Winemaker's Comment - Spring 2020

In how many ways can this year be described as crazy? It’s given us so many… and it just keeps on giving.

After a somewhat benign Central Otago winter with no cold or southerly weather system extremes and some recent lovely spring days, we just received the coldest and fiercest weather event of the year. It snowed in the vineyard off and on for not just one, but two days. Normally we can receive that in winter and it’s not a problem, but when tender young buds are emerging, it’s a real concern that following frosts could devastate next year’s crop. Fingers crossed over the next few days (and weeks ahead) that we are spared, or at least, our frost protection systems may keep damage at bay.

Then, this morning, a friend sent an upsetting report and picture of the winery in Napa Valley where I spent two of my most formative years prior to commencing at Felton Road. Fire had completely burnt the unique circular tank room upon which sat my office and lab at Newton Vineyard. The beautiful and renowned gardens, sitting above the Chardonnay cellars where I once toiled, were burnt beyond recognition. I can only hope that the underground cellars and caves proved their worth and at least saved Newton’s previous vintage wines from the heat and smoke. Our thoughts are with them and all other winegrowers who have suffered from these extreme events over the last year.  

Tasting and writing the tasting notes for the first of the 2020 vintage wines provides a timely opportunity to reflect on this year and the unique conditions in which they were harvested and vinified. Fittingly, the Rieslings are as powerful and as distinctive as any that we have ever made. The cool March weather extended the ripening, preserved acidity, and brought a spine-tingling tension to the wines. The Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are yet to wake from their cold winter slumber and truly reveal themselves, but it is already clear that 2020 will not miss the opportunity to leave its profound influence on them.

I also find that I can’t taste the new release wines without acknowledging the influence my assistant Mike had on them. Mike has recently departed for his exciting new venture in Central Otago after being with us for the last nine vintages. We can’t tell you the name to look out for (he claims he doesn’t even have the name yet!) but rest assured that when the next seriously exciting label appears out of Central Otago it will be from Michael Wolfenden and his partner Olivia Ross (also a past employee). Mike dedicated himself to his position here and grew it beyond being an assistant winemaker, looking for ways to further our potential. He relished our respect for stepping back from the winemaking and focused on ways to push the vineyard for more “somewhereness” in our quest for vineyard expressive wines. We are pleased to appoint Larissa Woods as his replacement to the position of Cellar & Technical Manager. Assistant Winemaker might be the usual title but we do so little winemaking that it seemed redundant to us. Larissa has adeptly proved herself as a Mike’s technical partner amongst our vines over the last four years. She has also introduced a Germanic order and efficiency to the cellar in the last four vintages in such a way that our indigenous and sometimes capricious yeasts, obey her every command and finish to completion, or else!

We’re pleased to report that while we have been missing the Australian twang, banter and humour in our cellar door appointments, they have been largely replaced by visiting Kiwis. Sure, it’s a bit quieter, but it’s great to see the surge in domestic travel. We look forward to welcoming all of you at our cellar door and eagerly await the return of the sound of all the accents we have become accustomed to hearing. 

Enjoy the new releases, stay safe and well.