I haven’t seen a set of vintage conditions repeat itself yet; every season manages to be different, with a unique suite of challenges to be overcome each time. 2019 presented a thrilling series of frosts throughout April; 2018 was the hottest and earliest we have seen to date. 2020, of course, will be defined by a global pandemic and New Zealand going into national lockdown four days before we were due to start picking.
The spring and summer had been cooler than average, but quite dry, and luckily the lacklustre ripening period was alleviated by the relatively low crop levels. So we were sailing into a vintage closer in nature to 2004 or 2007 (smaller and cooler) and had developed battle plans around the lessons from those years… and then everything went out the window. All plans were defenestrated. Initial impressions were that we would have to walk away from the entire vintage and let it fall to the ground! Happily our governing body/lobby group, NZ Winegrowers, had our industry classified as “Essential” so at least we had dispensation to operate… but how?
Guidelines came through from NZ Winegrowers, daily, with tweaks and clarifications and a very clear message to Not Stuff This Up. We were extremely privileged to be allowed to carry on, and we had to be enormously careful every day in every way. Vast piles of PPE and bleach and sanitizer were sourced (not easy as everybody else was doing the same thing), every day we had to account for our movements outside of work, everybody had strictly assigned tasks and workstations and gear to look after and physical distancing was enforced. Not easy in the winery and even more difficult in the vineyard; the rows are not 2 metres apart! For a moment we considered simply machine harvesting everything but came up with a system of managing the hand harvest and keeping everybody safe, maintaining bubbles and the quality of the fruit at the same time. The light crop and clean fruit were key factors in helping achieve this.
So we muddled through. We didn’t get to have any lunches together, or share any wine, or do much other than clean our hands constantly and be extremely careful in every action we took. A unique suite of challenges indeed, and not a situation I want to repeat. But the vines performed just fine, they weren’t bothered by any pandemic and are well used to doing their job in our dusty soils these days. The ferments were well behaved and in fact look quite “classic” within the Central Otago framework; juicy cherry notes and silky tannins in the Pinots, pure fruit salad palates in the Gris’, and one of the prettiest Stolen Kiss Rosés I think we have ever produced. Small but perfectly formed, in other words, and some exciting results given the pressure-cooker environment of the Level 4 lockdown.
I’m looking forward to showing these wines off over the next few years!