For a change of pace, we’re posting a travel note from our assistant winemaker Candace Battig. It’s hard to believe that just as our vines prepare to bud, the Kiwis will be just finishing their harvest.
“Summer 2016 has come to a close! That is — if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere.
This past Winter, with the vines put to bed and all quiet in the vineyard at Broken Stone Winery it was the perfect chance to hop down to New Zealand to see what grape growing is like down there.
Kiwis are famous for their screw tops and sauvignon blanc wines — but if you look closer you’ll find they also make remarkable Pinot Noir. On the south island of New Zealand, Central Otago has made a name for itself in the past 30 years as an excellent Pinot Noir producer. They are an interior wine region with hot days and cool nights (similar to Prince Edward County). After researching the wineries of Otago, a small organic winery by the name of Aurum stood out as the perfect winery to spend a vintage with. Aurum is a family-run organic winery with ten acres under vines. At Broken Stone we believe that a healthy balanced vineyard ecosystem with strong vines produce the best grapes for winemaking, and Aurum shares our ethos. With this in mind, we were keen to see what tips and tricks we could pick up from a similar sized vineyard half way around the world.
I arrived in February at the end of the Kiwi summer as the vines were just hitting veraison. Nets were cloaked over the vines 7 rows wide to keep the birds at bay and workers were busy patching any holes. We also cover our vines at Broken Stone. However, we use side nets that cover the fruiting zone in each row individually. In conjuction with a recording of birds of prey and distress calls, birds are encouraged to find a meal somewhere else. At Aurum, the advantage of draping nets over several rows is that the vines on the interior rows are completely protected. The exterior rows are only slightly vulnerable to a bird sticking its beak in through the netting to enjoy a tasty grape snack. However, such a large net requires specialized tractor equipment to string the nets across multiple rows at a time. That’s a job you don’t want to do by hand!
The last of the cluster thinning was also occurring. In the vineyard there is always a balancing act happening. To produce the best winemaking grapes, you must have the optimal ratio of fruit to vegetation. This means leaf-pulling and hedging but also cluster thinning the grapes. In cluster thinning, the grapes are thinned based on how long their accompanying cane is, since it is the leaves on the cane that absorb the sunlight, convert it to energy and create the sugar in the grapes. Too many grapes on a small vine and the plant won’t be able to ripen them in time for harvest. To avoid this problem, workers remove clusters of grapes from canes that are too short, so that the vine can focus on ripening the clusters on longer canes. Now, if you’re a numbers person, you could also say the vines are thinned to produce two tonnes per acre, which is the same target we aim for at Broken Stone. This target keeps the vineyard happy ecologically and the winery happy economically.
With these final jobs complete, it’s time to take a moment’s rest as the grapes ripen. The long hours of harvest are just around the corner in New Zealand.”