Spring has officially sprung, with the longer days and warmer temperatures, we’re excited for the season to come. With that, it also means that life across all our vineyards in the country have come alive following the winter months!
This is also a busy period in the vineyards’ calendars as spring season also signals frost events. Frosts events are extremely turbulent, one could akin this phenomenon to firemen fighting fires, as the vineyard teams wake up to loud alarms and work through night to dawn to protect their crop.
We caught up with some friends across the different winemaking regions for a whip around to see what’s been going on at their vineyards during this season.
The Landing, Purerua Peninsula, Bay of Islands
We travel up north to The Landing in the Bay of Islands, a spectacular 1000-acre coastal estate, and caught up with winemaker Ben Byrne. For them, frost occurs in the middle of winter when the vines are dormant and not so much in spring unlike other wine regions due to it’s geographical location at the top of the country. "Frost events are rare, but they do occur." says winemaker Ben Byrne. “We are right on the coast, so the ocean moderates the temperatures, inland Northland tends to get colder nights and a few more frosts in winter. Our proximity to the ocean also cools the vineyard in summer as on most days a sea breeze kicks in by lunchtime.”
As a result of the climate, the vines at The Landing at this time of the year are looking lush and green compared to other vineyards in lower parts of the country. For them, the Chardonnay vines are just beginning to flower (mid-October) which signals the season is on track, unlike in 2020 where it began extremely early in September. Picking usually begins in the first or second week in February and the last being the Montepulciano variety which occurs in the last week of March or early April.
However, the biggest threat at this time of year for the Bay of Islands is wind. Winemaker Ben and his team at The Landing mitigate this by dropping the foliage wires below the canopy so the shoots can move freely. Additionally, seaweed and micronutrients are sprayed onto the vines, encouraging healthy growth to keep the young vines healthy and strong.
Lush green Chardonnay vines at The Landing/supplied
Tony Bish Wines, Ahuriri, Napier
Over in the sunny Hawke’s Bay, bud burst has come early at Tony Bish Wines. Winemaker and Chardonnay extraordinaire Tony Bish predicts that things have settled and are on track for harvest in mid-March. “Spring has started off with good bud burst and good rain, with plenty of fruitful shoots which will bode well for a good crop if flowering goes alright. However, the region is still below average for rainfall.”
The good season has come with plenty of hard work with the vineyard experiencing over 10 frosts events to date! The vineyards utilise frost fans to fight frosts, phasing out diesel burners due to it’s non-environmentally friendly nature. However, frost fans still require monitoring by the vineyard team, making sure that the auto system activates when triggered.
Earlier last week, the vineyard team were bench blending their 2021 Chardonnays. The team sorts out the fruit to each wine destination and once the work is completed in the lab, they progress onto bottling the wines.
Just when you think it’s time for a breather, it’s not over. “The next critical phase in the vineyards is flowering. Grapes have a hermaphrodite flower, so it self-pollinates. For this to work well we like dry windy conditions, so that the flower cap detaches nicely and lets the stamen open. The stamen then drop pollen into the ovary, and fruit set is underway.
If the weather is too wet, the cap can stick and not let the stamen release, and then we get a poor flowering. Each flower becomes a grape, so we need a good number to get bunch weights up, but not too many, or the bunches can become too crowded and tight, leading to disease control challenges.”
We predict busy times ahead at Tony Bish wines, but we’re looking forward to tasting those outstanding chardonnays that Chardonnistas have come to adore when the 2021 bottles are released. For now, we're happy to offer you the chance to pick up a couple of bottles of the Fat & Sassy Chardonnay through the Winetopia Pick & Mix here.
Palliser Estate, Martinborough
Over at Palliser Estate, clear and still nights or cold snaps are the ones to look out for, whilst comforting for humans to rug up, it’s not quite the same for the vines when you’re out there. Winemaker Guy McMaster tells us that it has been a busy time at Palliser with five frost events to date but happy to report that there has not been damage so far. Still, he says that they are not out of the woods yet as the vineyard team don’t really relax until the end of November.
At Palliser, their frost protection methods are water via sprinklers in the Clouston vineyard with other vineyards protected by frost fans. Frost fans can protect against a -2.5 degree frost whilst water can handle a -4.0 degree frost. We have our fingers and toes crossed that Martinborough doesn’t get anything close to that this season!
Out amongst the vines, shoot thinning is underway and it appears that most shoots have at least two bunches on each of them so assuming a settled warm flowering period in early December, an average to good crop level should soon follow. “Happy days to come as we are running out of wine!” says Guy.
Spring at Palliser Estate, wild flowers and under vine weeding/supplied
Up next week, we take a trip South to see how this season is panning out for them in Marlborough, North Canterbury and Central Otago. Stay tuned!