2020 Vintage Report: A Wine Harvest to be Remembered Among the Best

It is October: pruning has just finished and we begin to think of the upcoming harvest, 2021. Will we glide through spring frost-free? Will we have settled weather over flowering giving us the desired quantity of fruit? Will the summer be warm and autumn dry giving us the desired quality of fruit?

At the same time the mind looks forward, it can’t help but look back at the last vintage as a reference. So, the other question is: Will we have to harvest again under government restrictions around a virus?

A look at the 2020 Growing Season and Grape Harvest

2020 will be one of those more easily remembered vintages, not just because of the nervousness surrounding Covid-19 but also because of the nervousness over summer. The growing season was cooler than average in Otago and by late March we were wondering if our fruit would ever reach desired ripeness levels before the season ended.

Then came April and May. It would be impossible to dream of a better autumn for winemaking: six weeks of warm, dry, frost-free weather. The grapes had all the time needed to fully ripen.

Our last day of harvest was May 9th. My memories of that day are of discarded jackets, sweaters, shirts, even singlets hung on posts at the end of the row by mid-day and the thermometer reading over 20 c. Oh, for harvest conditions like those again…minus the virus of course.

The cool summer, particularly at the start, had the effect all summers like that have: slower cell division giving us smaller berries. Consequently, the total yields for all of Central Otago wineries were 28% lower than the previous year, even including new vineyard plantings coming on stream. Those lower yields also helped make it easier for what we had to ripen.

Expect concentrated and age-worthy Pinot Noirs

We know from experience with crops like this that the 2020 Pinot Noirs will be concentrated and very age-worthy. I say “from experience” as opposed to actually tasting, because at this time of year it isn’t really possible to taste and accurately understand the wines. They are “fizzy” - they have a lot of spritz as the warmer weather we are getting now has kicked off the second fermentation: the conversion of malic acid to lactic acid, or malolactic fermentation (called malo or MLF in winemaker speak). I know this but yet it never stops me from going into the barrel cellar with a “wine thief” and tasting glass in hand to see what there is to be seen, which is nothing really enlightening at the moment, but at least the curiosity has been satisfied.

The Malolactic Fermentation is usually finished by about late November so there will be no further reports on the 2020 Pinot Noirs until early in the new year. But that doesn’t mean no more newsletters, at the moment we are preparing to bottle Riesling and Pinot Gris from last year and as good as the reds are, the whites are spectacular. My come away thought from this vintage - and a surprising one - is the Waitaki Valley’s potential for whites. More than ever I believe this is the region that will produce the country’s greatest wines. To sum up the Waitaki:

“Curiosity leads us to great places, but patience is needed once there.”

Thanks for being on this journey with us and there is a lot more to see yet.

- Grant


PS - If you want to hear more about our experience making wine during a nationwide lockdown, hop on over to our posts from the winery and the vineyard about the 2020 vintage in relation to lockdown:

Harvesting Grapes During a Global Pandemic

Making Wine During a Global Pandemic