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Vintage Reviews

Marlborough Vintage 2016

Sophie Preece (Winepress May 2016)

Marlborough’s cup did runneth over in Vintage 2016, with big yields leaving little tank space in wineries across the province.

That saw Vinlink send more than two million litres of juice across the Cook Strait to affiliate wineries in Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne, says Managing Director Dave Pearce. Dave says the vintage has been a “magnificent” one, with good yields of excellent fruit. However, “the tyranny of big numbers” has meant that yields 10% above expectation could, for example, add 30,000 tonnes to a 300,000 tonne harvest. “That’s a very, very big winery that people don’t have sitting in a field somewhere.”

Vinlink is owned by LINKS winery in Hawke’s Bay and GisVin in Gisborne, so when space runs low at the Riverlands facility it is “natural” for them to send juice north. “We have a second and a third cup”, he says of the overflow. “It’s one of the offerings we’ve got that makes it easier for our clients.” He says larger than expected yields were seen across the board this year. “In that last decent rain, berry weights went up by about 10%. So, if you’re planning on bringing in 10,000 tonnes, you can be embarrassed by 1000 tonnes.” The partnering North Island wineries had progressed far enough through their vintage that they were able to make space as the Marlborough vintage hit its peak

Despite the increased numbers, Dave says it has been one of the best vintages of the past decade. “The crops are there, there’s no doubt about that. But the grapes are absolutely beautiful.” TIL Freight Blenheim Branch Manager Dennis McKinley says there’s been a big call for the company’s bulk tanker fleet to move stable juice to Hawke’s Bay and Canterbury. “I believe that’s probably been a pretty big logistical nightmare this year. Certainly the calls for tanker fleet have been far greater than previous years.”

Contract winemaking facility Spring Creek Vintners has also been at full capacity for vintage and has turned down a number of spot requests for tank space. Managing Director Ian Wiffin said space was very tight, and towards the end of harvest they took advantage of good weather to slow the harvest down, so the winemaking team had time to ensure tanks were as full as possible. “We are definitely going to be very full, but we only contract the amount that we can handle …and it’s going really well.”

The numbers made it vital that people didn’t go over their limits during harvest. Logistics are made easier by the fact the facility is so dominated by Sauvignon Blanc, with only 5% in other varieties. Ian says the harvest won’t be as big as 2014, but many growers, including their own, left fruit behind because they had reached their cap. “Certainly we have had people asking if we have more space, but we’re full.” Last year’s low yields have been something of a saving grace this year, he says. “Going in to this year we had the least amount of carry-over wine we have ever had. That’s been a big help.”

Marlborough Vintage 2015

While Marlborough basked under blue skies throughout summer, the fruit on the vines was developing into some of the best seen in a number of years.Week after week of warm, dry weather followed on from a cooler than average start to the season.

Frosts were the order of the day during the spring, but despite there being 15 in total, there were only small pockets of damage throughout the region.

It was the first day of summer, December 1 that created the biggest impact. Temperatures plummeted, impacting on those vines that were flowering at that time.

Villa Maria’s Marlborough viticulturist Stuart Dudley said; “The blocks that flowered later or even earlier than that did well, however the middle flowering blocks were impacted.”

Those cooler than expected temperatures carried on into the first half of December, with many Sauvignon Blanc blocks affected. The end result was variability in yields throughout Marlborough. Some were bang on average, others well up to 30 percent below – with all less than the 2014 yields.

By late December, the weather in the region hit the hot and dry buttons. Temperatures began to climb and the rain stayed away. So much so that the region was declared a drought zone in late January, having received the lowest amount of rainfall over a seven month period since records began.

Vines might like it dry, but the continued drought, which saw water rights being withdrawn for periods of time, began to impact in February, just as the fruit hit veraison. The end result was smaller berries, and while that impacts final yields, it does help produce concentrated flavours.

There were predictions that vintage would begin earlier than normal, although this didn’t eventuate. With dry conditions and a lack of disease pressure, wineries were able to let their fruit hang longer. Flavour, acidity, texture and sugar levels all benefitted from the increased hang time, and the fruit that was delivered to wineries has been lauded by winemakers throughout the region.

At this stage there is no word on just what the final yield count for Marlborough is, but it is expected to be well below 2014 and below the long-term average. Sauvignon Blanc was the hardest hit, with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay also expected to be well down.

With the first of the 2015 wines about to be bottled, Marlborough winemakers are expressing excitement and looking forward to drinking the fruits of their labour.

Marlborough Vintage 2014

Marlborough winemakers are extremely positive about the 2014 vintage in spite of some challenges from late season rain, Wine Marlborough General Manager Marcus Pickens said today. “The common theme that runs through the reactions we’ve had from Marlborough growers and wineries is the earliness of the season and the impact that had on the final result,” he said. “When you combine an early season with a long run of early and mid-season dry weather, you lay the foundation for a good harvest.

“When the rain came in mid-April, harvesting was already well advanced. We don’t yet have any definitive figures for the proportion of the crop picked before the rain arrived, but anecdotally it seems to have been around 80 to 85 percent.“As a result, we can characterise the vintage as very positive for most vineyards, in spite of the late curve ball the April rain threw at us”.

Marcus Pickens says he’s heard some stories of growers being caught by the wet weather and having to leave grapes on the vine. But he says the majority of growers had their grapes in before the rain arrived and these cases appear more the exception than the rule.“We have heard good reports about the quality of sauvignon blanc grapes and in particular, chardonnay and pinot noir. There have also been encouraging reports about the quality of pinot gris.

“From what we know at this stage, we can be confident that Marlborough will produce some outstanding wines this vintage.“Marlborough is obviously best known for its sauvignon blanc wines. Wineries are reporting wine with characteristics which will have a great range of passion fruit and tropical fruit flavours.“That encourages us to believe that wine quality will exceed expectations.”Marcus Pickens says that despite the late season rain,  the crop is likely to be Marlborough’s biggest yet.

“That obviously produces challenges of its own but our wineries are telling us they are in a much better position to deal with a big crop than they were back in 2008. The signals were clear early on in the season that we would have a big crop this vintage.

“Since 2008, wineries and growers have become much better at yield estimation – and as a result are getting yield estimation more precise. Being aware a big crop is expected allows them to intervene early through grape thinning which has had a beneficial impact on wine quality.

“They have also had time to work on their marketing and distribution strategies. As the world moves past the global financial crisis that was just making its impact felt in 2008, the market has been expanding rather than contracting.


Marlborough Vintage 2013

What a difference a year makes when it comes to vintage 2013. Whereas the previous year saw yields drop dramatically, in some cases by 35%, this year was the opposite.

Marlborough did not experience the severe drought conditions felt throughout much of New Zealand. Instead it basked in long, sunny days, with sunshine hours well up on the previous year.

At the beginning of the season, September and October, the temperatures throughout the region were cool. Enough to delay bud break when compared with many of the previous years. A number of frosts in small pockets of the region caused some variability when it came to bud break, but on the whole the region was looking forward hoping for a better flowering than in 2012.Those wishes were granted when in late November, the sun came out, the easterlies dropped away and temperatures began to rise.

December, which is the all-important period for flowering, was two degrees above the average. In the Wairau Valley this ensured almost perfect flowering and fruit set. However, the Awatere wasn’t as fortunate, suffering cooler temperatures than its neighbour, resulting in lower fruit set and eventually lower yields.

With hours of sunshine and very little rain during the summer months, the fruit was able to ripen at its leisure with no threat of disease. However the long hours of sunshine were not matched with higher than average temperatures, which was a major bonus for the fruit.

Marlborough experiences strong diurnal differentiation and 2013 was the classic case of that. Daytime temperatures didn’t reach levels that impacted on the required flavour and acidities required, and they were matched by cooler night-time temperatures that allowed those flavours to excel.

The conditions suited white varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris perfectly. But Pinot Noir also thrived under the long drawn-out summer. Many winemakers in the region are claiming 2013 is one of the outstanding vintages of recent years. And thankfully, there will be plenty of wine to enjoy from this spectacular year.

Marlborough harvested 251,680 tonnes in 2013, nearly 75% of New Zealand’s total production. There were substantial rises in yields for all varieties, with Sauvignon Blanc making up 210,077 tonnes of that total, Pinot Noir 17,000 and Chardonnay 3100.

Marlborough Vintage 2012

The summer of 2012 is one the Marlborough wine industry won’t forget in a hurry, mainly due to the fact that it never really arrived. Instead the region went from a cold and damp winter, to a cool and cloudy summer. These conditions, particularly during the all-important flowering period of December, meant yields were greatly affected. There was almost double the amount of rain during December, very low sunshine hours, and maximum temperatures were almost 2 degrees below the long-term average (LTA).

Initially it was thought yields would be down by 10 – 15 per cent. But that was later deemed a little conservative, and in reality yields were down by up to 35 per cent, depending on the sub region. The cooler flowering period and cool conditions in January and February meant vintage was well behind the previous few years – although it has to be remembered that those were warm years and vintage had been much earlier than the LTA. The variety affected the most was the region’s flagship Sauvignon Blanc. However Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer were also much lower than had been hoped.

However those low yields were the saving grace when it came to ripening the fruit in less than normal climatic conditions. Just as summer officially ended, the sun came out and the region experienced weeks of beautiful sunny days and cool nights, which is exactly what growers and winemakers long for.

The fruit was clean, disease free and able to hang on the vines until the flavour profiles reached optimum levels. There has been much excitement among winemakers at the quality of the fruit and the flavour profiles shining through. Many are predicting it will be a stunning and very strong vintage for all varieties, in particular Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

Marlborough Vintage 2011

The 2011 vintage was one of the earliest since the very warm 2006, yet initial estimations weren’t quite so positive. Bud burst for Sauvignon Blanc was a little behind previous years, initially leading to speculation that flowering would also be slightly later. But warmer than average temperatures from November 2010 on, led directly to an increase in Growing Degree Days (GDD) which in turn saw a shortened and successful flowering period.

Rain in mid December 2010 and early January 2011 ensured the vines were set up for the warmer and drier months that followed. Crops were slightly higher than average, but given the market pressure and global economic situation, growers acted on advice and considerable crop thinning and canopy management was undertaken throughout the province. This paid off with the lower yields on the vines ripening evenly.
As the summer turned into the typical Marlborough Indian summer, the fruit was able to be harvested at lower than average sugars whilst maintaining phenolic ripeness. This led to intensely flavoured wines, with more restrained alcohol levels, particularly in terms of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The 2011 Sauvignon Blanc was described as having ripened with very good flavours, ahead of sugars and with outstanding balance.

Vintage 2010

Described by winemakers as a “dream” vintage, 2010 was almost a game of two halves. The region experienced a very cool spring, which led to a later than expected bud burst. Sauvignon Blanc was most heavily affected, with reports of the cool conditions affecting the uniformity of budburst throughout the region.

Cluster numbers were down and so was average berry size, but given the large crops of 2008 and 2009, this was deemed a positive by the industry. The cool spring was followed by an extremely dry summer with the rainfall between November 2009  and April 2010 being the 3rd lowest since records began in 1930. It ensured there was no disease pressure, with winemakers reporting some of the cleanest fruit ever arriving at wineries.
The summer and autumn provided conditions growers and winemakers dream about. Long, bright, warm days and cool nights, meant fruit was able to hang on the vines until winemakers were ready to harvest it. The near perfect weather resulted in some intense flavours with the Sauvignon Blanc in particular described as “pristine, precise, focused and expressive.”


Marlborough Vintage 2009

Following hard on the heels of the large 2008 vintage, 2009 in Marlborough promised to be as big, if not bigger. This is because at harvest the number of bunches per shoot is determined by temperatures in the period shortly after flowering in the previous season (some 15 months before harvest). Higher (or lower) temperatures at that time will result in greater (or lesser) bunch numbers and these largely determine the potential yield. This potential is then converted into reality by conditions at flowering (some four months before harvest) as these temperatures determine the proportion of flowers that set fruit.

The very wet winter of 2008, meant the vines entered budburst in optimum condition, which was followed by near perfect conditions across the region at flowering. Crops were large, and this was exacerbated by the wettest February in 70 years helped build potential for larger berry sizes. Those damp conditions also created one of the highest incidences of botrytis seen in the province in a number of years. Due to both the high crops and the threat of disease, a great deal of fruit thinning and canopy management was undertaken.

There were fears the vintage would continue to be impacted by poor weather but by early March it turned, just in time to save the vintage from potential disaster. Long hot days, cool nights and no significant rainfall, ensured the fruit was allowed to ripen at leisure. By the time it got to harvest, growers and winemakers were excited by the intensity of flavour. Being allowed to pick whenever winemakers and viticulturists wanted, without the threat of rain, was the aspect most will remember from vintage 2009.

Pinot Noir yields were slightly lower than in previous years, with smaller berries leading towards an increase in colour and riper flavours. Sauvignon Blanc yields were managed carefully and the fruit was described as having intense flavours with typical cool climate pungency. One of the highlights of 2009 was the number of botrytised and late harvest wines, which the perfect autumn conditions created.

Marlborough Vintage 2008

Just after the majority of vines had completed bud burst in November 2007 , a late frost hit parts of Marlborough. It was nowhere near as severe as the 2002 event, although some later varieties were slightly affected. The late frost was followed by extremely warm December 2007 /January 2008 conditions – perfect for flowering and then veraison. Fruit set was as close to perfect as it could be. The warm conditions continued, Growing Degree Days were up and the vintage came earlier than had been initially forecast. Conditions were perfect for the earlier part of vintage, but it wasn’t to stay that way. For the first time in over a decade, a long spell of autumn rain hit the Marlborough province in mid April, creating a logistical nightmare for wineries who still had fruit on the vines. There was a rush to get the fruit in before disease took over, and given the larger than expected yields, it was tough finding spare tank space anywhere in the region. During and after vintage, every winery reported that berry size and juice ratios were well up on expectation and with many newly planted vineyards
producing crops for the first time, there were warning signs for Marlborough for the first time.

2008 will be remembered as the year of oversupply, given the massive crops, but the quality of many of the wines was something that wasn’t credited enough. Pinot Noir in particular was one to stand out, along with the aromatics of Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris. Sauvignon Blanc was described as being variable, with some wines displaying typically intense fruit, particularly the wines from the Awatere Valley, but in general having a shorter drinking lifespan.

Marlborough Vintage 2007

A warm spring led to an earlier than average bud burst in Marlborough and that promised a bumper crop of all major varieties throughout the region. That was until the coldest December in 50 years hit, which impacted on the fruit set of the major variety, Sauvignon Blanc and other late varieties that were also affected by the conditions. There were fears the late start to summer would be felt at the other end, when it came time to vintage – and while it took quite some time for the temperatures to rise to what most in Marlborough consider “normal” for summer, that time finally did arrive. Between February and April temperatures soared, the rain stayed away and the fruit caught up on lost time and vintage actually ended up being slightly earlier than normal proving how quickly conditions can move.

It is often said that a week is a long time in grape growing!

However the cool start to the season did impact on Sauvignon Blanc mostly, with yields being much lower than anticipated. There was a silver lining to that scenario though. The lower crops, the hot days and cool nights meant there was an abundance of intensity and lower alcohol levels in the ensuing wines. Winemakers described the Sauvignon Blanc fruit as some of the best in five years – “just a pity there wasn’t more of it,” being a common complaint.

Pinot Noir was a standout from this vintage, with the wine developing elegant berry fruit flavours, slightly more feminine than in previous years but accompanied by dark and intense colour. Excitement and belief in Pinot Noir really exploded in Marlborough after this vintage, something the region has been delivering on ever since.