Winemaker’s Comment – Autumn 2014

Autumn has come early… fortunately it was kind enough to wait for the last grapes to be picked before descending. It’s a further reminder of the benefits of our continual push to earlier harvests; driven by our quest for wines of greater detail and precision. Having recently been fully immersed in making the 2014’s, it is a challenge turning the mind back to remember all the detail about the previous vintage. Such is the seasonality of winemaking. While it is hard not to be excited about 2014 (the newest child is always the apple of one’s eye) the slightly older sibling is shouting for attention.

2013 is a very interesting vintage; much heralded in some parts of New Zealand as a vintage of the century. We have a more measured view. Aubert de Villaine, head of the much vaunted Domaine de la Romaneé Conti, was down here a few months ago and mentioned how they no longer talk about good and bad years, rather easy and difficult ones. Now the cynic might say: “they would say that”, but he makes a very interesting point. Viticulture and winemaking knowledge, combined with the resources of a successful domaine, should ensure that the vast majority of difficulties can be overcome with cost, both in yields and financial. Therefore, the top producers should still be able to deliver the goods regardless of challenges. The inverse is true in the “great” years. We agree that, today, vintages aren’t so much about good and bad, but about the interest the year offers: the distinct footprint of a year’s weather. In the case of the 2013’s they are exuberant wines; broad and expansive. They grew up in a benign climate and have the easy confidence such an upbringing offers. But if this sounds like an introduction to easy wines, it certainly isn’t; these may be wines that will take many years to really teach us what they have to say. 2002 is similar in some ways and they are only now beginning to show us their full strengths.

It’s been a great team this year. We always say that, because it’s always a great team. Gareth does a simply amazing job of finding a diverse gang of keen young interns from around the world to join his steadfast regulars, and every now and then, we’ll let an outsider into the winery. Julien isn’t really an outsider though. Like any hopeful “stagiaire” (the French term for a temporary post), he had to pay his dues and work the vineyards for a few months first. This isn’t a hardship for the right kind of candidate; they understand that in order to make interesting wine, you have to understand the land: each vineyard block and how it behaves. His father has been making wine at Comte de Vogué in Chambolle Musigny for decades, so some of that understanding has long since rubbed off. Michael became assistant winemaker as a move from the vineyard, so he has a keen understanding of that process as well. The subtle but steady shift in focus over the years to an emphasis on biodynamic viticulture and the increasing expression of terroir is remarkable. It happens so slowly that we sometimes need to remind ourselves how far the shift has taken us.

I’d like to end with the fact that several weeks ago, Stewart Elms picked his 20th vintage at Felton Road. He’s our founder, has never missed a year of picking, but… 20 years! We’re growing up! Next year we’ll be 21 harvests strong… the key to some sort of door, a transition to a new era maybe… we don’t know what the keys will unlock, but it will be fun to see.

We trust you enjoy the wines.


Blair Walter