Over the past five years main stream Americans have developed a sort of love affair with Australia's wines. The reasons behind this sudden infatuation are multifaceted. One need only look toward the reasonable prices and the exceedingly over the top fruity nature of these wines to explain why the "Land Down Under" has gained such sex appeal in the wine arena. This relationship however may be coming to an abrupt end with the 2007 and now 2008 vintages. The 2007 vintage yielded such an extremely small amount that prices were driven up, merely by the principles of supply and demand. Slowly but surely, the cost affordability side of this fragile equation seems to be evaporating.
Now the reports on the 2008 growing season are in and they don't paint a pretty picture. In fact they could represent one of the proverbial final nails in the coffin. The Hunter Valley region was hit with record flooding in early February. The end result was water soaked grapes and rampant rot in the vineyards the ultimately caused 85% of the harvest to be discarded. Such a monumental loss affects both the prices and quality of the wine. In Southern Australia, the wine regions were hit with 15 consecutive days where the mercury hit 95 degree F. or higher. This type of weather produced super ripe sugar filled grapes which will turn the normal fermentation process on its ears. Finally, and probably the most devastating turn of events has been the prolonged and ongoing drought conditions in the South, particularly Langhorne Creek. Growers estimate that they have lost 3/4 of the total Cabernet Sauvignon producing acres.
Bottom line is that the 2008 vintage will be Australian winemakers most challenging to date. In fact, working with such a damaged crop could prove impossible even for Australia’s notorious "science lab" approach to winemaking. The resulting product may be too rich even for America's sweet tooth mentality toward wine. In terms of my personal preferences, I've never been a fan of Australia's "fruit bombs", and given the rough treatment Mother Nature has dished up for our Aussie friends, I doubt very highly that my taste will change in the near future.
***For more information on this topic, there is an article in Wine Spectator, the July 31, 2008 editions in the "Up Front " column.