Vineyard frosts a hard-fought battle


By the time you read this, everyone who grows grapes will be hoping that the worst of the frost season is over. Frost season kicks in just before vines reach budburst and while the regular "clear day/frosty night" cycle is over, it's the rogue frosts that come through on the back of nasty little fronts that cause all the problems.

"Frost season", as we call it, is the time when those of us using frost fighting equipment become a subspecies of Marlburian some time after darkness falls. Driving along our country roads when everyone sane is in bed, this subspecies has a number of distinguishing characteristics. They're all driving utes and they're all wearing beanies and thick layers of clothing. Heavy footwear is a must and your gear needs to be waterproof if you're going anywhere near sprinkler or flipper frost protection.

Armed with torches, the fight is on. On every vineyard there'll be the beam of flashlights and vehicle lights - you get to meet people you haven't seen in ages because everyone looks out for each other and makes sure the neighbour's gear is running too.

There's a feeling of camaraderie as temperature dips and rises are discussed in the cold, clear night air.

Frost fighting is an aspect of life in grape-growing areas that is both a pain (the frost alert comes through to the phone and suddenly getting out of bed seems a type of weird and harsh punishment) and has its unexpected joy - seeing everything up and running and knowing the crop is safe. The beauty comes in the morning when the sun rises and you see a vineyard coated in clear ice, glinting and gleaming in the morning sun, looking like a diamond-encrusted wonderland.

Enough of the poetic ending, and onto the wines . . .

Crossroads Hawke's Bay Winemaker's Collection Syrah 2010 ($39.99)

The Crossroads brand has a new look, so be aware that the labels are re-branded if you are already familiar with Crossroads wines.

The name Crossroads was subject to some media attention when it became one of a number of brands in the Ager Sectus group that merged with Yealands Wine Group in 2011. The combined entity is now one of the largest, privately-owned wine companies in New Zealand.

This particular wine was grown in the famous Gimblett Gravels sub-region of Hawke's Bay.

Dark ruby in colour with flashes of purple/black adding intensity, the aroma is rich, sweet and spicy with nutmeg, old plum and black pepper combining with some earthy "barnyard" notes to create a lingering and intense nose.

The soft, sweet, juicy palate is laced with black pepper and sweet plum fruitiness. Drying tannins are offset by the silky texture in what can only be described as a voluptuous, moreish and very easy drinking wine. Lovely.

Available from Glengarry and selected New World stores

Whitehaven Marlborough Pinot Gris 2009 (around $20)

The light, gentle aroma combines vanilla with apple and fresh fig notes.

The palate is satin smooth with gentle acidity. Rich and ripe, vanilla and guava flavours team up with some warm, spicy notes. Soft and juicy with a blend of sweet lychee and gentle mineral notes towards the finish, this wine is very easy drinking due to its slightly soft, unctuous nature.

Sacred Hill Hawke's Bay Special Selection Deerstalkers Syrah 2010 ($59.99)

There's a great story behind this wine. The Deerstalkers Vineyard is on the famous Gimblett Gravels. It's named after the old clubrooms that belonged to the Hawke's Bay Deerstalkers' Association, which sat on four hectares of prime grape growing land. Sacred Hill offered to buy the land and relocate the clubrooms to wherever they wished to build. The Hawke's Bay Deerstalkers' Association now has flash new clubrooms and in an elegant twist to the tale, the wines produced on this site go well with game dishes.

Very intense red with flashes of purple, quite opaque and very attractive in the glass.

The soft, gentle earth and spice aroma is slightly mushroomy with hints of peppercorn, coffee and liquorice.

The taste of ripe plums is supported by soft tannins and just enough acid to provide balance. The sweet, concentrated fruitiness has depth due to chocolate and liquorice notes, while some crisp herbal flavour asserts itself towards the finish. The elegant plum and green peppercorn finish and aftertaste are nothing short of delightful.

Ara Single Estate Marlborough Pinot Gris 2012 ($21.99)

Floral aromatics are complemented by sweet apple, pear and herbal/savoury notes on the nose.

Perfumed, warming and spicy, this wine has a textural palate that combines gentle, tingly acids and pear fruitiness with a sweet, soft citrus finish. Balanced and nicely rounded, this is a good example that will be sure to please.

The Marlborough Express