Winemaker's Comment - Autumn 2021


The Pinot Noirs of Vintage 2021 are now all safely tucked away in barrel leaving some of the Chardonnays and Rieslings to slowly ferment into the winter months, as is often the case. After very nearly catastrophic frosts from two days of snow in early spring, the rest of the growing season was fairly benign: not too hot, not too cold, perfect yields and stunning weather for the final ripeness and harvest. It is the third season in a row with no signs of increased temperatures. Is that reassuring, or just chance?

2021 was my 25thvintage at Felton Road. There were many times during the harvest when I reflected on this milestone. Whether it was admiring a piece of quality winemaking equipment that is still going strong, or being thankful that my ageing body can still dig out a fermenter of skins in respectable time; it was interesting to contemplate the earlier vintages and the strides we have made. We have often written about our increasing search for “somewhereness” and that this quest drives our thinking and our actions. While winery work is often relentless and heavy (lifting and stacking several hundred barrels), the light touch that is applied to the wines is increasingly evident. It’s usually about what we don’t do that really matters. I often question our style of winemaking. Like every profession, there are always new ideas and fashions, and winemakers are as vulnerable to FOMO as anybody. There’s a lot more we could be doing. However, we are concerned that while we could, potentially, make the wines ‘better’ (but in whose estimation?), we could inadvertently blur our sites expression by diminishing the tight focus. There is also the unease of impacting the distinctive house style by incorporating divergent ideas and approaches. Winemaking style is often described as a lens to express a region and site: so given that analogy, focus is key: clarity and precision in the flavours is what we’re seeking.

The 2020’s are, we think, definitive examples: detailed, expressive and finely structured. While it was the coolest season that we had seen in quite a number of years, the intensity of the viticulture and the less extractive winemaking has resulted in very elegant yet profound wines. In earlier times, cooler vintages tended to result in wines that became too dense and extracted. But I feel we have triumphed over 2020 (in more ways than one!). One fascinating feature of a cooler vintage for us is that the alcohols are all at 14.0%, compared to the more normal 13.5% we have been seeing in recent years. You would expect the cooler vintages to be lower in alcohol than the warmer ones but, paradoxically, it’s the extra hang time that is required for sufficient flavour and tannin ripeness that produces the sugar and resulting alcohol increases.

We were delighted to feature for the fifth consecutive time in the Drinks International “World’s Most Admired Wine Brands” list. We were taken by surprise when we first appeared on this list amongst such established greats as Vega Sicilia, Château Petrus and Guigal, but to have become an established member and, at Number 14, the top ranked New Zealand producer(with only three French wineries ahead of us!) is nothing short of remarkable for our small winery. The fact that the voting is by an academy of 200 of our peers in the wine world makes it all the more humbling.

2021 marks 30 years since Stewart founded Felton Road back in 1991. This, along with our recently completed 25thvintage, gives us a great reason to celebrate and we’ll be sure to forward you details in due course.

Enjoy the new releases, stay safe and well.