Early harvest report from Marlborough hints at bright, crisp wines
Since I haven’t lately been to New Zealand, I was pleased to find in this morning’s e-mailbox the latest news about the 2012 harvest, which is going on now.
This particular news bit came from Constellation New Zealand and so is slanted (not derogatory, simply how it is when it’s a single-source news release) toward that company’s holdings, which may or may not reflect everything happening on that Southern Hemisphere island nation.
However, given the news originates with renowned winemaker Darryl Woolley, one of the pioneers of NZ sauvignon blanc, you can pretty much count on it being as accurate as you will find.
Woolley, who is senior vice-president for winemaking for the New Zealand Constellation group, said this growing season has been cooler than normal. “From bud break to the eve of harvest, we’ve had a cool season,” writes Woolley. “In some winegrowing regions, this would be cause for alarm, but this is New Zealand—a fairly cold and windy part of the world. New Zealand vintners understand what has to be done in these cool years. We’ve designed our wineries for this type of weather pattern, and we’re fortunate that in Marlborough flavors develop reliably.”
If I can find out how they have redesigned their wineries, I’ll let you know.
Woolley expects the cool weather will produce wines of the type for which Marlborough received its initial renown – lots of acidity with flavors of passion fruit, cut grass and grapefruit. That’s a bit different from several previous vintages, Woolley writes, when warmer temperatures produced riper fruit, resulting in “less lean” wines with bigger flavors and more alcohol.
These edgier, more acidic wines of 2012 will be pleasing wine lovers such as Alder, who writes in a recent entry on his Vinography blog, “For me, acidity (and perhaps more specifically, the perception of acidity — since they are a little different) is a crucial component that can make or break a wine. I love wines that have higher levels of acidity.”
He’s touting the importance of balance, of course, but all too often acidity (or the perception of, as Alder noted) is lacking, making a wine feel flabby and unappealing. But getting back to the New Zealand report ….
Woolley also noted the early season cool temperatures cut grape production by about 5 percent, noticeable if you’re the winemaker and worrisome if you’re a stockholder but still plenty of grapes (at about 5 tons per acre) to meet demands. Constellation New Zealand produces wines under the Nobilo, Kim Crawford, Drylands Marlborough and Monkey Bay labels.
Here is what having someone of Woolley’s experience (an Australia native, started making wines in 1972 and in New Zealand in 1980) means when it comes to understanding weather patterns and how they affect wines. He sees this year’s weather with a long-term view, as being a “return to a cooler weather pattern (which) is part of a typical, 13-year, southern oscillation cycle that starts with sea temperature fluctuations in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.”
He calls it a “predictable agricultural cycle we’ve seen time and again.” The cycle is turning, and Woolley expects the future to bring more cool-weather growing seasons, which should result in wines with higher acidity and crisper notes. Which should please all lovers of Marlborough wines.