Sunday, 11 June 2023 14:25

Vintage 2023: Marlborough

Written by  Sophie Preece
Brian Bicknell. Photo Credit: Richard Brimer. Brian Bicknell. Photo Credit: Richard Brimer.

Nature kept Marlborough grapegrowers on their toe this season, then swept in with a beautiful second summer just when the industry needed it.

"It was pretty cruisy," says Mahu's Brian Bicknell, reflecting on their longest vintage yet. "Cleanliness of the fruit was key, and we felt no pressure to harvest." That's despite the fact that inclement conditions throughout the season resulted in 21 botrytis infection periods in Marlborough from mid-November 2022 to the end of March 2023, compared to 12 the previous season. "It looked like it was going to be tough," admits Brian, thankful for open bunches with fewer berries that allowed for good air movement. He also puts the excellent vintage down to the long harvest, which lasted 38 days at Mahi.

It was lengthy at Spy Valley in the Waihopai Valley as well, with harvest kicking off on 8 March and winding up 41 days later with a Syrah pick on 18 April. That made for a steady, low-stress harvest with all the fruit in beautfiul condition, says Winemaker Wendy Stuckey in the wake of the winery's 20-year anniversary. "Despite a slightly smaller crop than the previous bumper season, we still managed to produce an impressive amount of perfectly ripened fruit and fill the winery."

The optimal autumnal conditions conditions were a welcome shift in a year "we were pretty much expecting the worst", says Astrolabe's Simon Waghorn in the Wine Marlborough vintage overview. "All varieties benefitted from more time on the vines and ripening a bit later." As the weather turned, so did botrytis pressure, with autumn rainfall cool enough to mitigate infections. Meanwhile, an unseasonal near frost in March may have been a boon, seemingly halting the botrytis in its tracks, he says.

Isabel Estate Winemaker Jeremy McKenzie says it was an extensive management season mitigating disease, particularly powdery pressure, and expectations were for a tough vintage. But despite the gloomy spring and summer, "the 2023 wines across the board are fantastic", he says. "We were blessed with an amazing run of dry weather, allowing a smooth harvest and ability to pick on poit with great flavour and acidity." When it comes to Chardonnay, the building blocks are there for another "stellar" vintage, Jeremy says.

When Marlborough General Manager Marcus Pickens says the excellent vintage is a perfect way to celebrate 50 years of Marlborough modern wine industry. "It's fantastic to know that the wines from 2023 will be such a wonderful representation of what we can do - when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc of course, but also with the other varieties we have built our reputation on."

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