Posted by Steve Smith
Sauvignon Blanc may be the New Zealand wine everyone talks about, but those of us who are really serious about winemaking in New Zealand are concentrating a lot of our passion and skill on making red wines that at their best can be as memorable and unique as our famous Sauvignon Blanc.
You will note I use the phrase "red wines," instead of mentioning one variety or style, and that is because one cannot pigeonhole New Zealand as one winegrowing place. It is a collection of several very special places that at times are making remarkable wines. We may be making Pinot Noir in Martinborough or Central Otago, or Syrah in the Gimblett Gravels area of Hawkes Bay, or Merlot and Cabernet Franc from the same area. These are distinctly different red wines from three distinctly different places that are as climatically disparate as Burgundy and Bordeaux, or Napa Valley and the Sonoma Coast.
The story today is about our 2009 red wines from Gimblett Gravels.
I will categorically state that the 2009 red wine vintage in the Gimblett Gravels is the best I have ever experienced in 22 years of winegrowing in this area. I have been late declaring this because, at various times during the vintage, rain and hail were predicted, and they can make early predictions of greatness a very hollow promise. In 2009, we had no drama, the predictions were wrong, and we did have a truly great vintage.
We just completed the vintage with the last of the Le Sol Syrah parcels, and the young musts are extraordinary. We sort of saw this coming all year with a warm dry summer, then some real heat around veraison (real heat means four or five days close to 100 degrees F, no more), and young vineyards that are showing the first sign of maturity and balance in vigor and yield, combined with some exceptional viticulture.
We had a few scary moments in early March with a couple of inches of rain and some humidity that felt like we were in Fiji. However Mother Nature's sanity returned in the third week of March just as the first Merlot parcels were ready. We have had dry sunny weather since, with mostly cool temperatures; there have been spikes now and then, with a day or two in the 80s and even the odd light frost. If you wanted to dial up a more perfect year in our vineyards for Merlot, Cabernet Franc or Syrah, I have certainly not seen one.
The Merlot harvest started on March 16, Cabernet Franc on April 2, Cabernet Sauvignon on April 6 and the main Syrah parcels on April 11. All these dates are about a week earlier than normal.
You may not have heard much about the wines from the Gimblett Gravels, but you will soon—with the imminent release of the potentially great wines from the dry, cool 2007 vintage, followed by a ripe and elegant 2008 vintage, and then 2009, the vintage of my lifetime.
Jennifer Tincknell — Healdsburg, CA — April 28, 2009 1:35pm ET
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