Thursday, 28 April 2011

Weather we like it or not...

“Thank god we got the last of our reds in before the rain!” sighs a relieved Mel Lawson from Cypress Wines in Hawke’s Bay.  “It is just horrible here, hosing down in fact.  But there are growers out there with fruit still on the vines, so I’ve got no idea how they’ll get on”.  That was the state of play on April 26th, the day before the region experienced severe flooding on the tail end of what’s been a pretty rough year for most North Island wine regions.  “We’re all ok here” said Clearview Estate’s Tim Turvey, “The rest of Te Awanga is a bit of a train wreck though.  With a bit of fruit still to come in “it’ll be a very late harvest” he adds.
Wet and wild La Nina weather patterns put a real dampener on the 2011 ripening season, and while north island farmers will be gleefully gambolling around in their gumboots, predicting prolific grass growth; our winegrowers greet autumn rain with fists in the air and foul language. Rain encourages bunch rot (botrytis) and thirsty vines soak up water like a sponge, distributing that water up into the berries. This then causes the berries to swell and dilutes those intense, concentrated flavours needed to create fabulous wine.   
Nelson has also had it tough with growers really battling the conditions to manage crop spoilage from things like slip-skin and acetobacter, bacteria which can give the grapes a vinegar-like flavour, but wineries like Waiheke Island’s Destiny Bay have adopted the very expensive but extremely effective method of loading all the fruit onto sorting tables where only the best individual berries are selected to go into the ferment.  Marlborough is the powerhouse of New Zealand’s production and they’re putting a positive spin on things with growers saying that most grapes in Marlborough have been harvested and winemakers are hoping for a good end to the vintage despite the heavy rain.  They’re also not worried about fruit still on the vines with Constellation New Zealand’s viticulture and winemaking manager Darryl Woolley saying that this late in the season canopies were shutting down, so dilution of flavours by vines taking up moisture from the soil shouldn’t be a problem.
What could be a problem though, according to some North Island growers of those big, full-bodied red varieties like syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon is that while most of the fruit was bought in flavour-ripe, the sugar levels weren’t as high as they’d usually like.  “It just means we’ll have to be careful and creative in the winery” shrugs Mel.  It could be a blessing in disguise as lower alcohol levels may mean a swing to the more elegant, gentle red styles that the French are so famed for.
Wine lovers with a sweet tooth won’t be left wanting as the weather across the regions is ideal for fans of the sweet, sticky dessert styles.  All this extra moisture and mild daytime temperatures mean botrytis will lay claim to those aromatic whites such as gewürztraminer and riesling, encouraging the berries to shrivel, concentrating all those gorgeous honey, toffee and stonefruit flavours and making me a happy girl indeed.
Two for One Coleraine! 
Are you the owner of a bottle of 2005 Te Mata Coleraine?  Then the team at Te Mata Estate want to hear from you.  They’re in a pickle because they were so impressed with Coleraine 2005 at their Showcase 2011 tastings held around the country recently, that they realised they need more of this wine for their own cellar.  So, they’re asking New Zealanders “if you have Coleraine ‘05 then we want to talk to you”.  Te Mata will exchange your Coleraine in a two-for-one deal. Every bottle of Coleraine ’05 gets you two bottles of Coleraine ’07.  Call Sally Duncan now on 06 877 4399 or email if you’re interested in turning your good Coleraine into two excellent Coleraines.  
Medieval Beer Fest
If your memories of the Oktoberfest in Germany on your O.E back in the day are foggy at best, you can relive some of the glory over in Taranaki at the inaugural Mike’s Brewery Medieval Beer Fest.  Held on Saturday 21st May from 2pm – 11pm, it’ll be a grand opportunity to sample sensational organic beers, enjoy Medieval entertainment (jousting anyone?), an authentic Medieval feast, a free collectors drinking vessel, a groovy live band and best of all there’s buses to and from New Plymouth and Hawera so driving isn’t even in the equation!
Just remember to swap your lederhosen for tights, pointy shoes and a tunic of some description.  Suits of armour are also encouraged and even court jesters will be tolerated.
Situated on Main North Road Urenui, the team at Mike’s Organic Brewery want to make the event world famous in Taranaki, so if you’re keen to venture westward tickets are available from or you can email
A taste of their own medicine…
Italian-born kiwi winery owner Antonio Pasquale has recently returned from Italy with an excellent, yet slightly unusual export order.  Hundreds of cases of his Waitaki Valley Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio as it is known in Italy) have been ordered by high end restaurants in Milan and other Italian cities.  The unusual thing is that pinot gris is one of the signature grapes of Italy, very widely planted and is incredibly popular over there – so why would they want any from New Zealand?  “It’s a little like coals to Newcastle” says Antonio.  The wine is delicious; I can vouch for that, but being the only kiwi winery at Vinitaly, one of the worlds largest wine fairs definitely helped.  “We were the only NZ winery there, and despite being hidden away we were the only ones with long queues to taste our wines.  The Italians were stunned by the clarity and minerality in our pinot gris” he shrugs.  The expo attracted a record 156,000 people over three days.
Four of the Best
Man O War Gravestone Sauvignon Semillon 2010 $34 (5 Stars)
70% sauvignon blended with 30% semillon has created a masterpiece in this snappy, incredibly complex white.  Intense aromas of crushed green herbs, passionfruit, wild flowers, dandelions and hay – seriously it’s that good.  Tangy, herbaceous and crisply elegant –this is definitely one wine you won’t forget in a hurry.  Buy from fine wine stores or via
Spinyback Nelson Chardonnay 2009 $16 (4 Stars)
Fantastic value for money here!  Loaded with grapefruit, lemon and lovely tropical melony notes fringed with some toasty, nutty notes on the finish.  An absolute crowd-pleaser that has ‘drink me with roast chicken’ written all over it plus money from the sale of every bottle goes toward saving our own Spinyback, the Tuatara. Widely available or visit to buy.
Mikes Organic Brewery Imperial Porter 750ml $15
The pitch black and brooding Imperial Porter by Mike’s Organic Brewery is a heavyweight at 8.0%ABV and boasts molasses, tar and creamy, smoky flavours.  I love this beer with roast duck on a bed of garlicy mashed spuds and swimming in red wine sauce.  For stockists visit
Urlar Gladstone Riesling 2010 $25 (4 Stars)
Beautiful green apple and lemon aromas followed by punchy, tangy acidity and deliciously dry lemon verbena flavours on the finish – this organic, biodynamically produced riesling is lipsmackingly good.  Buy from fine wine stores or via

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