Spring 2004 was a merciful change from the preceding year. Only few frosts were encountered, we flew the helicopters as protection only three times, and no damage to the flowers was sustained. Once again the season was wet right up to December, but unlike the previous year, conditions were consistently warm and gave rise to explosive growth, big canopies and very good conditions for flowering. These conditions promoted potentially large berry sizes for later in the season and combined with the continuing good conditions for flowering, set the stage for consistently solid cropping levels. The unseasonably warm December temperatures were also expected to boost phenolic ripeness at harvest.
Through January our staff spent many extra hours random sampling for crop estimates and then thinning fruit where necessary to maintain cropping at levels which would sustain quality. Unseasonal winds through January and February caused some canopy damage, and these were followed in mid-February by rains and record flooding which, combined with enormously strong winds, upturned trees, removed roofs, broke vineyard posts and lifted end assemblies. In some of the region's vineyards, whole rows of vines ended up on the ground. If global warming is to be signalled by weather extremes as the experts say, it has definitely arrived!
The weather turned cold and cloudy from then on, and February was declared the coldest on record. We launched into repeated leaf-plucking and management of the regrowth to compensate for the worrying lack of sunshine. To our surprise, vintage arrived earlier than expected and with dry conditions for picking Pinot noir and Chardonnay - both of which showed good flavours and outstanding acid balance. Our impression across all varieties was similar, and we expect the hallmark of the vintage to be distinctively varietal and approachable wines which mature a little earlier than some vintages because of the large berry size at harvest.