THE 2011 MALTESE VINTAGE REPORT
A first-class hinge year
2011 is a vintage that is generous in colour, aromas and flavours but not in quantity. Malta’s grape harvest was light and yielded less grapes for the fourth consecutive year. There was particularly less abundance of the indigenous varieties Girgentina and Ġellewża.
In good time, wine lovers will recognise the accessibility of flawless, supple wines, whilst connoisseurs will also find fewer but fuller-bodied and more concentrated wines, especially red ones made by those few producers that have managed to keep up costly quality work in vineyards and their cellar during adverse economical times.
Generally, overall grape quality might have been very good but not always spectacular.
It is those winemakers that value their ties with contracted grape growers that have reaped a tiny but first-class crop in return.
A fair number of farmers, however, were discouraged because they felt financially alienated by other wineries that were forced to focus on their perturbing estate balance sheets instead.
It is believed that the economical downturn has further pained some wine producers to seek private cash injections locally or even overseas as to keep operations afloat beyond 2011.
This year the industry has started a modest re-grafting plan as to address the partly imbalanced partition of white and black varieties and to cater for new consumer preferences. Even more numbers of red cultivars have been earmarked to be re-grafted with white fruited varieties in 2012.
At a time that the delineation between the Old and the New World has become more difficult as well as less meaningful both qualitatively as stylistically, it is good to see that planting more of the unique indigenous varieties Girgentina and Ġellewża is being considered.
The 2011 Harvest
Following a very mild winter, a slightly cooler than usual and wetter spring without heavy rainfall and hardly any hail caused little upset.
However, the high humidity around the 8th of June, lasting several days, caused sporadic attacks of downy mildew. Where left without remedial intervention, it reduced the yield of grape vines as well as of other fruit trees. As a result, frugivorous birds caused some berry damage further reducing the size of the crop in unprotected vineyards.
Temperatures remained rather constant from the second half of June onwards throughout a dry summer until the end of August.
The maturation period was characterised by summer months slightly hotter than the norm but without any heat waves. Mean night temperatures were also slightly warmer during June and July.
At least in theory, this should have increased the metabolic rate of the overall maturation process, being more demanding on the sugar reserves. In effect it should have delayed slightly the optimum maturity time for harvesting.
Fortunately, fresh Northwest by West sea breezes kept grass temperatures relatively cool. This helped diurnal temperature variation which is vital for desirable acid and high natural sugar levels in grapes.
A listless season proceeded in quite uneventful manner and persistent high pressure with no rainfall was conducive to phenolic ripeness and clean flavours.
Although they would ideally have liked higher volumes, yet winemakers were pleased with the small clusters, tiny berries and great concentration of ripe fruit flavours.
Blessed by favourable weather, 2011 is a fine vintage in prospect: for the wine drinker, of course, but especially for those winemakers fortunate enough to have gained a competitive edge by investing more time and money in their cellar technology and vineyards as to further improve the quality of their wines.
2011 may very well prove to be a hinge year for those with rights to brag about new first-class wines for all to enjoy!
© Georges Meekers – December 2011