Nigel's Harvest Blog 2023

Tuesday March 21st

For a few days now, the smart money has been on today for the start of harvest. It has been very cool and surprisingly moist over the last two weeks or so, in fact it has snowed on the hills three times in that period. Rain was forecast for this morning but it fell through the night and the dawn broke to grumbling cloud and a cold Southerly wind. By lunchtime everything was drying off fine but we aren’t in any hurry, so we’ll hang on until Thursday. Even then, there’s not much to bring in. The point being that the weather is cool, the fruit is picture perfect, everything is in a lovely balance but inching to ripeness not sprinting. That means when we start we can, literally, cherry pick at the peak point.

Jean (our young Parisian chef for this year) is cooking up a storm, we’ll definitely weigh a bit more by the time this is done!
Hoping to grab a couple of Rainbow Trout from the lake tomorrow to add to his larder and some amazing Cloudy Bay Diamondshell clams due to arrive later in the week.

Thursday March 23rd

We’re off! More with a whimper than a bang with some small picks from the young vine Chardonnay at Pipeclay Creek and in Block 9 of Elms. The fruit is clean and the pickers are happy. Freezing cold in the mornings (0.3C at MacMuir at dawn this morning) but warming with the sun and lovely sunny days. The sort of days when there’s a bonfire pile of discarded clothes from the picking team by lunchtime.

Friday March 24th

Time for the first Pinot to arrive after a quick early foray into the younger Chardonnay vines in Block 2. Our first Pinot is nearly always from the Riparia Blocks (these are Blocks 3-7 of Cornish Point, which have Riparia Gloire rootstock). As I write this the winery is filled with the sound of the Stones playing, Jagger assaulting a harmonica on a live track, Mick Taylor supplying the guitar. In about 20 minutes time the first trailer will be here and the game begins.  

Monday March 27th

OK...The full picking crew are now called up for duty. Starting with Chardonnay while the fruit is cold (it was only down to 9C last night, positively balmy by Bannockburn standards). Then on to Pinot at Cornish Point. Sun is shining and all is good… so far.

Monday April 3rd

Wow! Where did that week go? In truth quite a lot of it was continuing the dodge of cold and petulant weather. But while it kept the pickers shivering quite a lot and rain was never far away, it ended up not closing down the picking nearly as much as we’d suspect. With the big crew, especially with our team Vanuata on hand, fruit flew in. By Friday we could pause for a team lunch and send our Vanuata gang on to their next job. By Friday night Cornish Point and Calvert were sorted, Chardonnay all put to bed and a good bite out of Elms.

Today it’s been a delve into Block 5 and Block 3 in the morning, then up the road for a slice of MacMuir.  We can move into the remaining Pinot at Elms tomorrow and have a first look at the Riesling in Block 4. Then, as long as nothing gets too hostile on Wednesday, when rain could rear its head, we’ll be in good shape to have it all over bar the later Riesling picks by the time Easter hits.

Yields are about bang on target for Chardonnay and a little lower than norm for Pinot, but only slightly. Bunches are nice with small berries. The only thing is… the cheese hasn’t arrived. Where are our obscenely large hunks of Comté and brown cow Parmesan? Chef is getting grumpy!

Wednesday 12th April

We thought we’d be long done by now but continuous glum and often wet weather has been putting the sulks on the whole thing. When we get a gap, we pick, and we are sneaking through it but it is slow and painful. Now we can see a four day sunny slot starting Friday. So, do we wait for the sun and risk some rot sneaking in or do we take the opportunities when we can?

At least the fruit is obliging so far and patiently waiting for us. The sun just came out for a few seconds, so that may well be the decider!

Monday 17th April

It’s in. I can’t say it wasn’t stressful; ducking around grim weather, watching the vines steadily come to the end of their patience, hoping that rot and under-ripeness weren’t going to bite us. But, once again, Blair and Gareth called it right. They had the nerve to wait and the confidence that if they did, the numbers would align. And they did.

Not for everybody, though. Sites with less frost resistance, cooler locations or simply with less vineyard and harvest resource have suffered. I always have a bit of survivor's guilt when this happens. It seems unfair. But ultimately the good sites are those that deliver regardless and when you have the team ready to respond you can turn bad into difficult.

So, we have a very happy and relieved team who have a solid volume and excellent quality of fruit to show for a pretty scary end to the season. It raises a question: this is the second time (the first being 2018) when we had a cyclone hit New Zealand, miss us, but leave a chaotic cold and wet weather pattern that reverbrated for a few weeks and turned what would have been a warm and calm harvest into a scrabble. Could this be a pattern to expect in the future, given that cyclones might be a regular occurance in North Island New Zealand in the new climate norm? Time alone will tell.

As soon as the picking was over, the weather returned to our usual sunny and calm autumn. The autumn colours are particularly vibrant this year, especially in a lot of the vines, where (mild) frosts have added a red to the usual gold.

We had our usual end of harvest feast on Friday, where Jean: our young vintage chef from Paris, got to show off his skills to the harvest team. I think he’s going to be snapped up by a local restaurant for the ski season, an arrangement that will please both sides.

Meanwhile we have another three weeks of winemaking to turn fruit into wine sitting in barrels. Then it’s really in.