Nigel’s Harvest Blog, 2019

Saturday 30th March

We’ve now finally returned to typical Central Otago autumn weather: no wind, cold nights, slowly warming sunny days, happy pickers. These conditioins are absolutely ideal for a harvest: the fruit hangs in good condition, not ripening too fast and running away before we can pick. The cool sunny weather is ideal for being out all day without getting exhausted. And a smile on the face of the winemaker. 

That is always a good thing. There are dozens of things that can have Blair concerned, this year it has been the slow development of the sugars; in theory a wonderful sign, but if they are too slow, then we have trouble. But it looks like they are right on the button. Volume is down, maybe 20% below ideal, but the quality is as good as I’ve ever seen; thick skins, deep flavours, small berries. We’ll take an 80% crop of amazing fruit any day!

After a day when we brought in about a quarter of Cornish Point, we’re in The Elms today; Chardonnay from Block 6, Pinot from Block 13, then the team will move to Calvert and take a fermenter full. Then probably Sunday as a rest day, as the threatened bad weather on Monday looks as if it won’t happen. That sets us clear for a week of steady harvest. A week with a big team will break the back of the task. Then we’ll be working round the late blocks, for a last 3 or 4 days. That’s the theory. Let’s hope it happens!

Tuesday 26th March

Waiting… waiting… it seems like forever, this year. Fruit has been close, but not quite there. But with a long holiday weekend of warm weather behind us, suddenly we will have a large amount of fruit ready to go. 
And then the rain comes. So sitting, waiting, maybe tomorrow, followed by a day or so of dry, maybe some more rain Sunday.  Then we should be clear for a week. A week with a big crew will break the back of it: maybe 120 tonnes of fruit in, then we are just clearing up the late blocks. 
It’s looking really good: thick skins, lots of dry matter, crunchy seeds, modest sugars and good acids. Everything we like to see. But the catch: it’s still out there, not in the winery. We need to change that. 
New barrels are being unwrapped, and some oak from a new forest in the Jura. The calm before the storm is nearly over......

Monday 8th April

The timeless weather has held as promised. It is timeless; not a breath of wind, freezing dawns, slowly warming through the morning to an afternoon in the high teens or low 20’s (Celsius that is). The mountains are crisp and white, the air tastes as if it were born yesterday. It is intoxicating. 

But seriously cold to get up and pick grapes to. So each morning I plan a soup. That’s over now: tomorrow we’ll be picking the last blocks in The Elms and harvest will be done. (we’ll probably leave Block 1 Riesling out for a later pick by the vineyard regulars as usual). 

Lunchtime will see the team come in for harvest party. We need to entertain the picking team for about 45 minutes or so, while the full time team sort and clean the buckets and bins, putting everything away for another year. Then the festivities can begin. 

I have a big pile of goat kofta kebabs to make, slow roast kid and and several other parts of the feast. Tess will be manning the winery kitchen doing all the breads, dips, and the fancy bits. By mid afternoon, we’ll know the tonnage, (which will be a little down, but not scary) and our income for the 12 months after next will be resolved. 

Because that is what harvest is for a farmer: it’s the years income, 12 months work squeezed into a few frenetic days that end on Tuesday. The weather on Wednesday will be rubbish… as if I care.

Wednesday 3rd April

A frost this morning at home, and we are into proper autumn conditions: still, sunny, freezing nights and only in the teens during the day. Just what we need for hanging fruit, in fact. Today we are roaring through Cornish Point, Gareth was claiming he might be up for 20 tonnes, Blair thinks a bit less. Either way the fruit is staying very good: powerful stuff. By now we have our eyes on the end date: maybe Wednesday next week, maybe Thursday. The end often isn’t the actual end; a few small sections will be left for the full time crew, but the last day of the big team is important because it is the harvest party date. Already we have a kid hanging in the shed (it met Danny, registrar of births, marriages and deaths, yesterday). 

We discussed recipes for a goat themed meal: Persian? Parsi? Both are a bit more exotic than going the African Arabian route. The hunt is on for pomegranates. 

Monday 15th April

I’ve been quiet for a week, partly just recovering and getting settled into winemaking phase.

All is in except for Block 1 Riesling, which is sitting quietly watching the trees turn golden. Fruit quality is very exciting, thick skins, ripe seeds, and as the first wines ferment to dryness, the flavours are looking terrific. When the winemaking team all have smiles on their faces, it’s a good sign. Volumes are a touch down, but only a touch, nothing to lose sleep over.

Right now the nets are coming off and the vineyard team are turning their thoughts to compost spreading and making; the cycle never stops. The weather is staying cold and sunny.

That’s another one under our belt: vintage 23.