Nigel’s harvest blog......

Thursday 26th March 2015

This is the last day before we start. A final clean down of the fermenters, washing a year’s dust from the picking bins, running all the pumps, the press, the de-stemmer, to see if a year of disuse has caused any issue. The weather has turned sullen and grey, not raining, but with a continual threat in the sky. The forecast ahead is mixed, but I’d rather cool weather than a heatwave. We’ll kick off in MacMuir, our first ever harvest there and an exciting idea from Blair. In the past we’ve sometimes made a Vin Gris: a "white" Pinot Noir, using free run juice from the fermenters of what will become red wine. But the young vines give us the possibility of taking some Pinot and whole bunch pressing it to make Vin Gris that isn’t a by-product, rather a true "blanc de noir". That enables us to choose a slightly earlier and fresher pick than we can with red wine Pinot as we don’t have to consider the tannin ripeness of the fruit to make a white wine. Will it be white or a pale salmon? We just don’t know, this will be the first time we’ve ever made a Pinot this way.

Yesterday I dug a couple of rows of potatoes, Pink Fir Apples; the best of our varieties. Two goat’s are hanging, ready to butcher, having met Mr Remington yesterday. Lamb with crispy couscous for lunch today, and an idea for a pomegranate, rosehip and mint raita to go with it. 

I tasted through the 2014’s on Tuesday with Blair. Very exciting wines, I cannot remember a vintage quite as special. When you have something like that to take to market, it makes the whole year ahead feel special; a chance to show everybody what these vineyards are capable of.

Friday 27th March 0610

Drinking coffee in the pre dawn dark and clearing out my inbox while I’ve got the chance. We didn’t pick yesterday, the weather had stayed cloudy and threatening, then, in true Central style, the skies cleared as we ate lunch and by 5pm it was roasting. Game on this morning and into MacMuir. We may get a chance to pick Saturday before rain heads in, but Sunday will definitely be rained off, maybe Monday too. Other than a front sweeping through on Good Friday it looks set fair for the week. 

An unexpected diversion at Wanaka airport: NASA are launching a near space balloon the size of a stadium. I stopped to see if it was imminent, but they were taking their time and the pickers will be already on the fruit, so I had to abandon the launch. 

First fruit comes in at 9.30: Clone 943 from MacMuir: looks gorgeous and tastes that way as well. Swordfish, pumpkin and mango curry for lunch, so hope that’s tasting as good.

Wednesday April 1st

A sunny morning, but the winery is quiet. After rainy weather at the weekend and a couple of days of fairly tentative picking (nice Chardonnay from Cornish Point and fruit from the Riparia blocks there, also some Block 2 and Block 8 Chardonnay) we have reached something of a gap. The cool weather has slowed ripening and nothing is quite ready to come in. 

Without pickers to feed, the fridges are getting a bit over-full. I have three Fallow Deer in the back of my car to butcher, and a pretty solid stock of goat already in the fridge, so I need some hungry stomachs to fill! Leungo cooked a great goat and chickpea dish for the pickers yesterday. Crayfish for lunch today. 

We are going to do a formal tasting of the 2014 pinots this morning, a good lead in to hone our minds with regard to the 2015 fruit. This afternoon, some colleagues from France will be here for a tasting, then I have a group of young Burgundy exchange students here tomorrow morning as part of their orientation. Always fun. 

Sunny and cold outside, perfect hang-time weather.

Saturday April 4th

We seem to be ducking and diving around the weather this year.  We picked Thursday (Chardonnay from Blocks 6 and 8), took good Friday off and today it’s Block 2 Chardonnay then off to Calvert for Pinot.  Luckily the rain went through in the night, so we have a full day today and tomorrow as well.  Monday has a huge front heading to us, but the mountains may well pull off their miracle trick and stop it dead, leaving us in the rain shadow. 

In these sorts of years, with the fruit sneaking in rather than going full bore, we often feel we’re not making progress, then suddenly we turn around and there’s only 20 or 30 tonnes still to pick. We could wrap it up in a full week of picking, but unsettled weather is going to stay, so we’ll still be weaving our way through rather than charging.

With the first Pinot having completed a week’s cold soak, it’s time to get ferments going. On a cooler vintage like this one, they can be a bit reluctant on their own so the winery have made a “pied de cuve”, a wild yeast starter from some of the Vin Gris juice. Add a few litres of the bubbling brew to a fermenter and it will be game on. 

Flying winemakers are here, saw Ted Lemon (Litterai, California) a couple of days ago and Peter Rosback (Sinnean, in Oregon) dropped in this morning.  Some distinguished Burgundians around as well: had dinner with Thierry Brouin and I know Francois Millet is due any day. 

Equally admired, but maybe less distinguished, locals have been by today as well. Duncan Forsyth came with the promise of one of his amazing organic weaner Pigs, and left with a leg of Fallow Deer. The tradition of barter stays strong in these parts.

Tuesday 7th April

Finally a return to Central Otago weather.  Bright blue skies, but the air still has a touch of humidity in it and nights have been staying unseasonably warm, often over 10 degrees; normally they would be close to freezing.  But warm nights keep the sugars a bit lower, which is good. 

I came in yesterday and for the first time it smelled like a winery: that magic day when we aren’t just soaking fruit but fermenting it. 

Last fruit in from MacMuir, Block 5 came in yesterday looking very good. Time to make some Riesling now the Chardonnay is mostly sorted.  Most vineyards are coming in quite light.  That’s reassuring in quality terms, but may mean that we are scrabbling a bit when it comes to allocations in 12 months time.  But I’d never complain; Bannockburn must have been the most reliable, consistent Pinot Noir growing region on the planet over the last decade.

Thursday 9th April

Started really cold and unyielding today, not nice weather for picking. But the rain has stayed away and we’ll be finished in Cornish Point today, so only the last Blocks in Elms to pick now.  Suddenly, the whole thing is rushing to a close.  We had a slightly more relaxed lunch today, (squid ink Paella with salt and pepper cuttlefish) washed down with some lovely white Burgundies, including a 2010 Pucelles to farewell the great Anne-Claude Leflaive.

Saturday or Sunday, we’ll all be over picking, so I’ll have a big party to cater for.  Then it all settles down to winemaking, and the vineyard team clearing up nets and lining up compost to apply before winter.

Still it’s much too early to make a call on the vintage itself: we know the fruit is sound, but personality is another thing altogether.  In about a week we’ll be tasting the first dry wines and maybe getting hints.  Probably in November we’ll have the first real understanding of what we have.

Saturday 11th April

Done! (At least pretty much done, just Block 1 Riesling for the spatlese and a press full of Block 2 Riesling still out there; a simple job for the vineyard team, so an end for our harvest crew).  We really snuck in under the wire: a beautiful blue sky day and I drove home, tired after putting out almost 250 plates of food to the vintage team, under the most breathtaking stars, yet mayhem is just over the mountains and rain will hurtle in tomorrow, followed by snow on all the hills, let alone the mountains on Monday.  So I can lie in bed tomorrow morning, listen to the howling weather and know that the pinot is safely locked away.  A smaller vintage, but not seriously small, almost exactly the size of 2012. Definitely solid in quality, but it will take until the end of the year before we can really see the nuance of the vintage emerge.  

As always, a great team and an emotional reunion to see so many familiar faces.  I write that last sentence and I realise the word familiar refers to family, and in so many ways our amazing harvest team are an extended family.  Somehow, we seem to bring together a team of people from a deep farming heritage and share together that ancient celebration that our year’s work has been brought home safe.  People have joined together in that effort and that celebration for millennia, so there is an almost visceral connection to the process.