The season started with budburst on 20 September 2012. Spring growth was slow due to very cold and dry conditions through to the end of November, including a number of near frosts
Initial bunch counts showed that bunch numbers were down slightly in the reds and more significantly in the whites; with the Viognier crop down by half. Bunch initiation (the process within a bud which determines whether the bud is fruitful or not) occurs early in the previous season. This process is temperature dependent so if it is cold when this takes place, as it was in December 2011, the buds are less fruitful (less bunches per vine the following season).
The season turned a corner in December as we entered what was the Wairarapa's warmest summer on record. Grower degree days for the 2012-13 season (September to April inclusive) were 1200. In recent years only 2005 and 2006 vintages have been higher.
The warm weather meant that flowering, although still later (mid-late December) than normal was short and sharp. We had a very good fruit set across all varieties.
Our vines stood up to the extreme heat and water stress very well. The canopies stayed cool and green and only required small amounts (once a week if necessary) of irrigation to keep them happy.
Veraison started on the last week of January which is about normal for us. The difference this season is that the vines reached full veraison very quickly.
The summer drought meant that bird pressure was very high this season. A lack of alternative feed led to birds (especially wax eyes) finding ways under the nets to get to the fruit. An increase in the bee population in the Gladstone region this summer also caused issues.
But "it's not over until the fat lady sings". On 18-19 March, 80mm of rain fell over 36 hours and while this was fantastic for our farmers it was not ideal for our vineyards. The vines sucked up the sudden influx in moisture and as a result berries swelled, flavours diluted and ripening stalled.
April stayed warm – the average temperature was 13.3 which is 1 degree above normal; but we had a south east/west weather pattern which stayed over the central part of the country for most of the month. When it wasn't raining, conditions were damp and overcast. Great conditions for growing botrytis not ripening fruit.
Picking started on 2 April and the bulk of the fruit was picked over a three week period.
Although the weather at the end of the season caused a few headaches and made picking decisions difficult, we are very happy with what we are seeing in the early stages in the winery.
The warm summer meant that tannin and phenolic ripeness occurred easily and early this year. Because of the summer heat, we also saw excellent flavour development begin in early March. And while March and April rains were not ideal for grape ripening (or winegrower and winemaker stress levels!), these helped slow the rapid ripening process we had been seeing with the summer heat. This meant that we were able to harvest grapes at phenolic ripeness, without seeing excessive sugar levels, and ultimately ensuring wines with more balanced alcohol levels.
As a result of the ups and downs of the season, we are seeing wines with lovely ripe tannins and flavours, which promise a delicate strength, finesse and above all balance. Although it is still early days, we are excited to see what the 2013 vintage will show as the wines develop.
Christine Kernohan, Managing Director/Chief Winemaker
Kyle Mason, Viticulturalist
Alexis Moore, Winemaker