The latest figures put New Zealand wine exports at $1,669 billion as at the end of July, making wine the…
But Mike Olds and Hazel Allan learnt the hard way that this grape and that place are not a marriage made in vine heaven.
The couple own one of the smallest wineries in New Zealand, Lauregan Wines in Elsthorpe, in Central Hawke’s Bay.
The 1.4 hectare sloping vineyard experiences cooler nights and hotter days than many other areas that are closer to the coast in the Bay.
The couple lived in Italy for nearly a decade before returning to New Zealand in 1983 and planted their vineyard at Elsthorpe a decade later. Their time in Italy made them want to replicate a little of the food and wine culture they had fallen deeply for on their travels.
Enter Sangiovese. They bought Sangiovese grapevines from Corban’s Viticulture and planted them, watching vigorous growth all through summer. The growth seemed to go well, until late in the season when rainfall put paid to this late ripening Italian grape. But the climate there is significantly different to Hawke’s Bay because it tends to be drier throughout summer and autumn. And, as they discovered, it is a rather different proposition in Hawke’s Bay, so they have now replaced their Sangiovese with the early ripening Pinot Noir, much to Olds’ chagrin.
“I would love to have another go at Sangiovese but it would have to be under very strict conditions and a small enough block to do a lot of handwork because, even in a very good vintage such as 2013, it struggles in this environment,” he says, adding that while Malbec also holds strong appeal for him and Allan, he would prefer to specialise in Pinot Noir – “and do a bloody good job of it.”
That job translates to a full bodied, deeply coloured Pinot Noir, which Olds attributes to the hotter days and cooler nights in Central Hawke’s Bay.
Asked why he views this central area as different in climate to the rest of the Bay, he suggests a number of factors.
To begin with, the location is inland so the climate is cooler in winter and during the night, year round. Then there’s the altitude. Lauregan Vineyard is about 170 metres above sea level and surrounded by hills, such as the 520 metre high Mount Maraetotara and the 620 metre high Mount Kahuranaki. Both offer shelter from wind and protection from cooling coastal breezes so that many days reach 30 degrees Celcius in summer and have a more pronounced temperature difference between day and night.
“These extremes of morning and night mean it can be one degree or a frosty morning followed by a 30-degree day. This, in turn, can often be followed by very cool night time temperatures, which can drop down to four or five degrees. Even during a warm vintage, the nights are very cool,” says Olds. “Valley climate conditions come into play where we are, which are exacerbated by changing altitudes, even in our small vineyard.
“The valley combined with the altitude drives the day-night temperature variations, with the shelter of the valley leading to higher temperatures during the day and the collection of cold air at night leading to regular spring frosts and cool temperatures overnight.”
By planting on the hills, he has discovered it is possible to gain a more even distribution of sunshine on the vines and to gain absorption of heat into the soil.
“Although our average temperatures here are less than in the rest of Hawke’s Bay, our ripening isn’t as delayed as would be expected because of the hillside aspect,” Olds says.
He and Allan are mindful of minimising inputs on the vineyard and aim to be as organic as possible on the relatively heavy clay soils they work with.
“Our clay soil means we generally have a slower start to the season while the ground heats up but we don’t have to irrigate because there is enough water in the soil to keep the plants happy.”
They planned to make their first vintage of Pinot Noir from the 2012 vintage, but Olds describes that year as “the worst summer of my life”.
The first vintage of Lauregan Pinot Noir was in 2013, a year he describes as sublime.
“It was like chalk and cheese experiencing the difference between the 2012 and the 2013 vintages. From here we need to keep getting better. The only way for us to make any money is to produce really good wine. We don’t want to be millionaires, we just want to make really good wine and have a little money in our retirement.”