Nigel's Harvest Blog 2020

25th March 2020

Welcome to the  first week of the strangest harvest we have ever done, (in these extra-ordinary times I daren’t say the strangest we will ever do). 

I came off the plane from Europe 12 days ago; itself an extraordinary experience of masks, gloves, sanitising and distance keeping. I’m just completing my 2 weeks self-isolation at home, but that is academic because I move from self isolation to lockdown, which is essentially the same thing. 

New Zealand has taken a leaf from the likes of Hong Kong and Singapore who have demonstrated that act hard, early and you can actually get on top of this thing. It may well work: we’ll know in about 3 weeks time, so we all have fingers crossed. 

Our team anticipated the changing needs very well and long before we were given government instructions, we were thoroughly vetting all pickers and creating as safe a group as possible. We also designed a separation scheme to keep the winemaking team apart from administration and vineyard, as the winemakers HAVE to be kept functional, and for a few weeks longer than the picking team. 

Then early this week, just after we started the harvest at Cornish Point, it became clear that regulations might cause vintage to be closed down and the harvest left to rot. We all waited with bated breath for the news finally to come through that the government saw the importance and genuine need for winemaking to be declared an essential industry; (the wine may not be essential as a beverage, but without its revenue there is nothing to fund all the grapegrowing and winemaking teams for the next year and that is an awful lot of people in NZ). 

So, a visit by Blair to Jorg, who distills our brandy, to get a supply of the full strength alcohol, to make antiviral dispensers for everybody. I was also very kindly given a supply of pure ethanol from our local gin distillery, so we are well set up to kill stuff. Now we have to bring the fruit in and make it.

It will be very strange to have a vintage without picker's lunches and all the celebration of bringing the fruit in. I delivered a Fallow deer to the winery yesterday for the winemaking team, (I have to currently go in and out to the freezer when nobody else is around!). 

The weather is unusually cold, snow on the tops, frost threatening at night and days way too cool for proper ripening. So it will be strung out and we really need a bit of warmth to got things through.

The early fruit from Cornish Point is looking sound, but a long way to go before this is done.

Wish us luck… and may you all be safe… Kia Kaha.


3rd April 2020

So, 12 days into harvest. Last year at this point the fruit was all in: we target to complete in 12 days. But the cold weather is holding everything back. Cornish Point is done, Chardonnay is done, but most of the Pinot just isn’t ready. It’s no fun for the harvest team: locked down, and day after day of no picking, but we have to hold our nerve. We‘ve had 2 or 3 days that have been a little warmer and sunnier. Maybe we’ll get the snips out tomorrow. I have a feeling that when it does ripen it will all do it together and we’ll be frantic.

14th April 2020

A long saga…

So 3 weeks of picking and still a lot of grapes awaiting us. It is cold out there: snow on the mountains around us, and no sign of a warm reprieve. But a few days of gentle weather last week pushed ripeness forwards and the cool hang time is adding to our physical ripeness, if not to sugar levels. It is getting there, just crawling over the finish line, but nevertheless there. Pinot should be able to all come in this week. 

Cold years have historically been very kind to us, many of our finest vintages, in fact. This one is scary, but Blair has a quiet confidence about him, that is keeping our nerves at bay. He thinks he has the measure of. it. 

Our pickers have been truly heroic. The toughest circumstances, the toughest weather but they will not let that stop them. My thanks to them cannot be overstated. 

I’m still locked down 60 kilometres North in Wanaka. Maybe… maybe… we’ll be starting to move out of lockdown in 9 days time. With just 730 cases left in New Zealand and the total falling by 50 or so a day, this is maybe the only place on Earth to actually dodge the bullet. A fantastic team effort by every Kiwi. 

Kia Kaha to you all.

21st April 2020

Snow is on all the hills surrounding us. The sky is grey and sullen. But we don’t care: it’s in. 

Well, all but the Block 1 Riesling but that will happen when it's time comes. I have to begin by thanking the picking team. Harvest is fun when the sun shines, with good lunches and nice wines, fun and optimism all permeate the day’s work. This year has been cold, fractured, deeply uncomfortable at times, we aren’t allowed to cook them lunch or tasty breaks. Everybody cannot gather together to celebrate. But that has not stopped the dedication to bring the fruit in. The wines of 2020 belong to their commitment; literally. 

What will they be? First indications are excellent: concentrated, supple with brisk acidity and great balance. But it is early days, we’ll look forward to seeing them as the malo goes through in November. That seems a lifetime away right now.  But we’ll get there. 5 new cases today, all safely isolated. Just 426 people in New Zealand with the disease. It drops by several dozen every day. 

 We wish you all safety. It will pass. 

1st May 2020

Yesterday was special. After 6 weeks of separation, I was finally allowed to go back to the winery. I arrive at the gates, click my little fob and watch them open. I am back with my tribe. 

The vines are beautiful, still full of leaf, all of it that rich yellow that isn’t quite gold. The team are bringing in the late harvest Riesling from Block 1. The winery smells of yeast and that indescribable smell of fermenting new wine. By the time I’ve said my hellos, had a coffee, sorted out a few overdue chores, the fruit is in and, with one team gathering nets, the other is mixing prep 500 (the over-wintered cow's horn manure) in open barrels at the top of Block 3. A couple of people are tying branches of thyme, gathered up the hill, into brushes. These can dip into the prep and be used to spray it, Jackson Pollock style, onto the vines; a quick thank you before they settle down to sleep for the winter. The prep 500 is just an amuse bouche really. Compost will be spread as a main course, rushing to get it on before the vines are fully dormant. 

I have a chance to personally say thanks to the vineyard team who have delivered us the chance to make 2020 Felton Road. An invitation to sit and have lunch cooked by Harry, our vintage chef, though I have to sit at the other end of the big table, still keeping my 2 metres distance from the winery team. And then, finally, the chance to actually taste it: 2020 Pinot Noir. Most of the fermenters are dry now, a few pressed off. The wines are surprisingly friendly. I’d expected more aggressive malic acid, but the core of dense fruit is the dominant part. They are rich but savoury. This is good stuff. 2020 may be the Covid vintage, but it will be known for a lot more than that. 

May you all be safe. Our harvest is. 

22nd May 2020

Today is my last at the winery this autumn. I arrived to the sound of gently clinking bottles and my pulse raised a notch. We were due to start bottling in three days time, the day after I fly back to the chaos of Europe.  But, our bottling truck was ready early and so it seems fitting that I end my time here by watching the 2019 Bannockburn Chardonnay leaving its home for the last 13 months and being secured into cases. 

It’s the start of the next phase of its existence. Born a little over a year ago, it leaves its home and heads off into the world. Where will each bottle be opened? What will be happening there? Who will drink it? These are the sorts of questions that seem to be suddenly relevant; though in a previous vintage they may never have occurred to us. 

Over the next week, Bannockburn, Cornish Point and Block 3 Pinot Noirs will follow it down that line. Then the season is done, time to settle down to the more mundane tasks of shipping and reflecting on the rollercoaster of the last three months. 

The vineyards, of course, never really stop. Compost making is in full swing; goats come into kid, ready to deliver in the spring, and a new small Chardonnay project by Pipeclay Creek in Calvert Vineyard will keep the team busy in the cold months, as if 150,000 vines to prune wouldn’t! 

Be safe out there.

Kia Kaha