It was a great relief getting the last of the grapes (the Viognier) safely into the winery on 7 May 2012. Every vintage has its challenges, but this season has easily been the toughest.
In August 2011, the Wairarapa received the heaviest snow fall it has seen for 50 years. The freshly pruned vineyards looked beautiful and as the vines were fully dormant, the snow didn't bother them.
But we had a late start to spring and a late budburst. The earlier varieties – Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris – burst on 23 September, around two weeks later than normal. The cool wet weather continued through the remainder of spring and summer meaning flowering and fruit set were also 2-3 weeks behind. Normally our summers are characterised by highs from the north-northwest, but this year it was lows from the east-southeast. December and January were two of the coldest summer months the country has ever seen.
Despite the weather, our vine canopies showed no signs of stress or disease and the delayed and extended flowering and fruit set did not affect our yields. Berry size was consistent and bunch counts showed we were at or above target yields.
In a season like this, having an open bunch zone is important to maximise air flow and light penetration – the sheep we use to leaf-pluck our vineyards are worth their weight in gold. The high summer rainfalls led to extra trimming and mowing to keep on top of the growth and keep humidity low.
Mother Nature continued to challenge, delivering 129mm of rain and cool and cloudy days through March. Ripening progressed at a slow but steady pace and the fruit stayed very clean despite not having any chemical inputs since flowering.
In April, the rain clouds finally moved on and the skies cleared giving us four weeks of settled weather to get the fruit to full ripeness. The graph, taken from our Dakin's Road weather station in April, shows the large diurnal temperature difference Gladstone Vineyard experiences during autumn which is ideal for producing premium Pinot Noir.
Harvest kicked off on 16 April and was condensed into a three week window because of the late start.
The Pinot Noir was first and came in a steady stream over two weeks. The fruit was nicely vine ripened and the flavours are soft and plush, displaying floral elements and subtle tannins. We kept skin contact to around two weeks post-ferment before pressing off and barrelling. We were pleased with how well some of our newly top-grafted Pinot clones came through – especially our more structural clones of 10/5 and Abel that are prone to later ripening. These should add a nice layer of depth and texture to our feminine, fruit-dominated house style in the years to come.
The Pinot was followed by a wall of whites, led by Sauvignon Blanc. A few long days at the end of vintage saw the end of what felt like the shortest vintage in memory. The late harvest meant that grapes were coming into the winery cold and crisp, preserving flavours and optimising site expression. Early blends of the Sauvignon suggest an array of flavours from steely and mineral to full-bodied, tropical opulence. We are looking forward to sorting our white blends for further maturation on lees and barrels to help build the palate-weight of the final wines.
The aromatics of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Viognier were the last into the winery and are all showing delicate and floral characters, lively acidity and plenty of palate weight.
Overall, the quantity is good, the quality is great and another successful vintage is under our belt. Now the hard work of fine tuning the wines in the bitter cold of a wintery winery begins in earnest!
Christine Kernohan, Managing Director/Chief Winemaker
Kyle Mason, Viticulturalist
Gerhard Smith, Winemaker