Winemaker's Comment Autumn 2009

There's a cold wind blowing through the vineyards today: about two thirds through harvest and all is going to plan, so I'm getting a few jobs done and writing the newsletter is one that needs to find me in a pensive mood. The weather may not suit the pickers, but I’m happy to have the fruit arrive ready chilled to the winery. The cold trends we've been seeing through the 2009 season reflect the global mood as economic chill has descended around the world.

Obviously this has been something of a concern to us; a time to reflect on how we should react. It has been very heartening to see how most of the 30 or so markets we export to have reported that they are sold out and seeing a very positive demand staying in the marketplace. This prompts us to think about why this could be.

First of all, we have been very careful over the good times of the past few years to be very conservative in our pricing. Over many vintages where demand has wildly exceeded supply and when some of our most sought after wines have been sold at prices way above our norm, we have resisted the temptation to test the market and take profit.

Secondly, we have focussed unremittingly on increasing quality. In a winery where minimal intervention is the rule, there is not much scope for changing tactic, so the focus is on learning. We taste a new wine, discuss its history (each and every lot we make has a documented history that would be worthy of a Tolkien archive) then pore over the older archives looking for lots where we have seen similar trends or signs. In this way we try to make sense of the data so carefully preserved and add to our understanding of exactly what is happening in the vineyard and winery. It is a slow, painstaking and often misleading process, but it is the only one which makes any sense to us.

Lastly, we have tried to always see things from our customers point of view. This isn’t a bit of marketing speak, but a much simpler exercise. For us, the customer isn’t our importer, or their customer, but always the person who ultimately turns the screw and releases our work for their enjoyment. Until the wine reaches that person, it is still simply in distribution. Understanding them is not so hard. We love drinking good wines, so we simply turn to our own feelings: what delights us and what annoys us about our own wine experiences, then we consider how we might apply that understanding to what we do.

Wine gets into distribution and sells its first bottle (sometimes its first case) on the recommendation of critics, friends, or a salesperson. What happens next is a hundred times more important; because it starts, or ends, a lifetime relationship. We try very hard to spot those lifetime friends when they come into the cellar door; many will arrive not offering a clue that they have been buying our wine for years, never visited or introduced themselves: just done it, as Nike would say. We need our radar turned up to spot somebody with a big personal investment in what we do, who chooses not to trumpet that investment.

All this, I suppose is a musing on our friends those that we know and those that we don’t, but who know us who are out there. These are the times when one needs friends.

And so to the 2008s. The Felton Road Pinot Noir is bottled, the other four Pinot Noirs are sitting quietly in barrel, but three will be bottled by the time you read this. I was worried coming off the back of the exceptional 2007s how this vintage would fare. It was very reassuring to see the finished wines and realise that this is a vintage to be proud of. Darker and more brooding than the 2006s with a juicy and slightly rustic edge (I regard a bit of rusticity as a very good thing as we can easily make our wines too polished here in Central Otago). It has fantastic pinosity. The wines also show a bright zestiness which gives them appeal in their youth, but a structure underneath that will reward cellaring. A great year for Chardonnay as well: at last I feel we are getting on top of our long search for our appropriate expression of Chardonnay. We’ve made many Chardonnays Ive been very happy with in the past, but we’ve lacked the consistency of interpretation of the land that we seem to achieve with Pinot Noir. Now that seems to be falling into place.

Finally a heartfelt thanks to our harvest team. Each year our stalwart group of mainly retired local friends come to bring in the crop. They don’t do it for the money, but to be part of the harvest ritual. Last Thursday, we told them we needed them to give up Easter Sunday and come in to pick. No sideways glances, no muttering of what had been planned, they are mainly of old farming stock and know that harvest comes first. We simply would be lost without you guys, thanks so much.


Blair Walter