Ups and downs of vintage 2021

Julian Grounds is the Pinot Noir loving winemaker at the helm of Craggy Range in Hawke’s Bay, a winery well known for its blockbuster Bay reds and sophisticated Chardonnay, despite the fact that 65% of this iconic winery’s production now comes from Martinborough. I asked him this week what the biggest challenges and greatest joys of vintage 2021 were. Here is our conversation, a fascinating insight into the inner workings of one of this country’s best known wineries.

What has been the biggest challenge of vintage 2021 for you at Craggy Range?

We are anticipated that labour would be the big issue this year, and it’s definitely affected the number of pickers we’ve seen on any given day, particularly in Martinborough. However I think we’ve been careful with our planning and timing and in the end, I’m thrilled with how the fruit has come in.

What percentage of fruit comes from Hawke’s Bay and Martinborough in terms of the overall crop for Craggy?

With new plantings coming online, this year we are about to approximately 35% Hawke’s Bay, 65% Martinborough.

How do you process the fruit from Martinborough and how did the two regions vary this year in terms of quality and quantity?

Martinborough Pinot is hand picked to low levels in picking bins to avoid any squishing, stored in refrigerated transport and driven straight to Hawke’s Bay. From there I like to vary the amount of 100% destem vs high whole bunch depending on the clone, ripeness and history. Sauvignon Blanc is predominately machine harvested, with approximately 15% hand picked and barrel fermented. This fruit is also transported up to Hawke’s Bay.

What are the most exciting varietals for you this year in terms of fruit quality? 

It sounds like a broken record but it’s been another absolute blinder in Hawke’s Bay. Couldn’t say one variety is better than any other, but maybe I continue to be blown away by the quality of our Syrah fruit. One block this year is potentially the greatest Syrah/Shiraz fruit I’ve ever been fortunate enough to work with. Outside of that Chardonnay is on the up and up for us, and with 4 new blocks coming online this year, I believe our wines will continue to evolve and improve. Pinot, the darling of my heart, will give us some stellar wines and in particular the Abel clone blocks look exceptional. Yes, tiny yields, but sure to be potent wines.

Things we least expect

Joelle Thomson’s weekly blog about life, wine and other unexpected things

It happens when you least expect it. When I finally realised my sister might not recover, or at least get a brief reprieve from her cancer, it quickly became clear that getting to see her in a remote part of Western Australia was a hard ask, at best. At worst, it was impossible to get there in time to say goodbye to her in person. The worst happened. Sue passed away this month and I never got to say goodbye in person, to hold her hand one last time and to say all those things that swirl around in my mind like a storm of sadness and longing for someone so important, so loved and so cherished. We talked on the phone and thanks to other technology, we saw each other on computer screens, but it’s not the same as being with someone in person. It’s going to take time to process. Part of the process is writing about it, for me, and connecting with people who understand, of which a surprising number seem to. It’s incredibly affirming to have conversations with people who have suddenly come back into my life, often via email or Facebook or the phone (due to physical distance) to say how sorry they are for the loss in our family.

Losing a sibling is high on the list of things I least expected to happen but it happened anyway, in the way that life does when you are least expecting it. The ‘us’ in question is my other sister and I, who are, along with our parents and other close family members, deeply shocked and saddened by the incredibly swift cancer that our sister Sue had.

When she was drifting deeper into illness and fading away from us over the past few months, many parts of life began to lose their shine and wine was one of those things, but life goes on. And, in easing back into work following the funeral last week, something else happened that I least expected. It may sound trivial when compared with the death of a loved one, but two wines from small vineyards stopped me in my tracks. Winemakers Sarah-Kate and Dan Dineen have always made wines that rate highly, for me, under their Maude label, but these two Pinot Noirs are in another realm. They have the earthy flavours and velvety depth that my beautiful sister, Sue, would have loved. Here they are…

Wines of the week

Two Pinot Noirs from Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand

19/20

2018 Maude Kids Block Central Otago Pinot Noir 
This is made from grapes grown on Mt Maude Vineyard at the base of Mt Maude in Wanaka, a one hectare site planted at 400 metres elevation and grown without irrigation. The family owned site was planted in three Pinot Noir clones: 667, 777 and 115. It’s made without whole clusters in the ferment and with 18 days of maceration by winemakers Sarah Kate and Dan Dineen. Silky, structured, sensitively balanced, long and fresh with great depth of flavour; earthy spice married with red fruit. Its complex flavours will develop further with time. 

19/20

2018 Maude Mt Maude Pinot Noir Wanaka
Made from a 1.25 hectare block of Pinot Noir planted at 360 metres elevation in Wanaka. The vineyard is now 25 years old, planted in Pinot Noir clone 10/5 and dry grown. There were 70% whole clusters in the ferment, which had minimal pigeage (plunging of the cap of grapeskins) and 20 days maceration followed by a gentle basket press with the finished wine going into oak. It’s a commanding impressive wine with great structure and concentration. 

Autumn thoughts and wines

Joelle Thomson’s wines of the week are published every Friday, with occasional postings early – such as this week’s one…

Vintage is in full swing here in Martinborough as I sit at my desk on a sunny, windy, sometimes cloudy, other times blue sky autumnal day. And Mother Nature really can be a bitch sometimes. The weather is living down to its reputation of being so dry that crops are naturally reduced by Mother Nature when she is at her harshest. The harvest this year is significantly smaller than many winemakers would like it to be. Grape bunches are small across the most planted varieties – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling, with Sauvignon Blanc being the only one I haven’t seen or tasted yet in my travels around the vineyard as both writer and walker. Two winemakers today me told today that their Pinot Gris bunches came in at 25 grams instead of the more typical 90 grams. Ouch. As for the quality, it could be on the up thanks to such small volumes but the jury remains out until the proof is in the bottle. Enough of the cliches. These wines of the week are exceptional and all from Martinborough’s rapidly expanding Te Muna Road area from the old Julicher Vineyard. This property is now owned by yachtee Brad Butterworth, four times winner of the America’s Cup as the tactician for New Zealand and winner of the Whitbread Round the World Race, among many other seafaring accolades.

19/20
2019 Butterworth Sauvignon Blanc $30

This is an incredible wine made entirely from estate grown fruit and since only 1600 bottles were produced by winemaker Martin Bell, it’s worth beating a path to find some of your on. Grapes were whole bunch pressed into old French oak barrels, the youngest being five years old. The wine is very concentrated, very dry and has lively acidity with great balance which adds zingy appeal to this great white from Martinborough.

18.5/20
2020 Butterworth Dry Riesling $28

Dry Riesling is gaining prominence here in New Zealand, as it is globally, and this one was picked late, towards the end of Covid on 10 April 2020.  It is technically speaking an off dry wine with 6.5 grams residual sugar, which is beautifully balanced by refreshing noticeable acidity, both giving the wine a lingering, lovely and lively finish.

18.5/20
2018 Butterworth Pinot Noir $55

Pinot Noir clones Abel, 115, 777, 667, 5 and 6 (a mixture of Dijon and Pommard clones) all go into this wine and all come from the Ranger Block, the new name for the home block at the Julicher Vineyard site. Winemaker Martin Bell matured this Pinot Noir for 11 months in French oak, 25% new. It has great fruit weight and concentration, which Bell says comes from both the clones and because it’s a barrel selection of his best Pinot Noirs, so a combination of winemaking methods finds its way into this lovely Pinot Noir.