By Robin Ransom
Rain falling on vines as grapes ripen is not desirable. Too much rain creates disease pressure and water taken up by vines dilutes grape berries, which can result in less flavoursome wines. Much of our rainfall comes in winter and spring, so summer and autumn are generally dry enough to enable optimal ripening conditions for grapes.
Average rainfall in the Ransom vineyard between 1993 and 2015 for the grape ripening months have been 71mm in January, 77mm in February, 97mm in March and 90mm in April. This year’s pattern was very different with 136mm, 211mm, 33mm and 68mm respectively. It seems our experience was typical. So what impact did this strange and unusual reversal of rainfall patterns have on winegrowing?
The heavy rains in January and February saturated our soils which meant more foliage growth than usual and lush, bushy vines. Not great for high quality fruit production, as vine energy is diverted more into the foliage and less into the bunches. So we had to do more summer pruning and vine trimming than usual.
All in all, by the end of February, we had a challenging and worrying set of conditions to cope with. Had the wet weather continued we might have given up and gone fishing, but fortunately the rains largely stayed away during the critical late ripening period.
Given these odd conditions, how do we look now? At Ransom Wines we are very pleased with what we have in tank and barrel. The young wines have nice flavours and flavour intensity and good potential for high quality wines. What do other local producers think? Christine Didsbury, at Brick Bay, said they feel fortunate to have emerged unscathed from a challenging vintage. Ascension reflected on the odd weather, but were pleased with the eventual results: “We seemed to have every weather pattern achievable but the outcome has been…a condensed and focused crop that enables us to create some lovely small batch wines.”
David Hoskins, at Heron’s Flight, also noted the early rain pattern: “We got the fruit through the very wet months clean and with no disease”. But he said the vineyard had a terrific vintage. Richard Robson, at Matakana Estate, had a similar experience, saying “later ripening red varieties seemed to get through all the rain ok and our syrah was in perfect condition at harvest”.
While in February we may have been preparing to make silk purses out of sows’ ears, by the end of April our raw material was more silky, so we can expect some nice Matakana region wines from 2016.