Winemakers in New Zealand’s flagship region are looking at an early harvest. Vineyards in Marlborough are two weeks ahead on the ripening cycle with huge crops sunning themselves under protective nets that prevent birds from eating the precious grapes.
Some fertile Sauvignon Blanc vineyards are believed to be carrying as much as 30 tons per hectare. The staggering amount of grapes on the vines threatens to put the region back into a surplus situation.
Quality-minded producers have aggressively thinned their crops by taking the unusual move to use machine harvesters to reduce the amount of fruit hanging by as much as 30 %.
Adam Hazeldine, head winemaker for Babich Wines, jokes about preparing for the “Sauvalanche.” The classic label Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough represents 75% of Babich’s production. The company has just opened a new production facility in Marlborough, which will likely spring into action during the first week of March when the first grapes arrive.
Hazeldine says the 2014 vintage is shaping up nicely. It’s unlikely to be as compressed as last year’s harvest.
“Everything ripened at the same time in 2013,” he says, adding that grapes from cooler parts of Marlborough typically are harvested as much as two weeks later than fruit from the warmer sites. “There was a bit of pressure because it was just a constant flow of grapes.” But any challenges and stress caused has been forgiven and forgotten given the quality of the wines produced.
The growing trend for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is smaller batch wines that reveal the character from specific sub-regions or individual vineyards. There will always be the large volume labels that deliver the zesty, pungent expression that made these wines the toast of the wine world. But winemakers are also looking to elevate their expression, aiming, in turns, for more refined expressions or riper, full-bodied whites that are enriched by barrel fermentation.
There’s also continued interest in Pinot Noir, which is the region’s second most planted variety, and a rising tide of Pinot Gris to complement the traditional mix of Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewurztraminer vineyards.
“We’re not a one-trick pony. There’s a whole world of interesting varieties out there,” says Mike Insley, national viticulture manager for Brancott Estate Wines. “If the world ever embraced Riesling again, we’re ready and waiting.”
Wines of the Week:
Babich Wines 2013 Sauvignon Blanc
Marlborough, New Zealand
BC $19.95 (560144) | AB $18 | MB $17.99 (845909) | ON $14.95 (620054)
Babich aims for a riper style of Sauvignon Blanc with more tropical fruit flavours and fleshy texture than the assertive, high acidity style favoured by other Marlborough producers. The softer character makes it attractive on its own or served with fish or seafood dishes.
Brancott Estate 2011 Letter Series B Sauvignon Blanc
Marlborough, New Zealand
ON $19.95 (278689)
The Letter Series is a reserve tier for Brancott Estate. Made from specific vineyard blocks, the goal is to go beyond the simple, pungent expression of Sauvignon Blanc captured in more affordable bottles. Lively lemon and grapefruit stand out in this crisp and refreshing white that works with oysters and pretty much any dish that would be enhanced by a squeeze of lemon.