The sacrifices made by the viticulture team at Waipara Hills during the festive season, when most folk are kicking back, all seems very worthwhile when the fruit they harvest is as excellent as it was this year.
“We were able to harvest some very special fruit. With all the disease pressure this season it would be fair to say the results have exceeded our expectation. We are now in a happy position to reflect on the mammoth effort,” said Assistant Vineyard Manager Ben Rori.
It was a summer for the record books in the Waipara Valley. A virtual frost-free spring meant early growth and fantastic fruit set across the varieties, followed by a very hot and dry December and January.
As veraison kicked in early at the end of January, the trend turned towards humid weather, which, coupled with big berries and bunches, added to disease pressure. The traditional scenario of a North Canterbury summer then set in again, bringing with it a record number of hot and dry Nor’ West days in March. Overall, the mercury was sitting on average two degrees higher than average. This heat, coupled with significant rainfall in January, stretched the viticulture team as they combatted the increased canopy growth. They were also flat out with fruit thinning and de-clumping, to keep both plants and flavours in balance.
“Three weeks of Nor’ West winds allowed us to harvest some well balanced and ripe fruit,” said Waipara Hills Viticulture Manager Jean-Luc Dufour, with the Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir harvested at the end of March.
Picking hit the record books too, with 80% of the fruit being taken off the vines in the first week of April.
“Apart from some late harvest Riesling, we had finished harvest by mid-April, a first ever for Waipara!”
Jean-Luc’s ‘pick of the year’ was both the organic and conventional Sauvignon Blanc from the Mound Vineyard, which he described as showing exceptional quality with plenty of concentration and lovely spice.
“It’s always such a pleasure to bring in fruit which has been so well looked after, and it’s a credit to everyone involved.”
Ben Rori, who oversaw all the handpicking, was also a huge fan of the organic Sauvignon Blanc.
“It was ripe and as clean as a whistle.”
He also said the six tonne select pick of CL95 Chardonnay off the Home Block was the best that had been produced in years, thanks to some intense management during the challenging summer months to mitigate disease pressure. Due to the heat during these weeks, earlier ripening meant higher sugars, and more developed flavours.
“And the Pinot Gris off The Deans Vineyard was ripe and luscious too,” said Ben.
Waipara Hills Winemaker Andrew Brown is stoked with the way the flavours are developing in barrel and tank, describing them as ‘classic and textural,’ noting there has been plenty of flavour variation and interest in the fruit this year.
“For example, with the early picks of Pinot Gris we had apple flavours right through to nashi pear and stone fruit. With the later picks the flavours developed into baked apple and quince.”
Although it’s early days for the Pinot Noir, Andrew said so far it seems to be fruit forward and elegant in structure, and with expressive aromatics. The Gruner Veltliner is looking really cool tropically, and with good phenolic ripeness. An undeniable Riesling fan, Andrew is really pleased with this year’s fruit, showing great weight and fantastic orange citrus flavours.
“We always aim to harvest fruit at the ‘optimum’ time in perfect ‘condition’ which becomes a bit of a throwaway line, but in this year’s case it was true.”
With most of the ferments now well through their paces, he is looking forward to seeing how these wines develop and evolve.
“The highlight for me at harvest is working with this dedicated and passionate viticulture team; it is always a great experience.”