The 2015 vintage is best summed up in three words from the current issue of NZ winegrower magazine “small but stunning”. Nationally yields were down a whopping 27%. In Otago they were down 15%. It was a vintage of quality not quantity. Well, that is for most of the country...however at Valli it was one of both. With our new Gibbston Vineyard up to full production this year, and picking up a long term-grape supply from a 3.5 hectare Bannockburn vineyard, 2015 was Valli’s largest tonnage to date.
The growing season had an excellent start with good soil moisture post winter. A cool start to October stalled growth until early November with a dose of rainfall coupled with a really warm spell had it shoot away. November felt like a very early summer. With good temperatures during flowering and fruit set and a very calm spring from a wind perspective the crop set was excellent. Late in December the temperatures cooled down for about 6 weeks until the end of January (one of the coldest on record and with unexpected frosts).The season picked up some heat in the latter part of summer with a warmer and drier than average autumn. With the exception of Gibbston, all of the sub-regions started veraison at the same time which is unusual. Ultimately the subregional ripening spread out and harvest was spread out.The overall fruit quality is good across all sub-regions due to the low late season rainfall.
The wines are showing some great concentration and complexity and should have great ageability.
CENTRAL OTAGO VINTAGE REPORT 2013 BY JOELLE THOMSON
29 Apr 2013
VINTAGE SUMMARY The 2013 vintage in Central Otago was foreshadowed by Jack Frost’s chilly visit in spring but thanks to the hot, dry and settled weather which followed, the quality of the grapes – and the vines - was extremely healthy. Not that it was all plain sailing. This year’s vintage was relatively short for many in Central Otago. This meant that many winemakers had an extraordinarily busy time bringing in all their grapes in less than a week – an unprecedented experience for many for whom harvest usually takes a couple of weeks – or more. Others experienced variable ripeness levels even on the same vineyard sites, making for a protracted vintage. And in Gibbston there was frost to contend with not only in spring but also in autumn; both seasons wrecking detrimental havoc to the quantities of grapes which were finally harvested. The late frost risk is something that Otago’s other sub-regions are generally able to escape. Despite the many fears throughout the region following the spring frost, the overall quantities of grapes harvested this year were slightly up from last year - by a whole 235 tonnes from 2012. This slight growth is attributed mainly to early fruit set and settled summer weather, says Steve Green of Carrick. The worst crop losses appear to have been in Gibbston and Bendigo; where wineries lost between 10% to 30% of their forecast harvest this year. GIBBSTON Many vineyards in Gibbston Valley lost grapes due to both spring and autumn frosts. Numbers were down from between 10% to 30% because ripening times varied dramatically this year, which created an elongated, perplexing and – for some – a stressful vintage. The flipside is that the long summer, which was sandwiched in between a frosty spring and autumn, ensured that grapes were characterized by a deep colour and soft fruitiness. Dean Shaw from the Central Otago Wine Company says that the spring frosts did not impact on bunch weights this year. Most of the grape he processed – from both Gibbston and from areas throughout the Cromwell Basin - were of average size, thanks to extremely hot weather during March. The most significant fallout of frost damage in Gibbston this year occurred in spring and affected flowering rather than ripening late in the piece. People without windmills in Gibbston lost a significant amount; up to 30%, but overall the quality of grapes harvested was extremely high; due to the settled summer weather. WANAKA Vintage in Wanaka in 2013 was the best year of the past three. The vines are the healthiest they have been in that time, thanks to settled warm weather throughout the 2013 ripening season, which enabled Wanaka’s vineyards to get back on track after a drought three years ago. Nick Mills of Rippon Vineyard says that the drought at the end of 2010 caused grapevines in Wanaka to struggle to gain nutritional uptake from the soils. This caused uneven ripening and growth over the past two vintages. In contrast to the past two years, 2013 saw grapes in Wanaka with the most uniform levels of ripeness in the past three years. The grapes this year were in extremely good condition with little to no disease pressure and high levels of ripeness and colour intensity. CROMWELL, PISA, BENDIGO Fast spring flowering, hot summer weather and high pressured harvesting were the key features of vintage 2013 in the Cromwell basin this year. When the swift spring flowering in 2012 was followed by hot summer weather - particularly in mid-January - the vintage came together, allowing extremely consistent ripening. The downside was the frost in spring. This hit some early blocks, decimating some of the flowering. Thankfully, not all vines were effected. The overall reduction in quantity was relatively minimal. Bunch sizes were generally average, with some slightly above average when measured by Dean Shaw at COWCO across a range of different vineyards, in mid April. This year also marks the first time winemaker Lucie Lawrence at Aurum Wines will make an orange wine. It’s a Pinot Gris with 100% skin contact and a couple of very clean, beeswax-lined amphorae pots but without any added yeasts or sulphur dioxide. The Pinot Gris grapes were cold soaked for about five days with entirely natural, spontaneous fermentation and intense orange colour and texture following. For many in the Cromwell, Pisa and Bendigo area, this year’s harvest was extremely short; running over just two to three days for Pinot Noir, with white grapes such as Riesling coming in later. Bendigo was badly hit by the spring frost but overall crop loss was significantly lower than predicted. Approximately 10% fewer grapes were harvested rather than the much-feared 30%+ reduction, which had been anticipated. Despite the frost, the season was truncated and extremely swift for wineries, such as Quartz Reef, where all Pinot Noir was picked in just two days compared with 10 days or longer; which is more usual in this area. This makes 2013 the quickest harvest ever for this winery. Most importantly, the quality of the fruit was high. Clean grapes, relatively riper than usual tannins and healthier canopies at harvest this year all translated to flavour ripeness at lower sugar ripeness, due to the canopy not being as advanced at harvest as it has been in previous years. This gave good uniformity to the grapes, which were extremely healthy when picked, due to the dry weather. There was little to no disease pressure leading up to harvest. BANNOCKBURN The beginning of the season was relatively cold in Bannockburn but the short hot summer that followed made up for it, resulting in extremely healthy vines this year. The warm season was relatively short, however, making for a stark contrast with much of the rest of the country’s 2013 vintage. Extremely hot weather in February saw a drop in acidity and was followed by a cool end to the vintage; the grapes have slightly lower brix levels than last year, due to earlier picking dates at the cooler end of the season. A 10% crop reduction was experienced by some Bannockburn wineries, but mostly for white varieties – Pinot Gris and Riesling, in particular – rather than reds. Vine health in Bannockburn this year was excellent across the board; the second vintage of late ripening Chenin Blanc grapes proved the point at Mt Difficulty where exceptionally large, exceptionally healthy, disease-free bunches were still hanging out on the vines in mid April. Bannockburn generally experienced extremely good vine health this year, due to the dry season – and more hands-on work in the vineyard by some. “The better you run your vineyard, the less difference you experience between the clones. Within the growing season, you already adjust within each clone what needs to be done with skillful canopy management. I am now spending more time hand tending my grapes and that’s really paying off,” says Steve Davies of Doctors Flat Vineyard, in Bannockburn. ALEXANDRA The last area to ripen in Central Otago also regularly records the driest, hottest and coldest weather conditions and this year that sub-region, Alexandra, was affected by frost. Not that vineyards in the area lost crops to frost. Rather, they harvested smaller berries. This meant a higher skin to berry ratio and extremely intense colour; both unexpected factors as a result of the spring frost. Both Mike Wing, viticulturist of Two Paddocks, and Phil Hanford of Grasshopper Rock, say the 2013 weather pattern was most similar to the 2007 and 2010 vintages. In each of these years, they experienced cooler than average spring temperatures but warmer than average February and March periods. Two Paddocks vineyards did not lose fruit to the frost. It did, however, experience a slightly lighter crop, due to dehydration from the dry weather late in the season. Like the rest of Central Otago, Alexandra had relatively warm, very settled weather in late summer. And the average bunch weights in Alexandra varied significantly this year too. Bunch weights for Grasshopper Rock were higher than expected at 126 grams and at Two Paddocks the bunch weights were smaller than expected. Like all of Central Otago, Alexandra experienced a series of critical frosts in early November. Vineyards there escaped damage, thanks to effective frost protection system; based on sprinklers, which ensured the vines were not damaged. *************** Joelle Thomson is the wine writer for The Dominion Post, Christchurch Press and Waikato Times. She edits Drinksbiz magazine, writes for NZ Winegrower and teaches New Zealand wine courses and Wine & Spirit Education Trust. www.joellethomson.com
A higher than average rainfall and more moderate temperatures thru the later part of the season perhaps made this one of the better seasons. Following a moderate spring, a perfect flowering period, with moderate bunch numbers set the season up well. Cooler temperatures and lower light days from bunch closure to veraison preserved fruit flavors and held acidity. Big rains mixed with extended dry periods held canopies in good condition allowing good maturation time on the vine. This resulted in good ripe fruit in perfect conditions.
Central Otago, at least early on, escaped the ravages of the big wet summer that affected most of the rest of New Zealand. In fact, December was one of the driest for a long time, with a welcome string of 30+ degree days throughout December until mid-January. There was also less wind than usual, and these conditions resulted in an ideal, quick flowering with strong berry set (except for those sites – mainly high altitude – adversely affected by the freakish snow/frost event in early November). It wasn’t until mid January that Central gained its first real rain (around 25mm), which was followed by more two weeks later. It wasn’t altogether unwelcome, especially leading into veraison. Conditions were looking ideal – a great summer with warm conditions, good fruit set, plus disease-free, healthy and open canopies and potentially a very early harvest. But on the 23rd of February, Central Otago up to 75mm fell over 24hours, which in some vineyards caused those berries with enough cell elasticity to balloon, or split those berries incapable of stretching. Suddenly average-sized bunches became oversized bunches. All was not lost – the level of splitting was negligible at best – but it did open the door for some late season botrytis pressure, which appeared after four more (smaller) rain events leading up to the middle of March. The few weeks leading up to and throughout the harvest the harvest were warm and dry (April was the driest on record): an ideal finish to a vintage that favours the best sites and with good management.
2010 will be noted as one of our most powerful and concentrated vintage on record although the conditions at the start of the growing season were cooler and exposed vineyards sites throughout the region were hit by quick changing weather systems and frequent windy days. Flowering took place over reasonably unsettled weather in December, and because of this berry size was smaller and bunch weights lowered. The unsettle weather patterns change from late January, and our vintage finished with higher than usual temperature and long settle periods of dry, hot Autumn days. Crops were picked within the traditional harvest dates in optimal conditions.
The smaller berry size, lack of disease pressure and long length of ripening have ensured wines of great quality and ageability.
The season started with a normal spring; neither hot nor cool with normal rainfall. There were the usual occasional frosts which were successfully fought. Good weather over flowering resulted in a very good fruit set. The summer was on the cool side and then February which is normally our warmest and most stable month, was unseasonably cool and wet. In recognition of the cooler summer, and then the cool February, crop levels were kept low to ensure a successful ripening. March was fortunately a return to normal warm and stable weather and the vines ripened very smoothly while holding good canopies. Picking started in early April which is about normal. Fruit quality was near perfect: small berries with clean fruit. Yields were about normal to just below normal and the wines are beautifully balanced.
The season started with good soil moistures after a relatively wet spring. Warm, stable and sunny weather during flowering resulted in a successful fruit set with moderate to large crops. Above average and well spaced rainfall throughout the summer months led to healthy canopies with a much decreased dependence on irrigation, and in some older vineyards with heavier soils, no irrigation for the whole growing season. Cool night time temperatures and a cold spell leading up to the harvest slowed and compacted the ripening so that harvest proceeded over a 4 week period starting in the last week of March. The harvest period was very dry and the fruit was in excellent condition. Larger berries and heavier bunch weights in some areas, along with the prolonged growing season contributed to bright and focussed wines with more fragrance than concentration. The wines possess fine and elegant tannins and are similar in structure to the 2006 and 2003’s.
A wet and cool spring followed by a cold December resulted in a slightly later start to the vintage. Numerous frosts were recorded and most were successfully fought, although there were reports of localised frost damage. Poor weather during flowering affected the fruit set and reduced yields by around 25%. The cooler start to the season was offset by healthy canopies and the reduced yield meant that for the most part, the vines didn’t have a problem in ripening the fruit. Summer finally arrived in early January, with February being the driest on record with virtually no rainfall. The warm and dry late season conditions allowed the grapes to ripen fully and have lead to wines which display both good concentration and exceptional flavour. The vintage was rich and concentration with great aging potential definition. The best sites produced very high quality wines.
An early bud burst and a very dry spring led to even shoot growth and an early flowering. Warm and stable conditions during flowering resulted in a very successful fruit set. The warm conditions continued with harvest starting as early as March 16 for many sites (the earliest on record). Interestingly, March was cooler than normal and provided more “hang time” and slowed the rate of ripening. Without these cooling temperatures the harvest would have been over very quickly and quality could have suffered. They resulting wines were both rich in tannin and acid resulting in a vintage that still continues to evolve. Overall this is a very exciting year for Central Otago as it was a good year in terms of both quality and quantity.
There was a warm start to Spring with no frost damage reported anywhere. The latter half of November and the month of December were miserably cold, (4 degrees below average monthly temperature) drastically affecting crop set with most areas seeing a 50% crop reduction (Average bunch weight at harvest 40 to 60gr, normally 80 to 120gr). January and February were both slightly warmer than average with a mini heat wave for two weeks where temperatures approached 40 C (almost unheard of)! There was more rainfall than average through these months with a shower every couple of weeks lessening the dependence upon irrigation. Autumn brought cool weather and very little rainfall allowing fruit to hang to full ripeness resulting in very low Malic acid levels. A late autumn frost did affect ripening in some parts of central.
There was a very good and even bud burst before frosts on 14 and 28 November which reduced the crop in the region by more than 50% (down to 1,800 tonnes). It was a generally cool summer with above average rainfall in February before weather settled and ripening could proceed sufficiently in warmer sites before the early frost during harvest. Despite being a very challenging vintage, the small amount of wine produced from great young sites has been surprisingly age worthy.
Very cold weather in spring resulted in slow spring growth yet amazingly frost damage free. Unusual hot spells followed by cold spells in early summer. Typical warm to hot February and March (incredibly dry), helped to even the growth and ripening. An unusual series of frosts in early to mid April slowed ripening allowing hang time without usual rapid sugar accumulation. Rainfall Feb=30mm, Mar=2mm, Apr=24mm.
Very cold winter temperatures in 2001 were followed by an unusually early and warm spring. This was followed by a moderate summer with warm temperatures without the highs and lows so less of our usual diurnal range. This led to the earliest harvest date yet of March 26. Yields were low to moderate with small berries. Rainfall: Feb=12mm, Mar=19mm, Apr=53mm.
After the lower yielding 2000 vintage, 2001 was large. Incredibly hot, sunny and stable weather during the flowering in early-mid December led to the fastest and most even flowering to date. A warm summer with the heavier crops, harvest started for the region on April 6. Rainfall Feb=25mm, Mar=28mm, Apr=8mm.
A vintage that was dominated by the heavy rains in mid-November of 1999 that caused significant flooding in Queenstown and Wanaka destroying some businesses on the waterfront. December was dry followed by a very wet January (117mm). Feb=28mm, Mar=32mm, Apr=53mm. Low to moderate yields caused by very small berry size gave wines excellent concentration.
A very hot summer with many days over 30°C resulted in an early harvest. Large crops probably helped balance this quick ripening. In mid April we had and unusual weather event with 100mm of snow coating vineyards in the Gibbston area and lighter snowfalls enough to dust the ground in Bannockburn. Rainfall Feb=4mm, Mar=83mm, Apr=69mm.
Warmer than 1997 with low to moderate yields. Harvest started on April 6. Rainfall Feb=34mm, Mar=69mm, Apr=41mm.