The 2011 vintage will be remembered for its interesting and sometimes challenging weather. The season started with one of the best springs in our history – no frosts, warm temperatures and average rainfall. To top it off, the strong nor'westerly winds, a trademark of Wairarapa springs, stayed away. This meant strong early shoot growth and no wind damage which set the vines up well leading in to flowering. Another benefit of the lack of wind meant that we were able to carry out less shoot tucking/wire lifting passes through the vineyard.
Flowering started in late November with Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris first off the rank. Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier were the last to flower and were at 80% capfall by mid December. The warm December weather meant all our varieties went through flowering quickly which lead to very even fruit set. At this point we knew we had a healthy crop at that thinning would be required in most blocks. We dropped 20-30% of the fruit in Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris blocks which is very hard for the vineyard crew to stomach but had to be done to get the fruit quality we require.
The warm settled weather continued through January and February. Veraison started very early – the Dakins Road Pinot Noir was netted on the 21st of January which is the earliest we have put nets on in the last 10 years.
Bunch sampling in the early weeks of March showed that ripening was progressing well and confirmed our earlier observations that tonnages would be higher than average. Pinot Noir bunches averaged 120g when they would usually be around 90g. Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris bunches were averaging 180-200g.
Vintage looked like it would start early and be over and done with quickly, but as with most other New Zealand winegrowing regions, Mother Nature had other ideas. In the last week of March we had 95mm of rain; followed by 36mm in the first week of April, 26mm in the second week, and 66mm in the last week. This slowed the final stages of ripening considerably and made this vintage long and challenging. We had a window of 4-5 days between rains to pick the fruit which meant we had to be on the ball with harvesting and winery logistics.
Vintage started on the 2nd of April with Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc from our Dakins Road Blocks and finished on the 12th of May with Pinot Gris from the Home Block. Although we had 223mm of rain during vintage, berry splitting and botrytis pressure wasn't an issue. The fruit reached optimum ripeness with great flavour concentration and arrived at the winery in excellent condition – although some of the aromatics could have done with a few more days in the sun.
Possibly due to the unusual weather patterns, pH levels were more indicative of the flavour ripeness of the grapes this year, and we got a much better physiological and flavour development at lower sugar (brix) levels than in previous years. This has been particularly exciting, because we have been able to produce lower alcohol wines that still had good flavour and texture.
In general, the aromatic varieties have slightly higher acid levels due to the cooler autumn, which we balanced out by leaving a touch more residual sugar. The Sauvignons are fresh and vibrant, and the Rosé looks very grown up, slightly more savoury and austere this year as it is dominated by Cabernet Franc. The Pinots are elegant and restrained, safely tucked away for winter in their barrels. We took great care not to over-extract the reds in such a fickle year, keeping the delicate florals and silken textures intact. Having said that, we also made some very promising experiments with whole bunch fermentations that pack a big punch and give some backbone to the final wines.
This has also been the earliest bottling we've done for some time – all the whites (except our beloved Sophie's Choice) and Rosé are in bottle already. We are just hanging on to them for a bit longer to get over the bottle shock before releasing them – should be fantastic in time for those thirsty days and nights of the World Cup!
Christine Kernohan, Managing Director/Chief Winemaker
Kyle Mason, Viticulturalist
Gerhard Smith, Winemaker