wines of malta – 2009 vintage update

THE 2009 MALTESE VINTAGE REPORT

Malta’s 2009 vintage was still in tank at the time of writing this sneak preview which is based on the concise information provided by the Meteorological Office, the generous feedback from viticulturists and growers as well as Meekers’ findings from touring vineyards and picketing for hours on end near trucks loaded with grapes of some sort.

Reading the past for the future

Unofficial figures suggest this year has seen a fall in volume equating to at least six per cent decrease compared to last year’s. It might have come as a bit of a surprise that yields are by and large lower than last year’s rather average crop. Grape quality, in contrast, is said to range from good to very good.

All in all, the amounts are small but sufficient to satisfy demand on the domestic market for Maltese QWPSR.
One of the main reasons for the drop is the looseness of the clusters and slightly smaller grape berries this year. This is possibly a result of a less vigorous flower and fruit set for certain varieties. Vineyard teams took to the challenge to compensate for the unfortunate event that is slightly uneven berry set. They did a good job of green-bunch removal to promote even ripening.

This harvest year will be remembered, though, as on of the healthiest with few sporadic problems of (powdery) mildew occurring in few isolated blocks. Concentrated flavours thanks to smaller berry sizes for the international varieties and lighter and loose clusters barely infected by sour rot set 2009 apart as a quality vintage, especially for the reds.

Mother Nature managed to have it all work in unison to give vines and grapes the best scenario possible.

A small but swell year

Any vintage report should review the evolution of the growing cycle of the vineyards of a country or a particular region during one whole particular year starting with the care given to vines immediately after the grapes have been picked.
The winter that preceded the 2009 growing cycle was mild and wet and characterised by day and night temperatures higher than the norm. Heavy rain showers flushed out and depleted trace elements from the soil. The resting period for the vine was short. A cold snap gave way to a warm spring followed by warm summer months with a little precipitation, which is not that usual in sunny Malta. Throughout the growing and ripening cycle, diurnal temperature variation was normal producing desirable acid and high natural sugar content in grapes. The weather throughout has been generally favourable for phenolic ripeness. The 2009 vintage was gifted with superb weather and it is hard for winemakers not to pass the mark this vintage. When all shall be under cork – or screwcap – it will turn out to be a small but swell year. No doubts!

A breezy spring

Unlike in 2008, though, this year saw heavy downpours early in the vegetative part of the season which was followed by a regular pattern of precipitation. Vine growth was vigorous at first, especially for the Cabernet varieties thanks to high moisture levels in the heavier soils.
The downside was some of that rain came together with wind gusts, thunderstorms and high humidity and dull weather in April at the time of bloom which resulted in poor pollination for a number of varieties.
As a result of those two occurrences, namely vigorous vegetative growth draining reserves and uneven pollination, berry set was looser than usual, although bunch or grape cluster count appeared average.
A cooler spring, which was also wetter and windier than usual with regular amounts of precipitation, pushed the normal vintage schedule back at first. But a stable high pressure system over the central Mediterranean during mid May triggered an increase in air temperature until the 26th of the month. June, too, was warmer and drier that the climate norm and brought anticipated pick dates forward again.

A sweet summer

Summer heat waves were fewer and consequently there was hardly any damage from sunburn. Heat pikes were few and had little effect on Malta’s coastal vineyards.
Vines were relatively disease free and there weren’t any real problems throughout the grapes’ ripening period. With the exception of a few days in mid July – with temperatures rising to as high as 41.6 °C – air temperatures were not extremely high.
More importantly, although they weren’t any cooler than the norm, summer nights weren’t too warm either, which provided good conditions for the grapes to reach their maximum level of sugar and ripeness while retaining acidity and aromatic qualities, which is especially important in the case of white wine grapes. For the red varieties, the paced maturation accompanied by moderate temperatures allowed an extended harvest and long hang times.

Crush time

The first white grapes were harvested early in the last week of July and were mainly destined for the production of small amounts of sparkling wine. The harvest started in earnest with the picking of ripe Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes in the second week of August. The last few of a whole gamut of white and red wine grape varieties to be picked were Cabernet Sauvignon alongside the indigenous grape varieties Girgentina and Gellewza which reached the wineries last in the second week of September.

The wines

2009 wines from white wine varieties should be fresh, fruity and fragrant thanks to the absence of too high summer temperatures which generally tend to reduce the potential flavour intensity. The red grape varieties ripened to their full phenolic potential making excellent raw material for rosé and red wines.
Judging from a tasting of some tank samples, mature tannin were achieved whilst retaining lively acidity and fruity freshness without excessive alcohol levels. This year’s reds shouldn’t display any of the green flavours and aromas associated with the lack of maturity.
Cabernets and Merlot, the grape I have whispered to have qualities to make a mark in Malta, are the varieties to look out for on labels – more so than higher yielding Syrah.#

The answer my friend…

The 2009 vintage isn’t a bumper crop to say the least. In fact, the harvest has turned out smaller than the 2008 crop which was rather average in size. What could be the reasons for this year’s lower productivity?

© Georges Meekers

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