2012 Season so far

Vineyard Manager Rich Williams give an update on the vineyard as we head closer to harvest

The season has progressed well with this summer being quite settled from early January onwards. It has not been as hot as usual but it has been very dry which has meant increased reliance on irrigation. Wind has been steady, strong at times and certainly enough of it to keep the air dry. This has meant less pressure from disease through the critical periods up until nets were applied. Our foliar sprayer was out of action for a few days for some repairs but we still managed to protect the vines up until the end of veraison at which stage the effects of powdery mildew on fruit quality are limited as the bunch ripens. Lately there have been some periods of concern with the weather being cloudy at times, and this has resulted in some small patches of powdery mildew in limited areas of the vineyard that have vigorous growth where sometimes the angle of the row has meant we haven’t been able to get enough protective spray into the canopy. This should not have an effect this season as it is limited to late season lateral growth and because most of the vineyard is spur pruned it will not have dormant buds over winter and therefore is of minor concern.

Sauvignon Blanc on Skislope - Jan 2012
We had temperature fluctuations during flowering and a little bit of rain at the start, middle and end resulting in bunches of very different size between varietals and clones. Advanced blocks received quite large bunch sizes and blocks flowering later, when the temperatures were cooler, were a lot smaller. The rain at the end of flowering promoted stuck caps as the berry is unable to pollinate and eventually aborts, falling off. This is the case with the Riesling this year, producing a very small, sometimes open bunch. Overall crop levels will be down especially if compared to last year which had a very hot flowering. Reports throughout New Zealand show that this is a consistent experience though we have not had as much rain as our northern friends. The importance of crop levels to canopy ratio is still predominantly our main driver of fruit quality and this means that throughout the vineyard there are some very close looks at yield in each clonal block and variety, especially the Pinot Noir. On our organic trial blocks, bunch size was very small and canopy was having a hard time so a lot of fruit was dropped off to ensure that vine health was strong going into next season.

Work through the vineyard has progressed well and the condition of the vines is good given the possibility of vine stress from early winds and a dry summer. This has been helped by the vines not being hampered by a huge crop load. We have had a lot of success from some early flower removal on shorter shoots which has brought levels under control on some of the smaller vines. As well as this, we moved through some of the earlier ripening varieties with larger crop yields early to ensure they progressed well through véraison. This included the Abel, 6 and 667 clones in the Lake Front and Ski Slope blocks. Véraison started for us on about the 25th of January which was about on schedule. There was some slowing down through the earlier stages of véraison and then over a period around the 8th – 14th of February there were some big advances in ripening.

Many thought Central Otago would produce fruit of over-ripe status this vintage given the warm dry summer we have had compared to up north. We have leaf plucked to about 50% this year to increase the acid levels, reducing sugar in the process. So far the Autumn has been wet and cooler than normal and I suspect botrytis may now be in the backs of people’s minds if they haven’t leaf plucked well. The only botrytis we have found so far is in the usual place in the middle of our Fruit Bowl block in the Riesling. We have done some work early in here separating bunches from others and dropping anything that looks suspicious in there. Again it is not of much concern for us and there is no problem having a small amount of botrytis in Riesling – from which sticky dessert wines are made. Now that véraison is almost complete, we only have a few hectares to finish off our bunch removal process and then we will be back through for a quick pass for a final bunch thin making sure there is nothing green standing out.

We started putting our nets on slightly earlier than normal this year as there was a bit of bird pressure early on but now there seems to be none around. Nets are always hard work pulling them out behind the tractor but we got there in the end. It was a great feeling to finally have them finished and tied down. There will be some cord replacement coming up as a lot of our net cord securing the net down has been breaking and contains a large number of knots which makes the application process a lot more challenging and time consuming. Last year we spent a lot of time mending holes and the condition of the nets themselves are very good – just couple of blocks to finish off. This should take us up to harvest at the start of April which I think will be pretty much on schedule.

Overall I am happy with the condition of the grapes and their level of quality and I’m already looking forward to trying them in the bottle!