Not one to do anything in halves.
The harvest of 2018 will certainly be remembered for its extremes; virtually no frosts, record breaking heat, timely rains, and harvesters bringing in fruit at record speed.
On the Upper Wairau Plains in Marlborough’s Southern Valleys sits the Woolshed Vineyard; its hillside clays, and river terrace gravels with overlying silt and loam soils claiming its position as home of Mud House Sauvignon Blanc.
It was an outstanding growing season for the region; no frosts, even fruit set, steady ripening, and warm settled weather. Hence, the fruit looked outstanding leading into harvest, the sub regions all ripening at once. The Sauvignon Blanc was picked within a 14 day window, compared to the usual 30.
“I don’t think the key in the harvester was even turned off; one guy stepped off and another guy stepped in,” said Nev Gane, Woolshed Vineyard Manager.
Rain at the right times meant no vineyards needed to be irrigated during the growing period, and coupled with plenty of sunshine, meant a record early harvest. “The vines enjoyed the spectacular growing season and put on massive growth leading to a record early harvest. When harvest season rolled around, the sun shone and we made haste bringing in ripe grapes that were full of flavour and sweetness,” said Tracy Taylor, Accolade New Zealand Viticulturist. Great early flavours, therefore longer hang time on the vines, helped create extra flavour development. The Sauvignon Blanc was harvested off the Woolshed at the end of March, showing great natural physiological ripeness.
Across Marlborough Mud House Winemaker Cleighten Cornelius said great sub regional variations and succulent acids were shown this year; snow pea, ripe greens from the Awatere Valley, and pink grapefruit from the Wairau Valley. “The flavours are vibrant and the acidity is juicy and balanced.”
Further down the road in Waipara, and a relatively frost-free spring followed by a hot and dry December averaging two degrees above normal meant a very good fruit set for the Pinot Gris. At the end of January and veraison time the bunches were already weighing usual harvest bunch weight. For the viticultural team this meant an intense programme of fruit thinning and de clumping through the summer to balance the plants. Disease pressure was caused by slightly cooler and wetter February featuring humid conditions but was offset in mid-March when a record number of the drying Nor’West winds kicked in. The fruit flavours and sugar levels were well balanced, and hand-pick for the Pinot Gris on the Home Block Vineyard took place at the end of March – record early. This vineyard in the Waipara Valley offers little fertility on its terraced gravels, which means little fertility, lending itself to powerful concentrated fruit which expresses classic cool climate characters of ripe baked apple and quince, with a powerful zing.
Down in the deep South, a cumulative effect of weather meant the Pinot Noir from Claim 431 Vineyard was hand-picked three weeks earlier than normal this year, starting on March 14. A warm spring down in the deep south of Central Otago’s Bendigo region caused an early flowering in mid-November, and early veraison at the end of January. As well as warmth, the above average rainfall stimulated growth at the top of the canopies, which increased the bunch weights. Claim 431 Vineyard Manager Tom Bullen said it was a great picking season, and some unseasonal weekly showers helped to freshen up the canopies.
“There was lovely skin and seed maturity, and no disease.”
The sub region of Bendigo typically experiences huge diurnal shifts, (day and night temperatures), which, together with the free-draining loam soils which sit over schist gravel, creates Pinot Noir with structure and flavour. Cleighten said the wine is shaping up well, showing great vibrant dark ruby colour, lifted raspberry aromas and flavours, succulent acidity and ripe tannins.
“It has been an elegant year. The skins and seeds were ripe so the wines came into balance quickly after fermentation – this post fermentation allows tannins to develop to coat the whole of your mouth; not pointy and just certain areas.”
These extreme and record-breaking conditions have produced early-staged wines expressing pure characteristics to their region, showing great varietal characters.