2018 was the warmest vintage I have seen in 25 vintages of winemaking in Otago - it was considerably warmer than average, or even the next-warmest vintage, being 2016. The vines loved it almost as much as the winemakers. Across all regions we produced fully ripe grapes and with healthy crop levels of between 5-6 tonnes per hectare (2-2.4 tonnes per acre), even the bank managers had reason to smile. The vintage characters are so obvious in the wines it gives us the feeling that possibly once in a while we actually know what we are doing. The warmer summer meant lower acids and riper, finer tannins. The wines are much more approachable when young than many previous vintages have been.
For Valli, 2017 can easily be summed up as quality not quantity, which is exactly where we like to be. While most of the country struggled with a particularly wet summer, in Central Otago we were saved yet again by our semi-continental climate. Although our summer was cool and the berries were small, bunches were light and crop levels were significantly down, it was a dry summer. The grapes were clean - in as good a physical and chemical state as we have seen them. The volume of wine was low, with about 2.5 tonnes per hectare. From a financial point of view we don’t want too many cool vintages however I do love them...well at least I love the wines they produce. Wines from the cooler years with lighter crops tend to be quite concentrated, are more complex with a broad flavour spectrum and great age ability. This is largely due to the high skin to juice ratio for the smaller berries.
2016 will be remembered as one of Otago's great vintages. It was warmer than the vintages either side, with some of the earliest, most uniform flowering I've ever seen. More significantly, it was - according to records - the driest in 56 years, and although we had the correct number of grapes, yield/ha was low as they were small and concentrated with a high skin to juice ratio. The resulting wines are darker in colour and have more tannin structure than previous vintages. There is also ripeness and a great concentrated fruit presence providing balance.
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.
A very cold winter gave us a slow start to the growing season. Warm weather arrived right on time in December resulting in excellent conditions for flowering and a good fruit set across the subregions. Whilst it was considered a warm January, it was marked by a series of very cold southerlies which brought snow to the surrounding mountains and slowed growth. Late January, leading into veraison, we saw stable weather with consistently warm temperatures for the rest of the summer. Thus it is remembered as a "warmer" year despite the cool start and unusual cold shocks in January. The key months leading into harvest (February and March) had unusually warm night temperatures. This resulted in a harvest with full ripeness achieved on time despite the slow start to the season. The wines show magnificent structure and great ageing potential.
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.