Nigel’s harvest blog 

Sunday 24th April

I looked today and realised it’s been 2 weeks since I wrote anything! That’s harvest for you… you just get buried in one thought: get the fruit in, get it right, healthy, but whatever happens get it into the winery the moment it hits that magic point of ripeness.

Well it’s in and has been for a week and a half, but the moment the harvest party is over there is not only the wine to be made, but all the work that has been dropped for the last three weeks of picking. So writing gets forgotten, sorry.

I’m happy to say that it’s a generous harvest, but not big enough for quality to be an issue. Sugars are pleasingly low, acids are low as well, but not scarily so. Flavours from the first ferments seem to have a pleasing rusticity. I have a feeling that this is going to be somewhat similar to 2008, but with the benefit of an extra 8 years vine age. When 2008 happened, we weren’t sure; we were optimistic, because of those rustic brambly flavours, but nervous because of the more generous crops. Roll on 8 years and 2008 has consistently been one of our favourite vintages. So, fingers crossed that we’re heading that way again.

Now with the vineyard team finishing nets and literally digging in to spreading compost and making next year’s compost, the winery team are getting to the point of tasting enough fermenters of dry Pinot to get a firmer view.

They also have their eye on the 2015 Pinots and Chardonnay. In 4 weeks time the first three Pinots will be bottled, for release. I remember at this time last year, when we were tasting the 2015’s as they went dry, Blair commenting that he felt they had a character somewhere between the 13’s and 14’s. A year on, it might be truer to say they are somewhere between the 12’s and 14’s, which we are very happy about. As 2012 and 2014 are our two preferred vintages to date, the 2015’s will be a third vintage out of the last four that vies for the top slot. It has been a fantastic run in terms of quality of fruit and has made by far the most consistent 4 vintages we have seen to date. Unfortunately 15 is a smaller vintage, but the 16 should compensate for that.

Tuesday 5th April

Yesterday was the first proper Central Otago day in weeks: cold, cloudless, perfect harvest weather and the team into the 943 at MacMuir. We are well past the halfway mark now, but the weather is seriously cold and cloudy this morning, hard for the picking team. We fed everybody some amazing wild venison yesterday with polenta and beets and I need to get going on some chilli for tomorrow. At least the temperatures are leaving the fruit in suspended animation, so we can pick without worrying about ripeness issues, but it isn’t a lot of fun. The weather will hold for today and tomorrow, may turn nasty Thursday, but we’re hoping the front will go through in the night and not slow us up. We had a nasty fright from rain on Sunday, but a brisk breeze came through right behind it and dried everything nicely. As Mr Einstein once said: “God is subtle, but he is not vindictive”. I hope so; we can deal with challenges as long as it doesn’t kick us when we’re down, so to speak. 

Fruit is looking very good, solid volumes and low sugars. Acids are quite low, but that probably means low malics, which shouldn’t be an issue as the acid will be stable. I just want to see it in, safe and sound. Maybe by the end of the weekend we’ll have achieved that.

And most important of all, we have a new member of the team! Blair and Sarah have a daughter; Neive, born yesterday in Dunedin. Blair has just dropped in to check on Mike’s winemaking before he goes back to being the dutiful father.

Friday 1st April 

A dull rainy day, so no fruit coming in yet. But the winery is smelling suitably active with Chardonnays fermenting at full throttle. Really interesting to read about some new biodynamic research; a team led by Puldee Uderwan at the Bengali horticultural institute have estimated that global warming is going to shift the biodynamic calendar. By 2020 flower days will be leaf days, leaf days will be fruit days and root days may not happen at all. Scary stuff. But right now it is a rain day and we need it to be a sun day. Hopefully we’ll be picking by this afternoon.

Thursday 31st March

The weather is feeling more like Central Otago autumn: cold nights to near freezing, but while we are getting sun, we’re not getting much warmth. The unsettled weather continues ahead with rain likely tomorrow and maybe Sunday. But grapes are coming in, Chardonnay is almost finished and looking fantastic, with distinctly typical fruit from Cornish Point this morning; the Riparia blocks of Dijon clones: 4, 5, and 6. This afternoon they may well get into the Abel blocks there, which always exciting fruit to see arrive. With a big team picking we might see 15 tonnes out of Cornish Point today.

Tomorrow we’ll pick until weather forces us out, staying at Cornish Point to try to put a serious dent in the Pinot harvest. Then we’ll be back to Elms at the weekend, finish Chardonnay… who knows? By then Blair and Gareth will have a plan. Paella for lunch today: local rabbit, chicken and Tuatua clams. Need to go cook it now, so signing off.

Tuesday 29th March 

Unbelievably, we took the Easter weekend off. The cool weather leading into Easter gave us the confidence that the fruit would benefit from waiting. So I’ve been cooking food for the pickers and winery all weekend, getting ahead of the game before we get buried. Last week we pulled in Chardonnay from Cornish Point and Elms, and 2 small fermenters of Pinot from Cornish Point. Five years ago, I developed a theory that our higher sugars in Central Otago are the result of our unusually cold nights in late summer. The warm nights of the last few weeks did exactly what we predicted might happen and we have remarkably low sugars for the development of the fruit. This is exciting, not just because it confirms an important clue in our viticultural jigsaw, but because it promises lower alcohols and a chance to pick later, with higher physical ripeness. So the pick will be relatively late. We missed the heavy rain that struck in Marlborough and Blenheim last week, just having a light shower to freshen the fruit.  

Now, everybody’s had a few days off, fresh and raring to go. We need fruit ready to pick and hopefully, the weather will oblige. Beef quesadillas for lunch today: I have Robert showing off his skills with Mexican food.

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