Covid-19 vintage 2020 difficult but rewarding

Vintages can be tough to report on because the proof is always in the bottle rather than the early reports but 2020 was remarkable in New Zealand in that it took place at all, due to the Covid-19 lockdown just as vintage was about to start.

Claire Edward of Wairarapa Wines writes that the 2020 season will go down in history as one of the most difficult logistically, emotionally and physically. She shares her vintage report here, which covers Martinborough, Gladstone, Carterton and the northern Wairarapa around Masterton. The Wairarapa is the third smallest of New Zealand’s 10 wine regions. It currently has approximately 983 hectares of producing vineyard land. This is forecast to increase significantly in the near future with huge investment by Craggy Range on Te Muna Road, where it has purchased over 100 hectares of land to plant, predominantly in Sauvignon Blanc.

Wairarapa Wines report on vintage 2020

The 2020 season will go down as one of the most memorable as the region pulled together to overcome the adversities of Covid-19 as vintage unfolded.

Vintage was looking promising for wineries across the Wairarapa with excellent ripening conditions and above average yields. What would usually be a tense month delving into weather patterns, morphed into something no one could have foreseen with a worldwide pandemic affecting the nation.

The season began with a wonderful flowering producing even berry and bunch size not seen for some time. Stable weather conditions followed with near drought conditions in February and March across the region, which had the winemakers excited about the coming harvest. Harvest kicked off in Martinborough with the sparkling varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, both showing wonderful acidity and flavours.

The balance of harvest followed with all varieties showing great promise especially our regional hero, Pinot Noir. Comments included that it was one of the most favourable Pinot Noir seasons in many years. The resulting wines show deep colour, pure varietal flavours and great tannin structure.

Our region was around 60% through when the pandemic shut down the nation leading to a shortage in labour to complete harvest. Wineries had to call on those close; family members, friends, children and neighbouring wineries to ensure fruit was harvested and their hard work would be realised. The majority of Martinborough was harvested prior to the much needed rain of 130mm in late March, unlike the Gladstone and Masterton sub-regions. However, due to the drought conditions, the ground had the capacity to soak up the rain not compromising the concentration of flavours in the remaining fruit in these sub-regions.

The overall quality of the harvest was outstanding and one of the best seen in the past decade, making it an extraordinary vintage, considering the added pressure of a pandemic. Across the board, Chardonnay is looking the best in a long while, the aromatics Riesling and Pinot Gris looking particularly classical with lovely aromas and Pinot Noir, the grateful showstopper of the region once again, showed  concentrated and archetypal flavours.

The 2020 season will go down in history as one of the most difficult logistically, emotionally and physically. An enormous thank you to New Zealand Winegrowers for their support to ensure the 2020 harvest could continue, allowing the region to pick through the pandemic and result in some extraordinary wines and memories.


Rockburn appoints new general manager

Central Otago winery Rockburn has appointed Tim Severne as its new general manager.

He has over 20 years of experience in the wine industry working for Glengarry Wines, Hancocks Wine, Spirit and Beer Merchants and Marisco Vineyards. His most recent role was global sales manager at Antipodes Water Company.

Rockburn is named after the rugged rocky Central Otago landscape. The winery owns two vineyards; on the Gibbston Back Road in Gibbston Valley and at Parkburn in the Cromwell Basin where its winery is based. Rockburn also has a cellar door in the Gibbston Valley.

Wines of the week… What does ‘natural’ mean? Churton’s new Natural State wines

Second generation winemakers Ben and Jack Weaver made this week’s trio of new Natural State vintages, a brand which was established to acknowledge the trend towards less-is-more winemaking.

They are not calling these wines ‘natural’ for the sake of it. They are making wines in the most natural way possible, while adhering to classic and modern winemaking principles to create the freshest, purest flavours in an accessibly priced range of interesting wines. Which is pretty much the philosophy of their organic and biodynamically focussed parents, Sam and Mandy Weaver, who own Churton Estate in Marlborough. Production is small, quality is high and flavours are pronounced but balanced in the wines from this outstanding wine producer – one of my top New Zealand wineries, due to the consistently high quality since they first established their brand in 1997.

It’s refreshing to taste the new wave from the second generation, which adds a new twist to an excellent existing brand.

I love the flavours in each of these tasty wines of the week.

Wines of the week


2019 Natural State Pied de Cuve $27

Certified organic

This 100% certified organic Sauvignon Blanc is made with grapes grown on the Loin Block Vineyard in Marlborough and fermented with indigenous yeasts created in the run up to harvest 2019. The vineyard team collected samples of grapes to make a starter yeast, used to ferment the hand harvested grapes in this wine. The  juice was fermented in aged 500 litre puncheons and remained on lees for 9 to 12 months, post fermentation. The wine was then bottled with no fining or filtration, which leaves so many goodies in this tasty, medium bodied, succulent and deliciously creamy dry white. It’s balanced beautifully by Sauvignon’s naturally refreshing acidity. Sealed with a screwcap.



2019 Natural State Pinot Noir Marlborough $27

Certified organic and vegan friendly

This wine is made from the Clod Block, the youngest Pinot Noir vineyard and typically the first one picked by the Churton Estate team. It was planted in the Waihopai Valley in 2000 using a European approach, says winemaker Jack Weaver. Vine rows are spaced close together at high density of approximately 5,000 vines per hectare. They are farmed along biodynamic and organic principles.

This latest Natural State Pinot Noir is from the 2019 growing season which was incredibly dry with almost no rain between Christmas and harvest. The grapes were picked in mid March and displayed high colour intensity, which comes through in this organically certified, intensely fruity, fresh and intense Pinot Noir. The grapes were fermented in two separate tanks with indigenous yeasts and no whole bunch fermentation. The fermenting grape must was plunged lightly for colour and tannin extraction. The wine was matured in seasoned French oak for three months, a relatively short time, and then bottled with a low sulphur addition and unfined. Sealed with a screwcap.


2019 Natural State Field Blend $27

Certified organic

Viognier, Petit Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc grapes were co fermented to make this full bodied, fleshy off dry white which contains 6 grams of residual sugar per litre, so it is just off dry. It tastes dry and has refreshing zesty acidity from Marlborough’s cool night time temperatures, which adds balance to the rich flavours of the Viognier and Petit Manseng. Sealed with a screwcap.