The 2021 grape harvest in the Nelson region is going to be remembered for many things, everything from frosts, hail, low rainfall and lower than average temperatures have all had an impact on growing conditions through spring and summer, but through all the challenges some outstanding fruit is currently being harvested.
Last year Covid-19 restrictions meant I wasn’t able to visit wineries and taste freshly pressed juice, as I like to do, so I made sure I didn’t miss out this year. Talking with winemakers a common theme was obvious – a smaller crop but beautiful clean fruit being harvested.
The adverse weather conditions in late November and December when the grape vines were in flower meant many of those tiny flowers didn’t result in fruit, late frost damaged some vineyards, rain at the wrong time impacted on fruit set and then hail damaged some vineyards on Boxing Day.
After that the sun started shining but we didn’t get the usual high summer temperature peaks that are needed to help develop fruit flavours and sugars. During this mild period there also wasn’t a lot of rain so the smaller than usual fruit set for some varieties combined with dry conditions has resulted in smaller berries in many cases.
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The flip side is that these smaller berries have thicker than usual skins and have been able to get through recent rain events unscathed and, based on what I tasted last week, they are simply packed with intense fruit flavours. While the crop size in some varieties will be down the quality is going to be outstanding.
At Appleby Vintners (Te Mania and Richmond Plains) I had a long chat with winemaker Steve Gill and tasted juice that was just starting to ferment as well as some samples of wine from the stunning 2020 vintage that are almost ready for bottling.
Steve told me last year the wonderful weather conditions during harvest was the saving grace for the vintage, “with Covid we had a much smaller team working under very restrictive conditions so being able to bring in the fruit in a staged manner rather than needing to rush to beat rains meant little time pressure.
“Some years it’s frantic and if we had had rain during last year’s harvest it would have been a really challenging time.
“So far this year the grapes we are harvesting have smaller than usual berries, with thicker skins but that means we will get fantastic colour extraction for our pinots, we just need to make sure we balance the tannin extraction too.”
I tried the pinot they have harvested for their blanc de noir, a white wine made from pinot noir grapes, and at this very early stage the juice is fantastic, ripe, packed with flavour and plenty of delicate acidity to add some freshness, this is going to be a super wine when it’s finished.
At Wine Lord (Middle Earth Wines, Brightwater Gravels and Capital Cider) winemaker Trudy Shield is reasonably relaxed at the moment as she checks vineyards for fruit ripeness.
“We have a pretty small crop in some varieties like almost everyone else, but we’re really happy with the quality. The little bit of rain we had was actually good for the fruit. The skins are still quite firm so the fruit plumped up a wee bit without very much splitting, we just have to stay on top of any damaged fruit so it is excluded from harvesting.
“We’re also lucky we are making cider too, it’s a growing part of the wider drinks market and it has given us another string to our bow when we have a lower than hoped for grape harvest.”
Middle Earth Wines produce an outstanding pinot munier rose each year but last year they added a pinot munier red wine to their portfolio, this is a pinot noir wine made with the single pinot munier variety and it is beautiful. Just released it oozes juiciness and richness, a great new addition to the Middle Earth range.
So while we wait patiently for grapes to finish ripening and for winemakers to weave their magic on the 2021 grape harvest here’s a couple of wines from the outstanding 2020 vintage that I think deserve a place in your shopping cart.
Neudorf Moutere Riesling Dry 2020 – RRP $29 – 5 stars
I love riesling as a variety, it is versatile but tends to be hugely underrated by consumers. This single vineyard wine from Neudorf reinforces everything I love about the variety.
Classic varietal citrus and crisp apple flavours are up-front and centre but it’s the complexity that these flavours are wrapped around that really capture the attention. Aromas of fresh white peach and sweet lime, a twist of mandarin and subtle river-stone minerality entice you to taste the wine with flavours that reflect the aromas, just enhanced with a delicate creamy texture while the ripe acid backbone gives the wine a fantastic juicy, long finish. This is another class act from the team at Neudorf
Middle Earth Viognier 2020 – RRP $25 – 5 stars
The label says “the long, mild growing season of this vintage suited viognier perfectly” and the contents of the bottle deliver on the promise on the label. The intensity of this wine is obvious from the first taste, it is rich and opulent with a bright spice twist. It’s packed with ripe apricot and mandarin flavours that hang from a juicy acidity backbone. Add an alluring minerality and you have a delicious wine packed with flavour and character. If you love chardonnay or dry pinot gris and want to expand your wine choices then give this a go, you won’t be disappointed.