Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir

Tuesday 28th April

Well a few days have gone by and we are almost through harvest. Only the Cabernet Franc and the Syrah left to bring in now. We are still enjoying a marvellous run of fine weather, and the quality of fruit coming in remains high. All the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris ferments are under way and looking good, and I’ll talk in future posts about how we manage the ferments for optimum quality. But today I thought I’d talk a little about these two varieties.

Pinot Noir is a red wine grape variety of the species Vitis vinifera. The name may also refer to wines produced predominantly from Pinot noir grapes. The name is derived from the French words for "pine" and "black" alluding to the varietals' tightly clustered dark purple pine cone-shaped bunches of fruit. Pinot Noir grapes are grown around the world, mostly in the cooler regions, but the grape is chiefly associated with the Burgundy region of France and, increasingly, New Zealand, where wines that match their Northern Hemisphere cousins are making their mark. Pinot Noir is widely considered to produce some of the finest wines in the world, but is a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into wine.

Pinot Gris is a white wine grape variety of the same species, Vitis vinifera. Thought to be a mutant clone of the Pinot Noir grape, it normally has a grayish-blue fruit, accounting for its name ("gris" meaning "grey" in French) but the grape can have a brownish pink to black and even white appearance. The wines produced from this grape also vary in color from a deep golden yellow to copper and even a light shade of pink. The clone of Pinot Gris grown in Italy is known as Pinot Grigio.

Interestingly, the DNA profiles of both Pinot Gris and Blanc are identical to Pinot Noir. Pinot Gris is a bud sport of Pinot noir, presumably representing a somatic mutation in either the VvMYBA1 or VvMYBA2 genes that control grape colour. Pinot Blanc may represent a further mutation of Pinot Gris. (Source: Wikipaedia)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

ANZAC Day - Very Special

Saturday 26th April.

Last day in Brisbane and 26C – back to NZ tonight, and 10C!

Today is ANZAC Day where Aussies and Kiwis honour their war veterans. It is a wonderful tribute and each year attracts more and more participants, particularly young children who have started to develop an appreciation of the sacrifices made by previous generations on behalf of the current one. Watching old veterans parade proudly, and celebrate their contribution to their country's military successes, makes one wonder what we have lost as society becomes ever more self-centred.

All shops are closed until 1.00pm today, and it is wonderful to see how retailers respect this.

After lunch though it was back to work and several store calls to be made before heading to the airport to catch the flight home. I have attached images of some of the Vintage Cellars and First Choice stores I called on today. I am always impressed with the calibre of the staff, their commitment to customer service, and their keen interest in wine. I could not have my wines sold by anyone better and I’m thrilled to work with them all. As consumers you should have great confidence their advice will give you not only the wine you want, but also value for money. Try some of their more interesting recommendations sometime too!

Tomorrow will be back to hands-on reporting of our 2009 vintage.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hard work in the Australian sun!

Thursday 23 April

Yesterday I promised a view of the hard conditions I am working under as I travel round Australia selling our wines. This is to the left. I want you to realize that, while it is very difficult working in these hot, dry and sunny conditions, I do want you to not feel sorry for me.

In the evening we hosted a Winemakers dinner at the Forth Floor restaurant in Mooloolaba – as you see from the photographs, a stunning setting in which to present our wines. The dinner was organised by Brett who manages the local Vintage Cellars fine wine store. This is a lovely store where Brett and Dana dispense excellent wine advice to their customers

The meal comprised four courses during which we tasted 8 wines. This included 2 Italian and 2 New Zealand Pinot Gris, one of which was the MJE 2008 ‘Wairarapa’ Pinot Gris and it compared extremely well with all the other examples. Of particular interest was the wide range of styles – reinforcing to me that fact that, like Pinot Noir, this is a grape that very much reflects the environment in which it grows. Then we moved on to comparing the Murdoch James ‘Martinborough’ Pinot Noir with the ‘Blue Rock’ Pinot Noir, followed by the "Saleyards 'Syrah. We assessed the three reds against a wonderful Venison dish. Then we finished with a Beaumes de Venise partnered with a pear flan. Just a magic combination.

Dinners like this are a wonderful opportunity for winemakers to meet with consumers. It presents an ideal environment for you in which to learn what the winemaker is striving to achieve in each of his or her wines, and to discuss this with them. Most of all though they are always most enjoyable evenings spent sharing good food and wine with people who appreciate them. You should always take advantage any time an opportunity to attend one arises!

Tomorrow I'm visiting a lot of Vintage Cellars stores in Brisbane, so I'll include a bit of commentary on the retail side of our business in the next posting. Meantime, here are a couple of shots of the Vintage Cellars store in Mooloolaba, and of Dana who was dispensing expert advice to her customers during my visit. Spot the MJE Pinot Noir on the shelf!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Picking the Waiata Block today

Tuesday 21 April

Apologies to those of you who are wondering why my Tuesday post is overdue, but I’m travelling for 3 days in Australia promoting our wines. I may send you a post from the Gold Coast tomorrow, just to make those in cooler climates envious!!

Today I thought I would show you past of our quality control process. Everyone makes statements like “we only use the best fruit”. Sometimes when I taste some commercial wines, I really wonder if that is true. Well I can tell you at Murdoch James it is very true. In an earlier post I talked about how crucial it is that the picking team only harvests fruit of a high standard. I also talked about why machine harvesting will never give a winery an opportunity to make the very best wines.

For us though, that is not enough. We also sort one last time what comes in at the winery door and, as you will see from the photos, reject even more fruit at that point - maybe because it is unripe or diseased. Whatever the reason, we are convinced that this rigorous approach is essential to making world-class wines

What Julia and Kyrie are sorting in this case is Pinot Noir from one of our cooler blocks where not all the fruit got ripe. As you can see every bunch gets inspected before going into the destemmer. By my estimation we probably threw away about 10% of the fruit that came in, and probably left another 10% unpicked. That’s a lot of forgone bottles, and has a big economic impact, but unavoidable in making premium boutique wines. The two photos below are of some of the reject fruit.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Vineyard Soil Profiles

Monday 20th April

Well a rainy day today at last, not heavy, but drizzly. It is forecast to pass quite quickly, then we are back into fine, dry conditions again. The drive into the vineyard is looking beautiful in full autumn colour now. As not a lot is happening with the harvest, I thought it would be good to talk a bit about our soils at our vineyard.

It has often been said that the soils and climate of Martinborough are very similar to that of the world’s greatest Pinot Noir vineyards; being the plantings of the Côte d’Or, in Burgundy. While it is true the climate is similar, the soils in most of Martinborough have much more in common with the gravely soils of Bordeaux, than the Côte d’Or.

10 kilometres south of Martinborough, in the Dry River region, it is a different story. Murdoch James Estate’s “Blue Rock” vineyard exhibits characters much closer to Burgundy. While retaining the low rainfall necessary to grow premium grapes, the soils here are quite different to the rest of Martinborough. On close scrutiny, the soil at “Blue Rock” has much more in common with those at Domaine Romanee Conti, Richbourg, and La Tache. They are free draining, limestone-based soils that give an added element of opulent richness and ‘flesh’ to the wines made from grapes grown on them.

For those interested in more detail, at Blue Rock the various blocks have slightly different characteristics. The Blue rock vineyard sits on five river terraces, four of which are elevated. All the elevated ones are predominately north facing. However there are subtle and interesting differences in the soil structure of each block.

1. Lower Flats Block: 1 ha, located on an old riverbed with very shallow loam soils over gravel beds.

2. Nelson Block: Lower First Terrace, 6.6ha - Sloping to the north, with moderate silt loam soils over gravels

3. Pipers Block: Back First Terrace, 2.85ha - Sloping to the northeast with moderate silt loam soils over gravels

3. Jims Block: Second Terrace, 3.07ha - Sloping north with deep silt loam soils over very deep gravels

4. Highfold: Third Terrace, 6.33ha - Sloping direct north contour, with deep silt loam soils with very deep gravels, and a high lime content.

Other observations:
• All soil pits dug on the property show deep silts with high mineral and lime content over varied gravel depths.
• Past profile holes have shown grape vine roots penetrating over 3 meters down.
• At this depth, they are still approximately 5mm thick.
• Machinery use is restricted in winter to avoid soil compaction.
• Summer irrigation is used on the sloping blocks

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A stunning weekend

Sunday 19th April

Well, another 2 days full on - again absolutely stunning weather on both Saturday and Sunday so the team are picking in great conditions, and continue to bring in excellent grapes. The winery is now starting to bulge at the seams as all the fermenters are filling up and floor space is at a premium. We are juggling Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir at present and needed some extra help in the winery so that the winery team can get some sleep.

Steve has come in from the vineyard, and we are lucky that an experienced Angela was able to join us – while her day job is olive oil, she has worked in wineries as far away as California – so right from the time she arrived she was in up to her knees in wine. As you will see from the photos, we are needing to jump into the big ferments to break up the hard caps formed by grapes floating on the surface of the wine - lucky ferments are warm. There are some great images of Angela hard at work!

Interestingly, breaking the cap this way is gentler on the grapes than mechanical processes. There is logic in what the old winemakers used to do!

We are now well past the halfway point – just a little more Pinot to come in, then small crops of Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Syrah. We are really thrilled with the quality of the latter, and the warm autumn is ‘polishing’ the fruit to perfection. We have had a great team of pickers this year. All locals, some are real characters, but the most important thing is their experience, which means they only harvest the best grapes. This is a side of vintage often overlooked, but without good pickers, it is hard to keep the standards up. They can make a great deal of difference.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Long Day

Friday 17th April

Still the weather is holding up, but there is a forecast for showers over the weekend, so we are trying to speed up the picking. Last night (Thursday) we picked until about 10.30pm (yes at night). No fancy floodlights, so we had to park the cars and trucks with their headlights shining down the rows. It was all quite surreal however the task was accomplished and the entire River Flats block was harvested before everyone went home. Then the winery team had to press through to the early hours this morning, with Chinese takeaways for a late dinner!

Slightly over half the crop is in now so the vineyard team are on the downhill slope while the pressure on the winery is building up. The ferments we have underway so far are progressing really well, with no problems. We did have one small hiccup this morning when one of the team dropped his torch into the Sauvignon Blanc juice ($%%#@$!). So we had to empty the tank (10,000 litres!) and recover the torch. Some bright spark did suggest we could leave it in so we could make a wine with a light finish……………

Today’s images are of Kyri pumping the Sauvignon Blanc into the balloon press for the crush of the day, of Carl trying to break through the thick cap on a big 5 tonne ferment (not a pretty sight, but too thick to use our normal plunger), and of Cliff balancing the full picking bins on the back of the ute as Steve drives them across to the winery.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Hand Harvesting

Wednesday 16th April

Another beautiful day – will it last? We are all hoping so. We harvested Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc today, so I have attached images of the team picking the grapes, as well as images of the fruit and the processing. I hope you find it interesting. There are more images in our website gallery too. Click on this link: http://www.murdochjames.co.nz/gallery/simpleviewer/index.html

We pick everything by hand, and train the team to only collect the best fruit. Anything with mildew or unripe fruit is left behind for the birds (did you know one green grape in 100 will have an impact on the taste of the final wine!). Only with the best fruit can you hope to make world class wine. That’s why we never use a mechanical harvester. They are like big vacuum cleaners that suck everything up; ripe, unripe and diseased, together with bits of leaf and stalks. Then we sort one more time at the winery before the fruit goes into the press. There is a great image of the Sauvignon Blanc being gently pressed below

We were thrilled with the quality of the Sauvignon Blanc this year, and were also fortunate to have a small part of the crop which developed botrytis. Known as the 'Noble Rot' this mould shrivels the berries and concentrates that flavour, so we have decided to keep that fruit separate and a desert wine which we will call 'Noble Sauvignon'.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The fruit is looking great and the weather perfect!

Tuesday 14th April

Well underway now. We have had a dream run! All of Sunday through to today have been dry and mild - one of the reasons Martinborough is regarded as one of the best, if not the very best, of New Zealand's vineyard areas. The grapes have been coming in in great condition and we are thrilled at the prospect of being able to work with such a high level of quality. A great deal of credit must go to the vineyard team of Steve, Cliff and Nerissa for seeing everything through to a great position. I was going to say conclusion, but while maybe it is for the vineyard, it just the beginning for the winery! So far the winemaking days are getting longer and longer. Yesterday was from 7.00am through to 1.00am the next day, as we processed two large pressings of Pinot Gris, while starting 5 Pinot Noir ferments. We ferment each clone of Pinot Noir separately, so there are lots of small ferments happening all over the winery floor area. Today I have posted some images of the fruit coming in and the start of processing. Tomorrow I'll have a look at the team in the vineyard more closely and explain all the steps they take to ensure we only harvest absolutely top quality wine

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spring Moon Image

Saturday 11 April 2009.

The day dawned clear and we were off. A full moon in the morning sky brought the promise of a wonderful harvest, and a bright, clear day. A great team of pickers joined our full time staff and the grapes started to come in. At first, just a trickle, but as the day wore on the bins started to pile up, and we had our first ferment start - all very exciting

Ready to go!

8th April 2009

The key thing with vintage is to be ready in time for harvest, and above we see Sam, Kyri, Maria and Carl relaxing after the press was given a spring clean!

But, while the enthusiasm to get going is ever present, we cannot do anything when the elements rule otherwise. This year we decided that harvest would commence on Thursday 9 April, so the guys got to work on the tanks and the press. They had it gleaming all ready to go late Wednesday, so after a beer they headed off home for an early night and to get ready for the next day, which unfortunately dawned grey and wet, so no harvesting was possible

Next day was Easter Friday, so a day off for all, then Saturday 11 dawned dry and clear and we were off! Keep a watch on our web picture gallery as we work through the year for a lot more images than we can ever post on our blog (http://www.murdochjames.co.nz/gallery/simpleviewer/index.html)

Birth of a Wine

7th April 2009

I used to dream of owning my own vineyard while I sat in my Melbourne office surrounded by paperwork. I loved my job but always yearned for the chance to be involved in the magic process called winemaking. This yearning first started when I was at Auckland University and met Bruce Collard of Collard Wines, one of the first New Zealand wineries to focus on classic varietal wines. On occasions I would visit the winery with Bruce and developed a love for good wine; first as a consumer, but then I got thinking about actually making the this magic thing called wine!
Luckily I did not think about the hard work and costs to come! So, over the years while I was living in Australia I thought more and more about it until, with the encouragement of my wife Jill, we purchased our first vineyard in 1986. This was just a small 2 hectare block in the heart of Martinborough which has come to be regarded as the home of premium New Zealand Pinot Noir. From that humble beginning, we now have over 25 hectares of our own and several fantastic growers who supply us with great fruit. Our winery is located at our Blue Rock vineyard, which we purchased in September 1998. The winery is located in a stunning setting on the banks of the Dry River where we also have a café and our cellar door.
We are just about to start our 10th vintage and I started thinking about all the highs and lows of the last 10 years and felt it was a pity that we had not shared that with those who love our wines.
Hence this page on our website! We are going to start a diary of events at Murdoch James (www.murdochjames.co.nz) starting with the first pick of grapes for the 2009 Vintage. Log on from time to time and follow with us the joy (and sometimes the frustration) of owning a vineyard. We will post candid comments about events and our experiences as we wrestle with the challenges of making ever better wines year after year, in partnership with Mother Nature.
We are a small family owned that prides itself in making boutique wines that will appeal to wine lovers who have discerning tastes and a passion for the highest quality. In other words, these are not every-day high volume wine labels that would typically cater to the mass market.
Share Vintage 2009 and the rest of the year with us, and feel free to make contact and send encouragement or ask questions! We love to be in contact with folk who enjoy fine wine.
In vino veritas! Roger Fraser, co-owner, Murdoch James Estate