Published on March 9th, 2011 | by ladyparker0
Will it be a savvy year for Marlborough?
I’m stationing myself in New Zealand’s largest wine-growing region, Marlborough, over the next few weeks – it’s a crucial time for all those involved here in the wine industry. As these valiant souls gear up for the 2011 harvest feverish in the preparation of the winery – ensuring tanks are empty, transportation is organised and ample picking bins along with gangs of pickers are at the ready, it’s conspicuous that the mood here varies considerably. This variation occurs not only from individual to individual, but also upon considering the numerous grape varieties planted in Marlborough, New Zealand. For this reason there is a real mixture of anxiety, and excitement.
The spring / summer weather is culpable for this divergence of feelings. Firstly, ideal weather during budburst and flowering over spring has meant that grape bunch sizes are generally much larger – simply the more flowers, the more grapes. There was then a particularly large amount of rain over the November 2010 – February 2011 period in Marlborough with 211 mm of rainfall recorded at the Blenheim weather station. There were far less total sunshine hours than the 24 year monthly average over this period, though the mean temperatures were bearing on slightly warmer than average.
This wet combined with warm weather, has meant that those varieties most susceptible to rot of all kinds, have been affected. Unfortunately for Marlborough Pinot Noir lovers, this means your beloved vino of choice. Pinot Noir in particular being a delicate, thin-skinned grape entails devastation when there is too much rainfall. The crop yields are higher because of the particularly bountiful flowering, and of course the extent of rain has stimulated growth, leaving less fruit concentration than if the vines had smaller bunches, and a lower crop. And just as importantly the water swells the berries, resulting all-round in a diluted flavour.
The good weather over the past week in Marlborough of sunny days, and much cooler nights – expressing that diurnal temperature range – along with the right winds, may have been enough to enable them to be rid of excess water. Despite numerous processes of dropping fruit throughout ripening still does not get over the fact that there will be a large crop of Pinot Noir in Marlborough this year. The Pinot Noir crop amount is monumental, and likely is unprecedented.
Conversely and on a positive note, 2011 may prove to be a fantastic year for Sauvignon Blanc. It may be too early to say just yet, and its success will depend entirely upon the current weather pattern persisting. But the right amount of growth has occurred, generally a larger canopy exists meaning more flavour, the rain has been good, and there is little botrytis affecting Sauvignon Blanc (Botrytis cinerea is the microorganism which generates both good (Noble rot) and bad (Grey rot) infection in grapes depending on the weather conditions – in this case the latter is evident in some vineyards). Further the Brix level (or sugar content) looks to be at good levels to produce beautifully flavoured and high quality wine.
Ultimately, it’s not as easy as it used to be – there’s far more pressure on viticulturalists, and winemakers to perform, to do the right thing. For some entities it unfortunately teeters on survival or collapse. After all making wine is a business, and on the frontline in recent times there is increased stress at the thought of the critical judgment calls needed to be made. It is truly a fearsome thought to realize how much rides on a decision of when to harvest. However, speaking to a range of winemakers in the area, there is optimism that things will bounce back. Wine sales in general for the Marlborough region are climbing, while the number of vineyards being planted remains at a standstill. Things are looking up.
We will await with baited breath the vintage of 2011. I have a strong feeling, and hope that Sauvignon will arise the saviour for Marlborough’s bounce back, enkindling new hope from the recent hurdles of oversupply and recession.