVID-19 which kept us distracted.

Clinton Gilbert, Gilbert Wines (Mount Barker)
In what was a very dry season, yields were low. Fruit quality was still high. It was also an incredibly early start and finish to the vintage. We were finished vintage at Gilberts on the 8th March. Six to seven weeks earlier than normal!

Frankland River

Frankland River is the most widely planted subregion with 1,600 hectares under vines.

Frankland River fine wine region grows a diverse range of grapes. The standout varieties are Riesling and Shiraz supported by Cabernet Sauvignon and well-suited whites, including Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc that are fast finding favour.

Hunter Smith, Frankland Estate (Frankland River)
The trend throughout is that the dry winter and warm dry spring had a greater effect on yield than many anticipated resulting in, on early indication, a 20 per cent decline on average. The core varietals through the region, Shiraz and Riesling, were strong performers.

Craig Grafton, Ferngrove Wines (Frankland River)
Vintage 2020 will be remembered as the earliest harvest on record with great fruit quality. The growing season started warm and very dry.  Riesling is a stand-out variety with wonderful acidity and minerality. The colour of the reds has been amazing with great intensity.


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Sunset over vineyard Singlefile Wines, one of Great Southern’s leading producers. Photo: Singlefile Wines

The first grapevine plantings in Denmark were at Mt Shadforth Road in 1974. These were followed by further early plantings of Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon at Tinglewood in 1976.

Denmark’s vinous reputation is becoming more acclaimed with principal varieties including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc thriving and red Cabernet blends and Riesling also performing well.

Winemakers are showing a developing interest in producing sparkling wines of distinction.

Dr Steve Hall, Rockcliffe Winery (Denmark)
Very good quality but a small tonnage. The small quantity will allow us to focus on making really great wines in the winery during the next two years.


Porongurup offers a range of quality grapes and wines that have been consistently awarded over the years. A Mediterranean climate and long ripening season produces exceptional quality fruit with intense flavours.

Varieties include Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, but its Riesling is a particular hero.

Eugene Harma, Ironwood Estate Wines (Porongurup)
The moderate to warm daytime temperatures with cool nights developed great flavours in an earlier than normal vintage pick.

Duke Ranson, Duke’s Vineyard (Porongurup)
Drought produced our lowest yield ever, but with intense fruit characters. They’ll make beautiful wines, but very little of them, so the 2020 vintage will be a very a precious liquid.



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Oranje Tractor grapes. Photo: Krysta Guille

Albany produces wine in a broadly Mediterranean climate featuring wet cool winters and warm dry summers with a cooling sea breeze off the Southern Ocean.

The daily temperature range is minimal and moderate levels of humidity during summer reduce stress on the vines and assist ripening.

Both white and red varieties grow strongly and established varieties include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz.

Pamela Lincoln, Oranje Tractor Organic Farm (Albany)
Despite the warm season, the yields were low due to the unusually dry start. However, the quality of the grapes harvested were exceptional and all ripened very early.

We’ll have to wait until next year of course for the first white wines to be released from this vintage. But of course zesty 2019 Porongurup Riesling or rich and powerful 2016 Frankland River Shiraz are good to go!

For more information, visit www.greatsouthernwine.org.au

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