Vintage variations

By: Richard Robson

I’m not going to dwell on the wet weather. NIWA’s predictions of higher than average rainfall in late summer, which I detailed in my last column, came true. It’s a tough one for winegrowers, but we persevere. Winegrowers often need to be flexible in times of adverse weather conditions, and for marginal or boutique wine growing regions such as Matakana, the term “vintage variation” is important when describing our wines style and evolution through the years.

If you made wine in the inland parts of Australia, such as the Riverland area of South Australia, or perhaps the Central Plateau of Spain, there is a high probability that the growing season will be dry, sunny and hot. From such areas, we tend to say that vintage variation is minimal. What you get in the bottle from one year to the next is very similar.
Grapes grown in more changeable climates, including New Zealand, will vary year by year, especially in terms of heat experienced – how hot it got and during what part of the growing season, and how much rain was there? Was there too much rain, not enough, or the rare, but always hoped for, just right? Consequently, we see variations in the wines we can make. A cooler year will produce wines with lower alcohol levels because of lower natural sugar levels, but with higher acidity. Conversely, warmer years produce wines with more natural sugar and lower acidity. Within this framework, we also get differences in the flavour spectrum – from herbal, minerally and austere, through to fruity, ripe and rich. How the wine feels in the mouth, in particular for reds, can also range from light, fine and delicate, through to strong, firm and sometimes tannic or drying. All these attributes are what makes drinking and collecting wine such an interesting and diverse experience.

At the moment, I know that we had a great start to the season with warm temperatures from November on. Tasting my Pinot Gris grapes, I can see that this has helped to ripen flavours at lower sugar levels, so it is likely that that I will pick my Pinot Gris at a sugar level that is 10 per cent lower than normal if this weather persists. This will produce a wine style lower in alcohol and probably slightly higher in acidity, but the right flavour will still be there. I also may decide to focus on making a rosé-style wine from our Syrah grapes this year, since I know that I will have good fruit character from the warm season. The many warm nights we’ve had this summer could mean finer or unripe tannins from the skins, due to the smaller variation between day and night time temperatures. This makes it ideal for rosé, since this wine doesn’t need the tannin as such, just the fruit flavours.

Richard Robson, President, Matakana Winegrowers


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