Skip to main content
Climate ChangeGrapegrowingNews

Thank you SAM

By Thursday 15 September 2022September 27th, 2023No Comments

This article was first published in the May-June issue of WBM – Australia’s Wine Business Magazine. The Bureau of Meteorology has just officially declared a third-consecutive La Nina summer.


Vignerons the world over, live with the caprice of nature, the weather God in particular. The optimal result of a bountiful crop of outstanding quality grapes is a small sliver on the roulette wheel of weather-dictated outcomes through a seven-month growing season, regardless of provenance.

More often the combination of a small crop of outstanding quality creates a consumer demand that can’t be met, frustrating for all and seemingly a Burgundian specialisation recently, but an acceptable result.

Fortunately, the worst result, a large crop of inferior quality grapes is now a rare occurrence as vignerons hone and apply their knowledge and skills to ameliorate nature’s worst efforts.

SAM has delivered three consecutive small quantity, very high-quality crops to the cool regions in South Australia where Tapanappa’s vineyards are grown.

The yields from vintage 2020, 2021 and 2022 combined would barely exceed the quantity of grapes from a more normal season.

Despite that I am very grateful to SAM.

Well might you ask who’s SAM?

SAM (Southern Annular Modulation) is the movement of the high and low-pressure systems circling the Great Southern Ocean from west to east, closer to the Antarctic (positive mode) or further away towards the equator (negative mode).

SAM in negative mode, wreaked havoc on the Australian continent at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020 because the high-pressure systems were crossing the Australian continent, picking up superheated continental air that fanned the dry lightning lit fires across the breadth of the continent.

A contrite SAM suddenly turned positive in early 2020 and the high-pressure systems sulkily retreated to their lair above the cold waters of the Great Southern Ocean closer to Antarctic and there they have largely remained through the balance of vintage 2020 and through vintages 2021 and 2022.

The counter clockwise moving front edges of these systems, low in the Great Southern Ocean, deliver cool easterly winds from above the ocean surface to the southern coastline of Australia.

Cool south-easterly breezes for the whole of the summer has characterised the past three vintages.

Not all Australian viticulture benefited from SAM. In 2022 the Pacific Ocean La Nina event dominated the weather on the East coast down into eastern Victoria, dumping unprecedented amounts of summer rain.

In the West the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) was positive, creating fierce hot air conditions above the iron hills of the Kimberly that crept its way down the coast to Perth and further south.

South Australia is relatively immune to the effects of the Southern Oscillation Index, aka the El Nino/La Nina systems of the Pacific Ocean and to the Indian Ocean Dipole and has been firmly in the weather jurisdiction of SAM for the past three vintages.

In addition to being cooled by SAM, the high-pressure systems kept South Australia very dry through the growing season except for two welcome marginal incursions of soggy eastern clouds in October and January.

After the fiery era of 2006 to 2019 the last three vintages have been cool water on a parched tongue.

In a previous article I predicted that the three Tapanappa distinguished site vineyards would all accumulate less than the average heat in 2022 for the seven-month growing season, based on where they were in February. This prediction remained true for Foggy Hill at Parawa on the Fleurieu Peninsula with an HDD of 1,306C-days versus the average of 1,342C-days. Ever tricky, the weather God engineered a very warm April, the final month of the seven-month growing season to confound my prediction for the Tiers Vineyard in the Piccadilly Valley and Whalebone Vineyard in Wrattonbully.

Tiers Vineyard, Piccadilly Valley
Tiers Vineyard in the Piccadilly Valley finally crossed the season average line in the unusually warm April reaching 1,176C-days versus the average of 1,098C-days, still a cooler season judged by the standards of 2006 to 2019. The crop quantity was two thirds of normal and was harvested on 8 and 9 April, two weeks later than normal.  The Chardonnay grapes were in wonderful condition with moderate sugars, high acids and pristine flavours. I can’t wait for the fermentations in French oak barriques to finish, to finally reveal the rude shape of what should be finely chiselled and intense 2022 Tiers Chardonnay wines.

Foggy Hill Vineyard, Parawa, Fleurieu Peninsula
A meagre half of normal crop of Foggy Hill Pinot Noir was harvested between 2 and 5 April. The deficiency in quantity has been compensated in concentration and intensity of colour, flavour and tannin. There is a defining contrast between the relatively abundant crop 2021 Foggy Hill wines, lighter in colour and more ethereal in aroma and flavour and the already monumental 2022 wines in barrique beginning malolactic fermentation. Dark and brooding, replete with Foggy Hill typicity, the 2022’s are proof of the small crop is better for Pinot Noir.

Whalebone Vineyard, Wrattonbully
In 2022, Whalebone Vineyard delivered a normal crop of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. That was a relief after the 1 tonne/hectare effort in 2020 and the marginal improvement in 2021. The sweet spot for temperature during the growing season for the Bordeaux varieties is between 1,400 and 1,500C-days. The average for Wrattonbully is 1,425 and 2022 delivered 1,496C-days, again mainly because of a warm April. The Merlot from the Whalebone Vineyard was harvested on 28 March, the Cabernet Franc on 12 April and the Cabernet Sauvignon on 21 April, all two weeks later than normal. The wines still fermenting on skins are very colourful and aromatic with a cool climate fragrancy.


Three cool ones in a row. Are we entering another cool era as occurred from 1945 to 1954 and 1995 to 2005? This vigneron hopes so, against the grain of ever-increasing global temperatures, because the cool ones produce the best wines.

If not, I rely on that most resilient of plants, the grapevine, Vitis vinifera, to demonstrate its typicity in the well-suited terroirs of Tapanappa’s distinguished vineyard sites, even in hot vintages.

That roulette wheel of life has delivered a jackpot to this vigneron, consisting of the suite of ‘noble varieties’ of the wonderful Vitis vinifera plant and the beautiful sites I have the privilege to nurture.

Leave a Reply