Marlborough wineries are gearing up for harvest
Marlborough wineries are gearing up for the annual grape harvest, which kicks off this month and goes through to the end of April. Kat Duggan caught up with two local winemakers before the deluge begins.
As the summer quietly slips away with the dawn of a new season, wineries across Marlborough are gearing up for their busiest time of year.
Despite expecting the grape harvest to be later than usual, Jules Taylor says the team at Jules Taylor Wines are busy bottling the last of the 2016 wines to make way for the 2017 vintage.
"New barrels are [also] arriving, gear is being cleaned, and in the vineyard the berries are starting to soften and change colour, which is always exciting.
"Final trimming and tucking is happening before the nets go on to keep those pesky birds out."
Out at Yealands Family Wines, near Seddon, chief winemaker Jeff Fyfe says while the expecting the first pick to be a little later this year, they are ready and waiting.
"It could be up to a week later than last year, which can be quite a good thing because the longer and the more slowly the grapes ripen the better," he says.
He is expecting a slightly below-average harvest in terms of quantity, which means the quality of the grapes should be better, he says.
With a reasonably small permanent team at the winery, Yealands Estate will welcome about 40 international winemakers for the harvest months to cover the 24-hour operation.
As long-time winemakers, Jeff and Jules both look forward to seeing what each crop brings, waiting in anticipation for the harvest year on year.
"I love it," Jules says. "As a winemaker, you get one chance a year to make the best wine from a particular block of fruit, and the excitement and anticipation and the belly full of grapes leading up to each pick is really important; it's not like you can tip it out and start again if you don't like it, so capturing the grapes when they are at their optimum is crucial," she adds.
Marlborough had not seen a great summer, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing for grape growing, Jeff says.
"I'm looking forward to getting stuck in and trying to continue making some good wines, hopefully the weather plays ball [going forward]," he says.
With a "fair few" harvests under his belt, Jeff has come to embrace the unknown and challenging nature of vintage, and thinks the Marlborough wine industry has continued to strengthen with time.
Once known for producing world-class sauvignon blanc, the region is now becoming just as well known for it's pinot noir and chardonnay.
"People [in the Marlborough wine industry] are becoming more confident and experienced, and the vines are getting older. People are creating their own style and it seems to be working.
"I think definitely in the last few years there has been more and more talk and sales with Marlborough pinot noir … we are right on board the pinot noir wave," he says.
While any good New Zealand wine is great for the industry, Marlborough pinot noir is at least on equal footing, if not ahead of, that from Central Otago, Waipara and Martinborough, Jeff says.
Jules agrees, saying the potential for varieties other than sauvignon blanc has always been here.
"During the early years of grape growing in the region, maybe we were concentrating more on the white aromatic table wines, but as time has gone on, as growers and makers we have become better at choosing good pinot noir growing sites, good clones to suit these sites, and at making good pinot noir," she says.
With more than 20 Marlborough vintages behind her, Jules also sees potential in the region for other varieties, including riesling, gruner veltliner and chenin blanc.
"We don't want to be the one trick pony, although I do think that, finally, consumers now understand that Marlborough can produce sauvignon blancs that are quite different from the classic wine everyone knows," she says.
Pinot Noir has a strong place in the Marlborough portfolio, she adds, saying that it is about spreading the word to consumers.
"I am beating the drum hard and fast, but sometimes, the hardest thing is getting someone just to try Marlborough pinot noir. Often it is a surprise for them … it is about opening the mind of the consumer to try something new," she says.
Both winemakers believe the Marlborough wine industry is in a good position, albeit cyclical.
"Marlborough is a super unique grape growing region, globally I think people underestimate how much we have grown in a short time," Jeff says.
"I think there were some difficulties in '08, '09, with some bigger crops, the wines were not as good as they probably should have been, but I think as a whole [the industry] is very buoyant and is in a good space … there's still a massive demand for Marlborough wines globally, I don't think we are ever going to be able to make enough."
- The Marlborough Express