What can we expect from New Zealand’s biggest vintage ever, the just completed 2014 harvest? Here is my own harvest of research from top winemakers up and down this long, diverse and maritime winemaking country at the bottom of the world

This column was first published in Your Weekend magazine in The Dominion Post, The Christchurch Press and The Waikato Times on Saturday 24 May 2014.

Imagine standing waist-deep in a tank of cold pinot noir grape skins. Their juice has been fermented into wine and the liquid drained away to oak barrels, but the residue remains.
These grapes have to be dug out of this tank – one bucket at a time – so that every last drop of juice can be pressed into wine. It’s a sticky job, but someone has to do it.
This year for two tanks, that was me. It was part-frontline story research, part education for the British wine and spirits degree I am studying online – to grow my drinks knowledge; not to make wine.
It is easy to connect with the sticky side of wine in a country where it is now the eighth biggest export earner and has just surpassed $1.32 billion; nearly 10% growth from last year.
This year, 2014, was the biggest grape harvest ever in New Zealand. The official counting ended yesterday, 23 May, so the final tally will be public soon. The winemakers interviewed for this story had more grapes this year – masses more, in some cases – but also high quality ones, thanks to a frost-free spring followed by a warm summer. This is good news. Wine drinkers can look forward to top 2014 local whites, especially under $20, including a Kumeu Village pinot gris, out soon. Being waist deep in pinot noir skins is chilly on the body, but it’s good for the soul – and for harvesting information.

What to expect from New Zealand’s 2014 harvest

Auckland
Lower alcohol, high quality wines and a new under $20 2014 Kumeu Village Pinot Gris, out soon, says Master of Wine Michael Brajkovich from Kumeu River Wines.

Gisborne
The saddest day of the year is the end of harvest for winemaker James Millton, who predicts Gisborne’s best wines from 2014 will be gewürztraminer, viognier and reds from the region.

Hawke’s Bay
Syrah was the highlight from Esk Valley’s 2014 harvest for winemaker Gordon Russell, but patience is a virtue – we have to wait a couple of years for it.

Martinborough
Early harvest dates meant lower alcohol levels and riper flavours; a winning combo for pinot noir from Martinborough, says John Porter of Porters Pinots.

Marlborough
Quantity and quality combined this year in the country’s biggest wine region and the light whites will start pouring out very soon, says Ivan Sutherland of Dog Point Vineyards.

Nelson
A great summer meant early harvest and good flavours in Nelson so the wines are top quality, says Tim Finn of Neudorf Vineyards.

North Canterbury
It was controlled chaos at Pegasus Bay for winemakers Mat Donaldson, Pete Lidgard and Jannine Rickards, who began harvest early and finished late. That means lots of spatlese-style (late harvest) whites to look forward to – and good pinot noir too.

Central Otago
“Elegant wines with less alcohol and loads of flavour from a great summer,” says Mt Difficulty winemaker Matt Dicey, who is also making a late harvest chenin blanc.

Wines of the week

Top class chardonnay

2012 Banrock Station Good Earth Chardonnay $8.99
A friend who tasted this without seeing the label says: “This tastes delicious and expensive because it’s so fresh”. It also has an attractive price tag, a full body and creamy aromas. And it’s widely available.

Tasty newcomer

2012 Main Divide Gewurztraminer $19 to $20
Here is a tasty new Main Divide wine, which packs a flavoursome tropical punch in each full bodied mouthful. There’s about 50% more gewurz’ in New Zealand today than 10 years ago but it’s never going to nudge sauvignon blanc, chardonnay or pinot gris off their popular pedestals – even when it’s this good. From specialist stores or www.pegasusbay.com

Pinot Noir star

2012 Mount Edward Morrison Vineyard Pinot Noir $65

If you drink just one top pinot this winter, make it Morrison Vineyard Pinot Noir, made with grapes from a small vineyard in Lowburn. It’s one of my top five Central Otago wines, thanks to smooth, silky red fruit flavours matched to mostly older oak softness by winemaker Duncan Forsyth. From specialist stores or www.mountedward.co.nz