Wednesday, 29 May 2013 14:32

Northern Regions

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Matakana, 

 Ben Dugdale, chairman of the Matakana Winegrowers Association says the 2013 harvest was one of the easiest he has ever encountered in the region, with the exception of the ripening phase being relatively widely spaced apart.

 

“The harvest began about seven to 10 days earlier than normal and that enabled us to pick when the balance was just right. In terms of whites, from what I’ve seen in people’s cellars, there was quite a lot of sugar and the flavours only came through in the last two weeks or so. There’s a real core of pure fruit within the whites, which are predominantly Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in the Matakana region.”

In terms of reds, Dugdale describes Merlot as having more of a focused expression than usual and Syrah has been “interesting”. 

Waiheke Island 

Waiheke Island is an enclave all of its own when it comes to weather at vintage time. And this year was no exception. While winemakers in the rest of the Auckland region found rain to be a battle at various times of the vintage, Waiheke Island was extremely dry by the end of harvest. Neill Culley from Cable Bay Winery says the vintage was also spread out. He began harvest on 28 February with Pinot Gris and finished around 20 April.

“The whites were not particularly early, although we don’t pick on sugar but more on acidity and flavour. The reds were a little earlier than a normal year but not super early. The drought we experienced seemed to slow down ripening because it took longer for the flavours to arrive than I imagined, which was probably related to the dryness this  season. The vines were approaching proper water stress, which slowed ripening.”

Culley says his white grapes looked fantastic but it was too early to make a prediction on the reds.

West Auckland 

Just under half the usual number of grapes were harvested at Kumeu River Wines in West Auckland this year, says Master of Wine and winemaker Michael Brajkovich.

Brajkovich says the quality was excellent, thanks to the relatively dry weather, but a frost in early spring decimated much of the crop.

“Our vintage was just under half the 300 to 400 tonnes we usually get. This year we had just 150 tonnes due to spring frost on 19 September last year, but our grapes were harvested virtually rot-free this year and the quality is fantastic.”

While the numbers are significantly reduced, Brajkovich says “it’s not as low as we’ve had some other years and the most important thing has been the top quality we’ve got in.”

By Joelle Thomson

Gisbourne

Gisborne’s vintage has been described by winemakers as a “once in a lifetime” one.

While the drought brought challenges to other sectors of horticulture, for local grape growers it provided freedom of harvest, high-quality fruit and stunning flavours across many varieties.

“It was a pleasure and exciting to be a part of,” said Wrights Winery & Vineyard owner Nicola Wright. “The fruit came in exceptionally clean and ahead of schedule compared to other years. The flavours are ripe; with some strong variety expressions . . . I think we will see some of the best wines this region has produced.”

After two very difficult and wet years, this vintage was a bit like a “prize giving” for hanging in there throughout the tough times, she said.

“I think Chardonnay will be one to watch; it has some fantastic banana flavours coming through. Now the tanks are full, the barrels are all in and we’re looking forward to the first early releases in July and Chardonnays later in December”

Andy Nimmo of Hihi Wines agreed the vintage was excellent – the quality of white and red were some of the best he had seen in years.

One of the key advantages of the consistently dry weather was that it allowed them to better manage harvest.

“We could pick when we wanted to, rather than being dictated by the weather which was a huge positive. The result was some excellent flavours and excellent quality fruit.

“It was fantastic. We needed a good year and we got one.”

Indevin consultant winemaker Steve Voysey said everything had over-delivered.

“The weather and the whole balance of the wines; it was a dry season but it was different in that the balance was really good. I put that down to cool nights keeping acidities high.

“We didn’t have stress in the vines. The holding capacity of the soil in Gisborne was good enough that the wines didn’t stress even in the dry. We ended up with a lovely even crop.”

The exceptional vintage also brought with it a positive morale booster to the local industry.

“I think there is a general feeling things are on the improve,” Voysey said.

“We have a bit less stock which is a good position to be in, prices have continued to rise and there is a good range of wines. It’s not just all based around one variety.” 

By Christine Boyce


Hawke’s Bay

A rainy end to the season has in no way dampened Hawke’s Bay’s high spirits, with growers and wineries celebrating a vintage they believe will be among the region’s best.   

As a very warm and settled summer rolled on into a balmy autumn, fruit ripened consistently well across all varieties and subregions and was ready to harvest seven to ten days ahead of schedule.  So there was little concern about bringing in the last of the red grapes a week or so early to beat the dodgy weather.  

As Ngatarawa winemaker Peter Gough points out, sugar levels were good and there were ripe flavours in the Syrah and Cabernet.  And that, he says, was true of all the winery’s varieties.  

“It would be among the top 10 percent of my 25 vintages.  You really cherish these ones because they are highlights, the ones you remember most.”  

Gough believes the 2013 vintage will reward consumers in delivering well-balanced and flavoursome wines, and that the styles intended for cellaring will age well.

Everyone was also happy that it was a disease-free season.  Vidal Estate winemaker Hugh Crichton didn’t spot a single botrytis-affected berry – something he has never experienced before.  

While there were reports of some varieties being a little down, the overall yield is expected to be about average – a good result for Hawke’s Bay, says Mal McLennan of Maimai Creek.

“We’re not here to fill tanks; we’re here to sell good quality wines.”  

Tim Turvey of Clearview Estate believes the 2103 vintage will rival the Te Awanga winery’s previous bests of 2007 and 2009. 

By Mary Shanahan

Wairarapa

“You should know by now that every vintage is fantastic, even before anyone’s picked a grape,” says the godfather of Martinborough’s wine industry, Richard Riddiford.

But as tongue in cheek as the managing director of Palliser Estate was, about vintage 2013, Riddiford says this is the best year in the past quarter century.

“It has been excellent and it was quite concentrated in that everything got ripe at the same time, so there was a lot of work in a short space of time at one stage, but the resulting fruit is fantastic and I’d say that it’s the best in my 25 years – which is quite a long time to look back on,” Riddiford says.

At one point, the 2013 vintage looked almost too hot, he says.

“We had to be careful that we didn’t produce a lot of high alcohol wines due to that intense heat. We got a summer like we used to have year on year and this year’s yields are also going to be good, which is also important. We get years like 2007 where we halved our yield and therefore halved our income. It was nice this year to get a good yield and very high quality. It doesn’t often happen.” 

By Joelle Thomson   

The 2013 vintage in Nelson will be remembered as one of two halves; a stunning growing season followed by frantic harvesting as the rains arrived.

The season started well with perfect flowering conditions and balanced fruit-set that required very little crop thinning. Rain in early January was nicely timed to help get things moving and when the bright sunshine did arrive it stayed for months.. The perfect growing conditions had some talking about one of the best vintages in memory but as the Chairman of Nelson Winegrowers, Richard Flatman, said early in the season;  “We are working with Mother Nature so only time will tell,” and he was dead right.

With the fruit in pristine condition and at or close to required brix levels, it rained. We know harvest is in autumn and growers expect and can handle short rain events. However the problem in Nelson was an afternoon of light rain followed by two days of persistent rain.

Damage was limited with most fruit so close to being perfectly ripe it was able to be harvested before the rains impacted too much. Flatman says Neudorf Vineyards harvested some of the finest fruit he has seen in his five years as viticulturist there.

Producers spoken to across the region said the long, warm summer days helped develop beautiful flavours.  The only impact on grapes that had be harvested with slightly lower than optimal brix would be lower alcohol levels which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Varieties to really shine in the Nelson region for the 2013 grape harvest are Pinot Noir (described by everyone as the best fruit they have ever seen in Nelson), Chardonnay and Riesling. 

By Neil Hodgson


Marlborough

The drought that struck most parts of the country, didn’t really impact on Marlborough. There was enough rain throughout the season to ensure the vines weren’t stressed, but not enough to cause any major disease pressures.

Flowering conditions in December were a marked improvement on the year before, but there was still some variability in flowering throughout the region. 

Hamish Clark, senior winemaker for Saint Clair Wines, said the Awatere in particular produced lighter yields this year, as did parts of the Upper Wairau and Southern Valleys. However the fruit flavours throughout the region have been described as very good.

Given Sauvignon Blanc’s unique thiols and passionfruit flavours tend to develop late in the ripening phase, Clark says there were concerns early on that the fruit would ripen too quickly without having the desired hang time. But a cooler snap just after Easter proved those fears unfounded.  “The days were still warm but the cold nights slowed the ripening down just at the right time.” 

For some in the region, there was a maximum push towards the middle of April as an impending week of rain was forecast. “That could have been disastrous,” Clark said. “We were already running our harvesting crews at max revs, we had to hit the turbo button for a last push to get all our fruit in before it hit – and just managed to do so.”

 “This vintage will be memorable for me because of the compression of the harvest window,” Clark said. “We were pretty much harvesting flat out 24/7 for three weeks, with no stops from just before Easter; unlike other years that would be typically stretched out over four to five weeks.”

He wasn’t the only one placed under pressure by the compression of the season. Clive Jones, Nautilus winemaker and winery manager says the intensity of the harvest broke all records at the winery.

“In terms of Sauvignon Blanc, we normally take 22 – 26 days to harvest all our fruit. This year we did it in 16!” 

Nick Lane from Cloudy Bay says the Wairau Valley seemed determined to ripen Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc at the same time. 

“The last 2 weeks of March and 2 weeks of April saw the Wairau Valley harvest the majority of it’s healthy crop in a brief but intense period.”

Looking at individual varieties, Sauvignon Blanc is described as returning average yields – although crops in the Awatere were much lower. Jones said the fruit looked really good, in the “slightly riper spectrum than last year, which was quite late. There are lots of tropical characteristics and I think they will produce extremely friendly, attractive wines.” 

“The Sauvignon Blancs are wonderfully varied with flavours going from the herbaceous and zesty to the ripe and luscious,” according to Lane. “At this stage the Pinot Noir wines look moderately fruited with ample structure if given an appropriate amount of time on skins. The Chardonnays have excellent balance, exhibiting complex flavours at moderate alcohol levels.”

Clark describes the Pinot crops as “smallish. But it is sensational. There is a bit of variation in berry size between the blocks but all yielding incredible density of colour. The warm temperatures we had early helped build up plenty of tannin structure, the flavours are great.”

A prolonged period of rain right at the end of harvest was forecast well in advance, allowing the vast majority of fruit to be picked well before it arrived.  

By Tessa Nicholson

Canterbury/Waipara

Following a chilly start, Canterbury experienced a great growing season. Winegrowers in Waipara appear particularly pleased with the quality of this year’s vintage, while some of those in the wider Canterbury region went on to experience some challenges at harvest from late rain as this report went to press.

“The coldest spring in 10 years meant more time than usual frost fighting,” noted Nicolas Brown. While a few vineyards received significant damage, most of the area was undamaged.

“Crop set was variable,” commented Pegasus Bay’s Ivan Donaldson, “being modest in the earlier clones of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but otherwise generally good and so heavy in the later flowering varieties that extensive thinning was required.”

“We experienced one of the best summers in recent years,” commented Brown. “The lack of mid summer Nor’westers allowed our vineyard canopies to relax in sun drenched still weather, which meant good growth, low vine stress, and good ripening. In mid to late March we experienced 10 days of very warm nights and as result a rapid accumulation in brix, with 12 days straight of picking after Easter allowing us to capture our fruit in perfect condition, with thick skins, moderate brix, and good levels of natural acidity.”

“The great growing season through the summer months ensured the flavour development across the board was fantastic, and there are some really exciting parcels in the winery fermenting away,” noted Simon McGeorge of Waipara Hills. “The Sauvignon Blancs have great flavour intensity and freshness of character, the Pinot Noirs are rich and dense yet still possessing lovely aromatic lift and the Pinot Gris look very smart and have great flavour concentration.”

“The 2013 vintage has been widely anticipated and deservedly so: wonderful density to fruit flavours across all varieties,” agreed Dom Maxwell from Greystone, echoing the generally positive opinion of the vintage held in the region. “We are expecting wines of real energy, flavour and length. This is the best vintage the Greystone vineyard has seen in its short history.”

On the Canterbury Plains, spring frosts wiped out pockets of vineyards, but those with fruit remaining here and across the wider Canterbury region went on to see grapes ripen well in the warm summer weather. When rain hit Canterbury in late April and early May, while much of Waipara’s crop was safely in the wineries, in later ripening areas of Canterbury, gowers had to contend with some damp conditions. 

By Jo Burzynska  

Central Otago

In Central Otago, vintage 2013 was a tale of two seasons. For some, the devastating spring frosts saw annihilation of entire crops, whereas for others, the cooler weather simply became a growth hiccup in an ideal growing season. The wet and cool spring did delay onset of flowering in most places, which was protracted right through until harvest. Very few grapes had been picked by Easter, with harvest kicking off about a week later than the previous (earlier) seasons. For most, the dates were fairly consistent with historic averages.

Weather through January-March was largely warm and dry. Overnight temperatures post-veraison were unseasonably warm, leading to a higher degree of grapevine metabolism and consequently, acids were dropping fast. However, lignification and physiological ripeness was strong. As a result, most were able to pick on flavours and acid, which saw fruit coming into wineries at lower sugar levels. It wasn’t uncommon to hear of numbers in the 23-24 Brix zone, much to the satisfaction of winemakers around the region.

A southerly airflow in early April was cause for concern. Hard frosts occurred on the 6th and 10th of April, after snow fell on surrounding hills. Most at-risk vineyards in the Cromwell basin were scheduled to pick or had already picked their fruit, however Gibbston was still a couple of weeks away from ideal picking windows and some vineyards were adversely affected. Those higher up on the Back Road escaped the worst of it. As is so often the case in Central Otago, the frosts for many signaled the end of the growing season. However a fortnight of warm, sunny weather surprised everyone. It wasn’t until the 30th of April that the frosts returned, resulting in a compressed harvest that started later and finished earlier.

The short and sharp harvest, a product of the season and weather, was also due to some immaculate fruit. Picking was quick, clean and comfortable. Yields were coming in at or slightly over estimates and most were thankful for the extra fruit. Bunches came in a little larger than average, though at no detriment to concentration, flavours or intensity. The early prognosis for 2013 in Central Otago? 

Concentrated wines, with good acid 

lines and power reigned in by lower alcohols and judicious oak handling. 

By Max Marriott

 

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