After the difficulties of the 2000 harvest with unusually wet weather in some regions, 2001 is so far looking warm, dry and very early. Grapes are ripening well ahead of the appearance of distracting redgum blossom, so vines are having to be netted and there is talk of a national shortage of netting!
-There is, believe it or not, a shortage of Chardonnay in Australia. Seems all those new plantings were directed by the much reported (not least by me) swing to red wine but consumers have not abandoned Chardonnay so easily and bottlers are desperately looking for more Chardonnay grapes. Expect to see more SemChard blends again, plus renewed marketing efforts behind Semillon and SemSauv blends.
-Salinity is the Big Problem that won't go away. Australia has pulled up so much vegetation that the water table has been rising and with it dangerously high levels of salt in the irrigation water which can make vine leaves burn and completely upsets the ripening process.
-Hot (or, rather, cool) new wine regions include Orange and Canberra District in New South Wales; Beechworth and Heathcote in Victoria; Mount Benson, Robe and Wrattonbully in South Australia; Frankland and Pemberton/Manjimup in Western Australia.
-BRL Hardy has overtaken the more moribund Southcorp as market leader (so Southcorp have taken over Rosemount, shareholders reportedly clamouring for more specialist wine management at the top - though see latest stories). Their policy is to build wineries close to vineyards and encourage individualism, which seems to be more successful than the bureaucratic monolith that is Southcorp (Penfolds, Lindemans, Seppelts etc) which has made some strange decisions about marketing its recent acquisitions Coldstream Hills of Yarra Valley (being sold at bizarrely low prices), Devils Lair in WA (low key to say the least) and James Herrick in the Languedoc (no more of thoes delicious red wines). With most producers other than Southcorp, regionality is the buzzword for wines increasingly made to express a place rather than a marketing concept.
-Look out for a strange dichotomy between the Australian wines that Australians like and revere and those that Parker has written up most enthusiastically, which tend to have extremely exaggerated alcohols and everything else. Importer Dan Phillips of the Grateful Palate in southern California has done much to bring such wines to Parker's attention, sometimes buying up most of the entire production. Some disquiet has been expressed over the fact that Americans may be encouraged to regard these wines as typical of the best Australia has to offer.