Cathy Gowdie

Grapes can suffer in the heat.
Grapes can suffer in the heat. Photo: James Boddington

Can we assume, considering the [recent] heatwave, most Australian winemakers will have poor 2014 vintages?

In the early 1970s, while dining with American envoys, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai was asked for his opinion of the impact of the French Revolution. "It is too early to say," was Zhou's sage reply.

So the story goes but apparently it was a lost-in-translation moment and Zhou's interlocutor was actually asking about the French insurrections of 1968. Never mind: I repeat the anecdote because it's too early to make wide-ranging calls about the 2014 vintage. Australia's wine regions are so diverse in location and climate. What counts as a good year in one region may be a poor year for vineyards within a couple of hours' drive. For a lot of growers, cold and rain have been a bigger problem this season than heat.

Grapes are more susceptible to heat damage at some times in their development cycle than others.
Grapes are more susceptible to heat damage at some times in their development cycle than others. Photo: Tim White

Does excessive heat affect quality? Grapes are more susceptible to heat damage at some times in their development cycle than others and some varieties cope better so, much as I love to generalise, it's hard to.

Badly heat-affected grapes often shrivel before harvest and drop off, so don't always make their way into the final product. If they do? Accelerated ripening may lead to simpler, less complex flavours. Very ripe grapes make for higher alcohol levels, which some people love but others abhor.

At this stage I wouldn't assume much about the 2014 vintage. Indeed, every year, for every winemaker who issues upbeat early pronouncements - "best vintage yet!" - before the grapes have even been squashed, there'll be another of the Zhou Enlai persuasion who'll decline to opine until the wine has been in bottle for at least six months.