The 2015 vintage – what they say, well, John Forrest in particular!
We’d already heard as early as Christmas, back in the UK, that New Zealand was having an unusually dry, hot summer. In Marlborough there had been no rain since the end of November. The vineyards nearly all have irrigation lines set up – you need them in particular for when the vines are very young and need to get established. However, come early February, the council had put a water ban in place for crops, for 12 days … and the wineries were a tad worried.
When I returned in March, there had still been no rain … lovely concentrated grapes, but there is a fine line when the vines just say that’s enough, and go into shutdown mode. Then ripening comes to a halt. The lack of water was the same all over Marlborough, but the ripening schedule was different over the different subregions – Southern Vales, Northlands, Awatare and so on.
So overall, yields are way down. About 50% lower than in 2014, a very big year, and about 30% down on normal production levels. That’s due to, firstly, rain at flowering time, then this hot, dry summer. An early vintage never came about as everyone was waiting for full phenolic ripeness.
Talking to John Forrest, he was saying the Pinot Noir looked as though it was fully mature, but tasting the berries the flavour simply wasn’t there … until just a few days before they finally harvested, then suddenly it seemed to click into place. The same for a good number of varieties – it’s just getting everything in balance – flavour, with acidity, texture and sugar levels … a tricky balancing act.
John’s highlights of 2015
I asked John what vats he was particularly excited about. “The Grüner Veltliner – I didn’t need to know which tanks they were, I could smell a strong white pepper smell as soon as I was near them in the winery.”
Chardonnay has been good and is sitting happily in the new oak fuders that he is very excited about. Ultimately, John wants to use them for ageing the Riesling to give them texture, but no oak flavour, so he needs to ‘break them in’ with some other varieties first.
The Albariño was tasting phenomenal on the vine and he’s hoping very much that that translates into great wine. The sample we had today, part through ferment, sang of almond kernel and apricot. His first year from these young vines, he’s modelling the wine on Spain’s Rias Baixas style and is very excited. The vines are planted on his best Brancott vineyard, so he has high hopes.
Chenin Blanc from the stony home vineyard and also from Brancott had lovely definition of bright, citrus notes and good acidity, and the Riesling – “all lemon curd and minerality” should be knockout, as long as the acidity is there, too.
Petit Manseng suffered a little powdery mildew late on, so John sent in the ‘troops’ to handpick the good bunches and sorted that problem out and it’s showing some delicious, ripe tropical fruit. Pinot Noir has a lovely deep colour, hopefully the same on flavour. Arneis grapes didn’t sing particularly tasted from the vine but today’s sample was distinctly pear, apple and apricot.
Did I forget the Sauvignon? It’s showing well, particularly the fruit from the very stony riverbed soils. Flavours went from strong citrus, elderflower and an almost salty minerality to an amazing exotic spice, just like Christmas. Wow!
Still, it’s early days, with many wines not yet through ferment. It’ll be interesting to see how each develops.
And Tuesday 7th April, the winery received 170 tonnes of fruit in one day – that is a record, beating even 2014.
No wonder there were so many big crates of skins and stalks. They’ll start fermenting soon and will be taken by a local farmer to be fed to the pigs. What happy pigs!