A first look by Wine Spectator at the vintage reports from the southern hemisphere, with eyewitness reports from growers and winemakers…
Australia and New Zealand

The 2011-2012 growing season produced lower yields in New Zealand and much of Australia. Most winemakers made less wine, but of better quality. On Australia’s east coast, however, monsoons arrived right in the middle of harvest.

Australia (excerpt)
The 2012 vintage could be a return to normal for southeastern Australia’s winemakers following the wet and challenging 2011 harvest, which produced grapes with low sugar levels. Vintners finished harvesting their grapes in mid-April and are excited about the potential quality of the vintage despite a smaller-than-average crop. Many are reporting good concentration and color in both their reds and white wines that are now in barrel.
One of the main themes of the vintage was low yields throughout southeastern Australia and across most varieties. The Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences reported that the crop could be the lowest in half a decade.
The season started with cool weather, which delayed bud development and affected fruit set. A mild spring with some beneficial rain and a warm, dry summer with few heat spikes followed. The moderate weather allowed the grapes to develop slowly.
The vintage was not without its challenges, especially for growers on Australia’s eastern seaboard. In March, they faced substantial rains and flooding during harvest. Over the course of seven days, monsoon weather dropped nearly 12 inches of rain over parts of Central New South Wales, including Orange and Hunter Valley, and Riverina farther to the south. Homes and wineries were flooded, and botrytis became an issue in the vineyards. Fortunately, winemakers had picked the majority of their fruit before the rains hit.
Vineyards farther south in Victoria dodged the worst of the wet. In the Yarra Valley, the growing season was long and slow with an Indian summer. South Australia, which includes the growing regions of Barossa, McLaren Vale and the Limestone Coast, didn’t experience the same weather extremes. In Barossa, vintners reported an easy harvest with near ideal weather conditions. However, overall yields were down by almost 20 percent

New Zealand (excerpt)
For most vintners, 2012 was one of the coolest growing seasons in New Zealand’s recent history, with low yields and a delayed, rushed harvest. But sunny skies at harvest time turned out to be a saving grace.
A cooler than average December and January affected fruit set in much of New Zealand, especially Marlborough, where half of the country’s grapes are grown, resulting in lower yields.
Growers report that yields are down between 10 to 40 percent depending on the site. A vintage survey from the New Zealand Winegrowers suggests the overall vintage size is down 18 percent from 2011. But small crops and tiny berries typically result in wines of concentration.
Summer never seemed to arrive – temperatures remained relatively cool and dry. Autumn seemed to make up for the cool summer, with warmer weather leading up to harvest. Picking was delayed by about 2-3 weeks, as some vintners wanted extra hang time for flavors to develop.Central Otago had a relatively normal spring and a very warm early summer before cooling down to the cool summer that other wine regions experienced.
Though there is less wine, most vintners are excited with the results. For Sauvignon Blanc, the cool growing season likely means that flavors will avoid tropical notes, instead offering classic lemon, peach and grapefruit flavors, with vibrant acidity


South America

The 2011-2012 growing season was challenging in Argentina, with Mendoza’s growers enjoying a hot summer, but a cool, cloudy March that delayed ripening. On the other side of the Andes, Chile experienced a warm, dry year that posed challenges for red grapes that ripened too quickly.
Here’s a sneak peek at the upcoming vintage.

Argentina (excerpt)
In Mendoza, the heart of Argentina’s wine industry, winemakers dealt with another challenging growing season. It began with frost and strong Zonda winds, which reduced yields for most varieties, save the late-flowering Cabernet Sauvignon. Hot weather followed in December and persisted through February, as winemakers prepared for an early harvest. But the weather had a few more surprises in mind.
Farther north, in Salta, Bodega Colomé winemaker Randle Johnson reported a second straight growing season hindered by hail, heavy rain and cloudy weather that lasted into March. April, however, brought warm, sunny conditions that gave grapes a chance for full maturation. But meticulous vineyard management and sorting were required to make good wine.
To the south, Patagonia typically has stable weather patterns, but this year it also experienced challenging growing conditions

Chile (excerpt)
From north to south, Chile dealt with hot, dry growing conditions. Some winemakers reported experiencing the warmest temperatures on record, but most were well prepared for harvest, which began two to four weeks earlier than normal.
Aside from an early, inconsequential frost in Casablanca Valley, growers had few complications to deal with. And despite the atypical heat, many noted the resulting absence of molds or insects. Most reported a healthy crop. Many winemakers, though, reserve their highest expectations for reds from the country’s cooler microclimates, where lower temperatures, especially at night, allowed for longer hang times and better phenolic development

South Africa

The 2011-2012 growing season was slow and smooth in South African wine regions. A dry winter led to reduced yields, but a cool summer allowed grapes to ripen gradually, producing promising quality.

South Africa (excerpt)
The 2012 growing season in South Africa was marked by cool and dry weather conditions that led to reduced crops and small berries. But vintners are very happy with the overall results, thanks to a harvest that was pressure free in March and April.
The 2012 growing season began with the third straight year of noticeably dry conditions, following a winter with lower-than-usual rain levels. That, combined with a cool start to spring, resulted in reduced fruit set. Many producers noted markedly reduced crop yields. The Cape’s typical February heat wave came early, in January, giving the vines a chance to recover from the warmth. Cool and dry conditions prevailed through most of the season, sugars ripened gradually, allowing producers to bring in fully ripe fruit