Winemakers are curious and mysterious creatures. They spend long days in chilled, temperature-controlled wineries, hunkered over their brews, or they scurry from barrel to barrel with their whatever-it-is to extract wine and taste, blend, mutter, swirl, suck, spit.
Always seeking perfection.
Then they venture out into the vineyard and pace through the vines, picking bunches at random to crunch and squash, mush into must (a mixture of pulpy juice containing the berry, skin, pips, stem fragments) then anxiously test it with their precious and valuable equipment.
Breathe, I want to say to them. Relax. Wine has been made for thousands of years.
But what do I know? I made (or was helped to make) Syrah and Viognier and I stressed myself so much, getting up three times a night to plunge the Syrah, angsting over the Viognier when it wouldn’t ferment then wondering what the hell had happened when the cellared bottles popped their corks, I swore I’d never take my jeans off and tread the grapes again. Now I stick to writing and designing the labels.
So Simon Groves, our winemaker here at Te Muna Valley Wines, has taken time out from his work to put together some notes to let you know where things are at; what is going on across the yard from our back door in the Redbank state-of-the-art winery.
It is, as I suspected, mysterious work. At this particular time of the year when grapes begin to ripen, that is colour up and soften (called veraison in wine-speak, literally in French, towards raison) Simon brings out equipment like the refractometer (an instrument used to follow the ripeness of grapes by measuring the must weight – see above), and the hydrometer (which measures soluble solids and sugar content – I had to look all this up in Jancis Robinson’s “The Oxford Companion to Wine”).
So that’s the science. Then there’s the guesswork. “Along with all the other vintage season equipment,” he notes, “the crystal ball comes out of its box.
“Since Waitangi weekend’s warm spell we’ve had successive hot days between high 20s and low 30s. Good rain around February 19th did a little for the parched ground, but the wind soon dried everything and the Mercury rose again north of 26.
“You can see the effects of the hot dry summer around Wairarapa – brown hills, bare, some trees already turning yellow. Fortunately Redbank vineyard is healthy, having survived two very mean frosts including one in late December. Growth is strong; flowering and set was good and leaves are a healthy green so we are – touchwood – well positioned for vintage.
“We’re three seasons in now with the new winery and the Te Muna Valley range has seen a great deal of development and refinement, worked on by Colin, Deborah and me, so the wines have gone from strength to strength each vintage.”
So how about those wines, Simon?
“The recently released 2013 Viognier is a true delight to present. Rich, heavily textured and profoundly aromatic, I’m happy to place it alongside a top Viognier from anywhere. I know Colin and Deborah feel the same [yes we do!]. Only one drawback….Viognier is a fickle grape [Simon remember in 2012 we lost the entire crop due to frost] and 2013 yielded a very reserved and treasured 350 bottles. Please buy before we run out.
“Pinot Noir – all three Pinots from the 2013 vintage continue to please.
“The 2013 “James” is now just beginning to reveal itself. I felt it was very ‘closed’ to begin with. Today it’s becoming more candid, and presents as a wine to enjoy from now, and then up to more than a decade.
“The Hawk” 2013, full of dark fruit and minerality, has immense appeal as of now but will unfold so well over time. It is hard to call this a second tier wine really. [Might I add Simon, it’s bloody good value for money.]
“Finally, “The Falcon” 2013, with classic Burgundy lightness of appearance, with depth of flavour. Accommodating, friendly and easy company….exactly the way we hoped it would be.
“It is great to see these wines standing up strong three years, more or less, from being vinified (made into wine).
“If you asked me what my special pick is though it would be the “James” 2013 Pinot Gris. Bottled pear and leesy* aromas with layered palate richness. Yes, with a touch of sweetness, but my personal favourite at the moment.”
Cheers, Simon, Here’s to the 2016 Vintage.
*lees is the sediment which settles at the bottom of a container such as the fermentation vessel. A winemaker has to take great care when allowing wine stay in contact with the lees for various reasons, too complicated to go into here.