After a mixed 2008 vintage, New Zealand appears to be back on track in 2009, with winemakers reporting a successful harvest. Both the North and South Islands experienced a relatively warm, dry summer, with cooler temperatures and some rain in February. Moderate conditions during ripening produced grapes with balanced structures and flavors. Winemakers are sounding very positive about the vintage, with initial signs pointing to promising Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs.
Despite New Zealand's total vineyard acreage growing to its highest level ever, 2009 saw lower overall yields compared to last year. According to Jeff Clark, chief winemaker for Pernod-Ricard in New Zealand, winemakers and growers thinned their crops in response to current market trends. "After last year's bumper Sauvignon Blanc harvest, 2009 has been all about yield management to ensure quality and that our wine supply is in tune with demand," he said.
In Marlborough, vintners are happy with how the Sauvignon Blanc is turning out. Mild weather following veraison allowed the grapes to ripen slowly. Some wineries picked their fruit later than usual. Clive Dougall, winemaker at Seresin Estate, said he let the fruit hang and was able to cherry pick through his vineyards. The wines may show more tropical fruit character. "[There is] a little more ripeness, more concentration in the Sauvignon Blanc," he said.
Vintners are also pleased with the state of the 2009 Pinot Noir, which many think is New Zealand's signature red. The moderate weather led to balanced wines in the Waipara region, according to Frank Manifold, winemaker at Waipara Springs. "The Pinot Noir is exceptional, with good concentration and good depth of color," he said.
Blair Walter, winemaker at Felton Road in Central Otago, considers 2009 a very good vintage for Pinot. There was some concern it would be a late season due to a cool, wet February, but warm weather throughout March helped ripen the grapes. Felton Road started picking in the first week of April, an early harvest for the winery. "It's hard to say if its going to be as good as 2007," Blair said. "The structure of the wine is there."
Winery workers at Craggy Range sort through the fruit for their Wild Rock line of wines.
On New Zealand's North Island, in Martinborough, a region best known for Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, vintners are equally impressed with the vintage. "The harvest looked early, but a perfectly cool end to the season ensured slow, even development of flavors," said Larry McKenna, winemaker at Martinborough-based Escarpment. He thinks 2009 was the best year of the decade, with the Pinot Noir showing real colors, bright fruit flavors and ripe tannins.
Further north in Hawkes Bay, Steve Smith, director of wine at Craggy Range, is very happy with the region's red wines, predominately Bordeaux varieties and Syrah. He is calling 2009 the best red wine vintage for the area in more than 22 years. The region's white wines didn't fare as well, however. "It was a tricky vintage for the early Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris vineyards, caused by the rain in early March," Smith said.
Wet conditions also caused some problems in Kumeu, where some of the country's best Chardonnay is grown. Michael Brajkovich, winemaker at Kumeu River, reported some botrytis in the vineyards, due to a mix of humid weather and rain. But the weather only lasted for a few days and Brajkovich says the quality of the Chardonnay should still be very good. "Botrytis was a scare for the few days it struck but careful picking led to great fruit."
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