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New wine releases

Turning deluge into delicious wine Photo: Richard Briggs

Wineries were akin to ‘war rooms’ over Vintage 2017 as approaches were debated and strategies devised. Now, as the first wines hit the shelves, the battle seems to have been won. Sophie Preece reports.

V

intage 2017 was a tough time in Marlborough and Nelson vineyards. A cold and windy summer, slow-to-ripen grapes and a storm-plagued harvest put huge pressure on crews. But with reportedly good, great and ‘stunning’ wines now in barrel, tank and bottle, the industry has proven itself far more than a fair-weather winegrower. Nature dealt the first card in her harsh hand last November when a massive 7.8 earthquake shook up Marlborough’s wine industry, took out the State Highway south and put wineries, engineers and stainless steel manufacturers into rapid rebuild mode, replacing and repairing tanks and catwalks as Vintage 2017 loomed. Summer then lost its mojo, severely slowing brix development. That led many growers and wine companies to drop crop to improve their chances of ripening fruit, among other viticultural tactics. Any 28

hopes for a redeeming Indian summer were dashed when autumn arrived with three big downpours, including the tail of two cyclones, putting pressure on growers to get their grapes in. It seemed a season worth forgetting, but with a few months’ break from the onslaught, industry leaders say it was a reminder of how good the two regions have it most of the time, and a lesson in how to respond when they don’t.

Drastic measures needed

Wine judge Ben Glover, who is winemaker for his family-owned Marlborough label Zephyr, says that when the series of deluges hit the region, viticulturists and winemakers had to seriously consider how best to handle their fruit through the harvest. “There needed to be – and there was – a huge conscientious collaboration between wineries and growers, as the worst-case scenario would impact on both

business segments.” A lightening of crop loads and some warmer nights, along with bad fruit dropped to the vineyard floor, changed the grapes’ physiological condition, so growers saw riper flavours at lower sugars, enabling some to pick before major rain, “to make sure we had fruit in the bank,” says Ben. “We also saw plenty of proactive vision, tricks and tools coming out of wineries to ensure that the resulting wine was to the quality of drier years.” Ben believes that’s possibly the ‘major difference’ between 2017 and other talked-about tough vintages such as 2014, 2008 and 1995. “Winemakers were well-armed and proactive, so we will see sauvignon blanc with ripe forward aromas and flavours, with approximately 0.5% lower alcohol,” he says. “So in some respects, perfect for December and Christmas drinking, with ripe, tropical sweaty notes.”

Wild Tomato October2017  

WildTomato is Nelson & Marlborough's magazine. We focus on inspiring journalism, stunning photography and beautiful design. www.wildtomato.c...

Wild Tomato October2017  

WildTomato is Nelson & Marlborough's magazine. We focus on inspiring journalism, stunning photography and beautiful design. www.wildtomato.c...