The Elms Vineyard - 14.4 Hectares
History & Location
The Elms Vineyard at the end of Felton Road lies in a gently sloping, north facing valley cut into the Bannockburn hills at the southern extremity of the Cromwell Basin. Immediately above the vineyard lies Stewart Town and a large dam, where water was stored for sluicing the slopes of Bannockburn during the gold rush which started in the 1860's. The fact that this valley was untouched by the gold miners is possibly a reflection of the deep benches of heavy soil that form much of its structure: soils unlikely to hold significant amounts of gold. After the gold miners departed, the slopes were left for sheep to graze until Stewart Elms discovered the site's potential for great Pinot Noir. He started to plant in 1992 and Felton Road began.
The vineyard has two principal soil types. Our preferred soil for the Pinot Noir is the deep swathe of Waenga - "very deep fine sandy loam" that forms a bench at the base of the hills. Block 3 is entirely comprised of Waenga soils. The parent rock is schist and tertiary sediments and the soils have developed on fan detritus from schist alluvial materials with an average 40cm cover of loess. Deeper down there are fine dendritic calcium carbonate accumulations overlying gravels and lake-bed sediments. The roots can easily penetrate through the profile and can be readily found at depths of three metres on 15 year old vines. The Waenga soils are of moderate fertility with good water holding capacity. The "Lochar" - shallow fine sandy loam is another fan soil of schist gravels with a thin loess covering. The schist gravels can be seen coming all the way to the surface and can reach depths of three metres and more. The very friable sandy gravels are interspersed with bands of sandy clay loam that can cement the gravels into pans, yet are still easily penetrable by vine roots. It is on these soils where we plant Chardonnay and Riesling.
The vineyard was planted over two phases: Blocks 1 to 9 were planted from 1992-1994 at vine densities of 2667 vines/ha and Blocks 10-13 were planted in 2001 with vine densities of 4000 vines/ha. Replanting of blocks continues where we feel new plant material and higher density will outperform vine age. The vineyard is comprised of 8.1ha of Pinot Noir, 4.1ha of Chardonnay and 2.2ha of Riesling. A wide variety of clones and rootstocks has resulted in a complex patchwork of viticultural trials. VSP canopy management is employed using a double Guyot system. The viticulture is fully organic and biodynamic.
Fruit from The Elms Vineyard is varied in personality. Pinot Noir from the deepest parts of our Waenga bench in Block 3 generates particular finesse and complexity. The same bench develops more clay and weight in Block 5, 100 metres farther east, something that is clearly reflected in the wine from there. Pinot Noir on lighter soils (Lochar) in Block 2, though of identical plant selections, is lighter and less impressive in tone. Block 2, however, seems ideal for Chardonnay and Riesling, while the heavier soils give extra weight to Riesling in Block 1. We have seen impressive depth in Chardonnay from Block 6 where we have soil very similar to that in Block 2. While the soils in Blocks 10 and 11 farther up the valley are very promising, vines are too young to confirm the potential as yet. The same is true of Block 13, perched on the hill behind the winery.