Winemaker’s Comment – Spring Newsletter 2007

After a brutally cold winter and the best curling season in years, it was a great relief when spring finally arrived. For two weeks the highest temperature recorded at the vineyard was 1C, with one day not getting above -3C! A bonspiel was called and Gareth and his team dropped secateurs to make the most of the natural ice and went curling. Many people ask if these prolonged cold temperatures can be damaging to the vines but it doesn’t hurt them until the temperatures get down to below -20C. We actually even benefit from the cold winters reducing the incidence of various pests and diseases that can’t over-winter in such cold temperatures. It also delays bud burst which decreases the time exposed to damaging early spring frosts. We also often get asked about the potential to make an ice wine. But you need temperatures below -7C to harvest and press the grapes and while it sometimes gets that cold, it’s not reliable enough to justify leaving the grapes out in the hope that it does. Anyway, getting picking teams to work at 3 am in midwinter, not to mention winemakers, is a pretty tough call! 

I think the 2007 Rieslings are looking very fine and could well be our best to date. The moderate sized crop and excellent growing season (dry and without the intense heat we experienced in 2006), meant that harvest started and finished earlier than expected after a cool spring start. There is impressive ripeness of aroma and flavour, defined minerality and our hallmark delicacy and poise in both the Dry Riesling and the off-dry Riesling. The cool December affected the flowering more in the sensitive Pinot Noir with yields down around 25% while Chardonnay and Riesling were relatively unaffected. With these reduced yields and small berries, the 2007 Pinot Noirs at this early stage are looking very impressive also. The cold winter has delayed the start of the malolactics, but despite this we can see that 2007 is going to be a special vintage. The 2006 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have now started to settle down in bottle and are both beginning to drink very well.  

New from the 2006 vintage and being released for the first time is a special bottling from Calvert Vineyard. Gareth and his team have been looking after the Calvert property - which is just 1km east along Felton Road since 2001, and we have planted further vineyards there to a total of 10 ha. Our first harvest was in 2002 and Calvert has been and continues to be, a significant component of the Felton Road Pinot Noir. Owen Calvert and his wife Michelle McNabb both work with disaster relief agencies in Africa (a long way from home for a Cromwell boy, and for Michelle who comes from Indiana, U.S.A.). Bringing up three small children as they travel and live in some of the most desperate parts of an often difficult and dangerous continent makes growing Pinot Noir seem a humblingly easy task, As we planted more Pinot Noir for Owen and Michelle, we invited our friends at Craggy Range and Pyramid Valley to share a parcel of their fruit each year. So look out for their versions of the 2006 Calvert Vineyard Pinot Noir. It is fun and interesting to contrast the different winemaking styles of the three interpretations of Calvert Vineyard. 

Both Caroline and Jane have just returned from working vintages in Europe. Caroline has been with Fattoria Mancini in The Marches region of Italy where friend Shayle now lives and works. Jane has had several weeks with Domaine de Montille in Volnay, Burgundy. Both thoroughly enjoyed their vintages and have returned with a new appreciation for the European harvest and winery traditions, many of which we have adopted here at Felton Road. Of course, they loved the wine but its interesting that they talked more about the food - Nigel will be pleased to see them honing their European cuisine palates! 

Over the winter I have been doing a series of events to celebrate our tenth vintage. First up was Hong Kong, then a series of vertical tastings of all ten vintages of Pinot Noir in Australia and New Zealand. The vertical tastings were really interesting: revisiting the older vintages and giving the opportunity for people to taste and discover the strong progression we have been making with our wines over recent years. Most tasters have seen a very clear line between our first five vintages (1997-2001) and the second flight of our most recent five (2002-2006). In the earlier five wines, while there definitely are some standout wines, there is greater variation and more pronounced vintage change evident. The second flight was unquestionably of higher overall quality and showed a remarkable consistency despite the vintage differences; "Felton Roadness" overshadowing the seasonal effect. As Tyson Stelzer (a highly regarded wine writer from Brisbane) commented .. (Blair) was in Australia recently conducting vertical tastings of their first decade of Pinot Noir. The trajectory of quality improvement that this estate is on is nothing short of extraordinary!

We hope you enjoy these new releases 


Blair Walter