Sunday, May 31, 2009

Just a few to go, then assembly

Have not had a lot to report lately, as all is moving along quietly in the winery.

The ferments are all finished and just a few to press off then we can turn our mind to assembly of the 2008 reds. These have been in barrel for 12 months, and it’s time to decide which of the barrels will be used in which wine. It is a tiring process (over 200 barrels to taste) but vital in ensuring when the wine finally gets into bottle it is of a quality representative of each of our labels. One has to be ruthless in deciding if a barrel is good enough for our top wine. If not it needs to be declassified to one of the regional blends.

This is a process that has significant economic consequences as well. If one decides a barrel of (say) Blue Rock Pinot is not quite good enough for that label, and we use it in the Martinborough Pinot Noir blend, it means we have cut the value of that barrel by 35% (due to the latter wine selling for much less than the Blue Rock).

We have had a couple of weeks of terrible weather and are happy to be working inside. These shots show the Dry River in flood, and if you look at the trees, you can see the wind is pretty strong too. There is a reason it is called the Dry River, as most of the year it does not run. When it does though it can be quite spectacular

Saturday, May 16, 2009

First Red Pressings

Saturday 16th May

It is a long time since I posted anything! Know I know why people told me, when I said I’ll post an update every day, that I would not be able to do it without a GREAT deal of discipline. Now I realise what they meant!!

That said, I’m back!

Today I’ve included some images of the red grapes after pressing. They have been through their ferments now and we need to press these off to extract the final juices and colour. The trick is to press gently so we do not press bitter elements out of any remaining pips or stalks. The first wines for the 2009 Pinot Noir are very encouraging, and we expect to press off the rest of the Pinot Noir next week. The Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are not far behind, and then we can turn our minds to other things. But, while we have ferments going, we need to keep our full attention on them – it’s a bit like minding a very young child actually – late nights, the occasional mess to clean up and doing everything you need to keep them happy!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A very full winery!

Have a look at the winery! It’s bursting at the seams. With all the fruit now harvested, all the work is inside, which is a challenge due to our space constraints. There are lots of ferments all underway, so every little bit of floor space is precious.

Now the ferments are all underway record keeping becomes very important, not only for tracking how the ferments are progressing, but also to be able to track a wine back from the bottle to it’s origins in the vineyard. Due to inappropriate behaviour by a small number of wineries, regulations are now in place to ensure what is in the bottle is what the consumer expects it to be. So, we must be able to show from what vineyard grapes were picked and what wine(s) was made from them. Then we need to track any blending, how/where wines are aged and finally confirm exactly what went into each bottle – and that the label accurately reflects that. Every vineyard in New Zealand is now subject to these regulations, and in fact is audited annually on them. Quite a bureaucratic process but unavoidable. We track everything on an in-house developed PC database.

Raining again today and the forecasts are not encouraging. I feel very sorry for vineyards with any grapes still hanging out. This is a view from our winery office window - not too hard to work up there!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Vinification overview

Tuesday 5th May

When the grapes arrive at the winery, they are tipped into a crusher/de-stemmer which separates the grapes from the stems. The ideal is to do this in a way which does not crush stems or pips, as these are high in tannins which would result in very astringent wines.

What are essential are the pulp and the skins. While many people think that wine is made from the juice of grapes, in actual fact the skins are necessary not only to give colour to the red wines, but also add delicate flavours not available just from the juice. So, after de-stemming, the must (juice and skins) goes into the fermentation vats where we keep it cool to help extract colour before the ferment starts.

Once that occurs we pay careful attention to both the temperature and fall in sugar levels. With temperature the goal is to ferment between 25 and 30 degrees centigrade. Hotter ferments risk over-extracted wines, while at low temperatures yeasts do not function well. Where temperature needs to be adjusted we use heating/cooling coils to bring it back into balance.

Ferments usually take between 7 to 10 days, during which we plunge the cap (the skins which float to the surface of the wine) back into the wine to ensure optimum extraction of colour and flavour. In cases where the cap is really thick, we may have to resort to pumping the juice over the cap. The traditional name for this process is pigeage.

Currently we have numerous red ferments underway – Syrah, many of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Each of them is monitored closely. We check the rate of progress several times daily, not only by measuring the rate at which sugars are being converted to alcohol, but also by ensuring the ferment is healthy and active.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Martinborough & Burgundy

Monday 4th May

Today dawned cloudy and cold. I think the ‘Indian Summer’ we have been enjoying has come to an end. As the grapes are all in, we can relax, particularly as the weather forecast for the rest of the week is rain, rain, rain……

All the work from now on is in the winery, nursing our precious ferments through to a good conclusion. A nervous time as we monitor each individual ferment carefully – it’s a bit like a nervous parent watching over a new-born child – only we have 30 of them! Even ‘Octamom’ cannot top that!

Tomorrow I’ll get Carl to explain what we are looking for with so many different ferments underway, but this evening I thought I’d talk about why Martinborough, of all New Zealand’s Pinot Regions, comes closest to the home of the world’s classic Pinot Noirs – Burgundy.

The geological character of the fabled Côte-d’Or is made up of three key elements – limestone, clay and sand. The varying percentages of these elements is what makes wines from each part of Burgundy so different to another - compare a delicate Volnay from the south to a powerful Chambertin from the north.

Like Burgundy, Martinborough is fortunate in that it is made up of a number of regions, each with differing soils, ranging from ancient gravels through to ancient marine deposits or clays. These wonderful soils are partnered with a climate that mirrors Burgundy – hot summers, mild autumns and cold winters. As a consequence the geological variations present us with a range of wines similar to Burgundy. looking at each map, one cannot fail to notice the similarities - both regions stretch north to south, yet are quite narrow. Both contain regions that produce fine Pinot Noir at the pinnacle of the very best, yet at the same time, also produce wines that are less complex, but represent great value for money.

The various sites can give us wines like those from Chambolle-Musigny (good colour and body, firm, yet with a distinctive suppleness) while others (like the Dry River region where Murdoch James is located) make wines more like a Clos de Vouget (deep red in colour, harmonious, elegant with a long finish). In other areas we see wines that are more solidly structured with rich aromas and long finishes, that some compare to a fine Corton.

Even if one disagrees with my examples it is harder to deny that of all New Zealand’s Pinot Noir regions, only Martinborough has such a variety of sites, all producing world-class Pinot Noir, in such a small area.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Last grapes in today!

Sunday 3rd May

Well we are finally there! All the grapes will be in by the end of today.

It is another beautiful autumn day to pick in; mild and dry with clear skies. The grapes and trees are now in full colour and the vistas are stunning, as you will see from the accompanying images.

The team is just harvesting the last 7 rows of Cabernet Sauvignon as I write this. Earlier we brought in the last of the Syrah and Cabernet Franc. The fruit is all in good condition and we harvested about 20 tonnes more than anticipated – it’s always good to get a little extra, so no complaints there.

The Syrah is particularly impressive, which for me is a real pleasure. When we first planted Syrah in Martinborough everyone thought I was crazy. Comments like “too cold to ripen it here”, “not enough heat units” and “the wines will lack structure” were not uncommon. After three gold medals and two trophies in the first 5 years we made this wine, we no longer get this negative feedback. However we remain one of only two Martinborough wineries producing Syrah, so for us it is an important point of difference. I’m not sure why other vineyards don’t try it, but that’s good for us! Like classic Hermitage, the wines are generous and well balanced, with strong aromas and a complete bouquet. They age very well and become smooth and mellow when they mature. This shot of Steve sorting the Syrah as it goes into the destemmer illustrates our efforts to ensure only the very best grapes make it into our wines

I am often asked the difference between Shiraz and Syrah. The most important point to make is they are actually just two different names for the same grape. As the name Shiraz tends to be used on Australian wines, while Syrah is used on wines from cooler climates, people think the name emerged in there, but that is not the case. The names were used interchangeable much further back in time and the history of the grape (and its name) makes for fascinating reading. Have a look at for a well-researched article on all this.

Regardless of the name, this is a variety that makes fantastic, food-friendly wines of great interest and longevity. In my mind, cool-climate Syrah challenges Pinot Noir as a wine of complexity and interest. I say ‘cool-climate’ to differentiate Syrah growing in these conditions from their less interesting cousins growing in hotter climates.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Vintage Wedding

Saturday 2 May

Where has April gone?! We are now into May and time is flying by. As you can see from the date of this post I am finding it a challenge to update the site every day. With all that is happening time is a scarce commodity. We harvested the Syrah today and I thought in tomorrow’s post, I would look at the differences between Syrah and Shiraz.

Today though I’m on a different subject, as one of the nice things about owning a vineyard is the sheer variety of the things you do. We not only have the vineyard and winery but also a busy Cellar Door and a lovely café/restaurant. As a consequence we host a lot of weddings (over 20 just in the last year) – there was one yesterday and another is being celebrated as I type this. Here are some images from the wedding yesterday – a most amazing cake and a lovely room setting. I have also attached a few shots from earlier ones to give you a feel for how well our beautiful setting works for wedding couples.