The 2016 growing season and harvest provided its fair share of challenges to test our nerve and our skills as winegrowers. Cold weather at bud-burst and a coolish spring was not out of the ordinary. Like the year before, spring rainfall was well below the historical average. These cool, dry conditions slowed early season growth. From the outset there were predictions of a drought year and by late December water restrictions had been imposed on the Waimea Plains. Conditions over flowering were settled and crops set at respectable levels. A hail storm on December 19th caused damage to a number of the more coastal vineyards in its path.
Throughout the summer months daytime temperatures were 2-3 degrees above average with warmer nighttime minimums also. Rain after Christmas broke the drought. Warmth plus moisture and vine growth was rapid. Further extreme rainfall events in mid-February and again in late March were problematic in terms of disease and dilution issues.
For us the vintage began March 21st and was complete by the early date of April 6th. It gave us fruit with unusual and unexpected balance. Certainly ‘the numbers’ did not tell the true story. Sugars tended to stall and generally remained lower than usual while acids were beautifully ripe. To delay harvest in the hope of higher brix levels was a mistake. It was a year for strategic decision-making based on fruit condition and flavour development. A year for lower alcohols in wines which promise lovely aromatics, elegance and phenolic balance. Evolution of these wines in the coming months will no doubt continue to tell the story of this vintage.
Following bud break in mid-September, spring conditions were, as usual, up and down in temperature with occasional snowfalls on the surrounding ranges. It was also dry with November recording our 3rd driest on record. These dry, cool and at times windy conditions over flowering were far from ideal and ultimately resulted in irregular fruit set and below average yields. December rainfall relieved the very dry conditions and assisted canopy growth. A beautiful, warm summer without extremes followed. February cooled a little and beneficially slowed the accumulation of sugars. High rainfall in early March was cause for some concern but was followed by a month of perfect weather which saw us through to the completion of an early harvest on April 5th.
The early beginning and end to harvest was due to the great growing season and the lower than average crop. In hindsight this fortuitous as there was a long period of persistent rainfall which came at the end of harvest. This is a vintage of vibrant wines displaying excellent depth of ripe flavours.
An early start to the growing season preceded a warm spring. A dry November was followed by regular rainfall through December. From Christmas to mid-January conditions were overcast with some high winds. Approx 10 days advanced at flowering. High bunch numbers and ideal weather at flowering resulted in potentially heavy crops requiring later thinning. Signs of veraison in Pinot Noir by mid January, approx 14 days advanced.
75 mm rainfall around March 10 after a prolonged dry spell. Initial concerns about possible disease pressure did not eventuate due to four weeks of warm conditions following with no rainfall at all. This allowed fruit to be harvested without pressure as it achieved desired sugar/acid balance and flavour development. Harvest began early on March 11 and was complete by April 10 and just in time to avoid a significant period of rainfall extending for more than a week. 2014 rates as an excellent vintage.
Spring began a little damp and at times cool but by mid October the sun was out and the weather beautifully warm and dry. A perfect period over flowering produced bunches with high berry numbers, plump and heavier than average. This compensated in some varieties for lower than usual bunch numbers, a legacy of the cool season before. One of the best summers in memory followed with day after day of sunshine. Several days of rain in late February and the drought was broken and the heatwave over. A cooler lead into harvest was perfect for varietal flavour development and prevented sugars from becoming overly high. Harvest began relatively early on March 22.
The overall impression of the 2011-2012 growing season is that it was a wet one – though not when it really mattered. Spring weather was typically unsettled with regular rainfall. This contrasted with the exceptionally dry Spring of the previous season. Early summer was unusually wet with record periods of rainfall in December and January. February, although drier, was generally cooler than average with more overcast conditions and by mid-February we estimated that fruit development was more than two weeks behind normal. There was concern that without some late heat to the season we would struggle to ripen fruit fully. In late February the sun came out, the rain abated and conditions remained perfect until the end of April and the completion of harvest. This allowed for an almost leisurely harvest with fruit being picked later than usual in pristine condition. Overall, a cooler but excellent vintage with overt aromatics and lower alcohols in some varietals.
The 2011 vintage in Nelson was one of the earliest to begin and to be completed. It was a season of extremes which posed a number of challenges in terms of canopy management at certain times. It was a moderate sized harvest of excellent quality which will ultimately express with clarity, aspects of this very individual season. Bud-burst was early and followed by warm, dry conditions which persisted until mid- December through flowering and fruit set. Rainfall over this period was low in the extreme. On our heavier clay sites where soil moisture levels were higher this led to high berry numbers and above average bunch weights. These sites required significant shoot and fruit thinning throughout the summer months. Between mid-December and mid-January we experienced 235mm of rainfall, well above the average for this period. The temperatures throughout were above average and vine growth and fruit development was rapid. February was very dry once again. Overall, this was the warmest summer that we have experienced in Nelson with unusually high humidity also. This resulted in an early beginning to the harvest (mid-March) with some disease pressure in certain varieties. Due to the fact that we hand harvest our fruit, careful fruit selection at the time of picking and further sorting in the winery was possible and all diseased fruit was successfully excluded. Due to the very warm year acid levels fell more rapidly and were in general, mature at sugar levels 1-2 brix lower than normally. This may well prove to be one of the most significant features of the 2011 vintage.
The general consensus throughout the country is that the season, (especially later on), was kind and that beautiful fruit was harvested. That’s pretty much the Nelson experience also. Spring was cool as it often is, though without threat of frost. This coolness persisted into early summer slowing vine growth and setting development back somewhat. The consequence of this was a more protracted harvest which began and ended about 10-12 days later than has been typical in recent years. Fine weather throughout the harvest also made it relaxed and stress free. The same cool weather affected the flowering and resulted in a lighter than average crop in most varieties, the exception being Rielsing. In hindsight this was a positive in that a larger crop may well have proved difficult to ripen in a season that was cooler. January and the first half of February was also wetter than usual and cause for concern at the time. To our relief, the last rain of any significance fell on February 16 and from that point on summer truly arrived. It continued fine and warm uninterrupted until the end of April and the conclusion of harvest. Fruit was picked in near perfect physical condition. The later timing resulted in a gradual and extended period of ripening at a time when daylight hours were shortening and nights were significantly cooler. The result was great flavour development, varietal expression and sugar-acid balance.
The 2009 Vintage in Nelson rates among the best that we have enjoyed. Bud-burst was relatively even and mild spring conditions meant that there was not the same frost risks of the previous year. These mild conditions persisted throughout most of the spring months moderating canopy growth. Weather over flowering (late November, early December) was fair and led to a moderate to good crop being set. Riesling did suffer from a cool period at the critical time and the crop was subsequently light. The majority of Pinot Noir clones set well and required moderate fruit thinning only. (Bunch weights were much lighter than in 2008 and the requirement for thinning was less extreme). By late December and throughout January conditions became very warm, (above average) and development was advanced. February however was a month slightly more overcast, cooler weather conditions with regular (almost weekly) rainfall throughout.This did lead to some slowing of ripening which while cause for some concern at the time, was ultimately beneficial given the gains made in January. The regular moisture also maintained heathly canopies and helped move fruit evolution on. A perfect period through March and April reduced any early signs of disease pressure, (the result of February rains) and carried fruit through to full development. Harvest began early for some of the younger vines and where crop levels were particularly light. From that point, harvest was protracted and extremely relaxed largely thanks to the cooperation of weather and gradual evolution of each variety towards optimum ripeness. It was a harvest notable for lower than usual sugar levels at harvest yet full flavour evolution. At this early stage the vintage suggest that wines will have bright, intense fruit character with great elegance and finesse.
The 2008 vintage in Nelson rates as one of our very best provided that fruit was harvested before the significant rains which persisted from mid-April. Winter was followed by a successful budburst at the usual time around mid-September. Several weeks later a cool period set in. With this came frosts, (unusual for Nelson), which caused damage to a number of vineyards across the region, both hills and plains. While we were unaffected by the frost this cool period did check growth for a time. This was followed by near perfect weather from early October which persisted throughout summer. Weather over flowering (late November, early December), was ideal for the early varieties, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Both Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc were slightly affected by a cool light rain during this critical period and thus cropped a little lower than average.
In terms of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay the excellent fruit set was cause for alarm in terms of the large potential crop which existed. (cf. vintage 2004). At this stage we made the decision to halve bunch numbers by thinning to one bunch per shoot. This was carried out from late January on. While February was a month of slightly more overcast conditions, the perfect weather over the previous four months together with the moderate crop levels set up our earliest ever harvest. Our harvest began on March 15, and was completed by April 9. Like the early 2006 vintage, rain persisted from mid-April.
A cooler winter than the previous was followed by good bud-break in mid-September and strong growth during the drier, warmer than average October. In late spring, temperatures became much cooler and growth slowed. These conditions persisted throughout flowering and fruit set in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, significantly reducing crop potential. These were ultimately harvested at 30-40% below usual levels. Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc were affected to a lesser extent. Warm, dry, settled summer conditions followed from mid-January with February warmer and significantly drier than normal. These conditions persisted throughout autumn, resulting in what for us was a small but high quality crop. The small crop and very favourable weather made for a stress-free harvest which began as usual in the last days of March. As in 2005, Pinot Noir bunches were loose and berries small though not quite as extreme. Based on the experience gained in handling such fruit, winemaking was modified slightly to mitigate the effects of a high skins to juice ratio with a view to producing finesse and balance.
A mild winter with good rainfall led to a slightly earlier bud burst than usual. Warmer, drier, settled spring weather produced healthy growth and ideal conditions over flowering. December was warm with average rainfall and lower than average sunshine. Regional conditions were already becoming dry. January and February continued fine and slightly drier than average, rapidly advancing fruit maturity. March remained extremely dry and the harvest which began for us on March 19th was our earliest to date. While April delivered twice Nelson‚s average rainfall the early start to the vintage meant that the majority of fruit was in by mid month before the worst arrived. In summary, a very benign vintage with fruit harvested in excellent condition. Wines express ripe fruit with balance and immediate drinkability.
Spring was mild and in general terms provided a normal start to the growing season. This changed dramatically from mid-December. The month ended with temperatures 1.7 degrees C below the average and twice the monthly rainfall. This unusual weather pattern persisted for the first two weeks of January, severely affected flowering and fruit set, ultimately reducing yields by 20-60% depending on variety and the timing of flowering. The Nelson region ended the season 45% down in yield. By this stage the season was well behind in terms of fruit development.
From mid-January summer arrived. Temperatures soared, the rain stopped and the month ended as better than average. We began to regain some of the lost time. April was perfect with 30% above average sunshine and a tiny 5% of normal rainfall. Together with the exceptionally low yields harvest began only a day or two later than normal with fruit in near-perfect condition. In Pinot Noir, bunches were loose (reduced berry numbers) with very small berries. The ratio of skins to juice was therefore higher than usual producing wine which expresses greater structure, taughtness and savoury character than most vintages. Ideal for longer term cellaring.