We started the 2015-2016 growing season with the threat of a very dry harvest period, with the national climate scientists at NIWA indicating El Niño conditions could lead to drought over the harvest months. The season has had only about 62% of the long-term average amount of rain, and about 112% of the average evapotranspiration. However, timely rain in January and again in late March managed to refresh the rivers and re-charge the soil moisture.
We had two serious rainfalls in the middle of the ripening period, of around 2-3 inches, and 1-2 inches respectively, depending on which part of the district you were in. Disease pressure had been low leading into these events, and because the rain came as heavy, brief events and was followed by favourable dry conditions, the fruit escaped significant damage. There was a little splitting of some berries, but these tended to scar over without ensuing botrytis.
Growing degree days were up about 12% over the long term average, and Marlborough was ahead of the more northerly (and hence normally warmer) Hawkes Bay region in terms of heat accumulation through the season. This was especially the case at the ’business end’ of the season, from mid-January on.
Summarising the impact of the weather on the vines and the grapes:
Vine canopies were helped by timely rains, and were in good shape at harvest time – and we avoided the damaging drought conditions that had been forecast
Around Marlborough generally the bigger crops achieved adequate ripeness, as the golden autumn weather allowed time for the vines to fully mature the fruit.
The larger than average berry size tends to favour more thiol-lead flavour in Sauvignon Blanc, at the expense of some of the traditional methoxypyrazines characters. I expect to see some passionfruit, ripe citrus, stone-fruit and tropical notes to the fore, and less of the herbal, boxwood spectrum.
Pinot Noir may well have a softer structure, with the fruit being less driven by tannins due to the larger berry dimensions. In a season like this, Pinot loses any sense of herbaceousness early, and can be picked on flavour often at lower sugar levels. I’m expecting that the resultant wines will have moderate alcohol profiles, and be ‘bright’ and expressive.
Summarising the fermentations so far:
Sauvignon Blanc looks aromatic and typical, with a friendly acid profile and likelihood of attractive drinkability.
Pinot Gris seems to be very strong, with lovely stone-fruit and pear profile
Pinot Noir has good colour, nice red and black cherry aroma, and medium density of palate weight. I think we will have wines that reflect the core strengths of Marlborough for Pinot Noir – lifted aromatics, vibrancy and elegance.
Chardonnay looks round and ripe.
I tend to reserve judgement on the vintage until around late June, by which time the yeast esters of fermentation have started to dissipate and the vineyard characters are re-asserting themselves in the wines. From what I’ve seen to date it looks like another strong year for Marlborough, with a great combination of above average crops, clean fruit and expressive flavours.
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