Climate Change in Martinborough

We have had capricious weather lately. Admittedly, I feel the cold more than most, but I insisted on having the heating on one day last week. Then last Wednesday the maximum temperature in the vineyard was 31.3 degrees Celsius. Over the last seven-day period we’ve had 31mm of rain.

On Monday I fed the pigs wearing this attire:

The very next day, I fed the pigs wearing these clothes:

They say if you don’t like the weather around here, just wait an hour. This is what they mean by climate change.



As Princess Anne famously said when she arrived in New Zealand some time ago: “Bloody wind”.

Last night we were blasted again by the nor’westerly with gusts up to 80 kph. Nets everywhere again.

Need I say more?

Beware of Wind

No, I’m not talking about eating pickled onions. New Zealand, being a long, thin country, is extremely windy. The Wairarapa must be one of the windiest places in New Zealand and here on Te Muna Road, at Redbank Estate, we must suffer some of the most shrieking, taunting, destructive winds in the entire universe! Well, I exaggerate, but yesterday the wind – nor’westerly – reached gusts of 86 kph and today the result is heartbreaking. Rowan came to the door asking for the shotgun to start birdscaring while he gathers a crew together to try and repair the nets. He was so disconsolate, having driven over the rise to come to work and seen large exposed tracts of vineyard. I went up to the top vineyard after lunch yesterday, when I’d fed the horses and noticed a bit of damage in the Pinot Gris nets, and while I was up there repairing them the wind reached gale force gusts. At times it’s almost impossible to stay on your feet. My hat got blown away; Taja’s ears were standing upright in the wind, and Kete wouldn’t stop meowing. In the end she went to bed. There’s nothing anyone can do when the wind gets like this; it’s like ten thousand banshees have been unleashed, along with fifty thousand devils who pluck at the nets until they sail up and off the vines, exposing the grapes – about four weeks off vintage – to the birds. The chookhouse, so solid Colin and I can only just shift it one inch at a time, got shifted on its axis by the wind. The chooks took off – they hate it when the wind blows up their bum feathers – and where did they go? Into the viognier where they have discovered how tasty the almost ripe grapes can be, and they jump up and eat them through the nets. Now I’m going to have to try and block off the ends of the rows with more netting. Right now all is calm, but I’m sure the wind is just having a little rest, lulling me into a false sense of security, before it starts roaring down that hillside again and into our vines.

Still Frosty

The Te Muna Road valley burst into life at around two o’clock this morning with frost machines going flat out, Rowan driving around our vineyard lighting the frost pots, and others scooting about protecting the tender new vine buds. Checking out the Redbank site on “Harvest”, however, the temperature didn’t drop into below zero, but there’s snow on them thar hills. When we went to bed around 10.30 last night the bright, cold, clear moon shining into the bedroom somehow told us there would be danger of frost.

It’s an anxious time, but all is well when you wake to a beautiful sunny day – this is what it looked like at 6am, when I got up to let Kete out. It’s such glorious weather, we’re going to steal a day and head out to Riversdale Beach to see the whanau and the tamariki, and hopefully catch some kai moana.

Take the weather with you

At precisely 01.55am this morning we were shocked awake by a wind gust which felt strong enough to shift the house on its foundations. Don’t mock – the local Anglican church, not long after it was built 125 years ago, was shifted sideways in the middle of the eucharist by massive winds (I could make some bad jokes here, but I won’t, because I’m a well-brought-up gal). The winds in the Wairarapa are legendary, and you just learn to live with them.

However, unlike the good parishioners in 1883 who had to erect buttresses to keep the church from moving around, modern technology helps us here in the vineyard to see if the perception is, indeed, the reality.

A while ago I blogged about the high-tech direction we’ve moved towards, installing weather stations at various points around the vines. This is what the main station, solar-powered, looks like:

So now I can get onto the website and dedicated to Redbank is our own up-to-the-minute record of wind speeds, humidity, temperature, rainfall, etc. So what was the speed of our rude awakening? Only 71.2 kilometres per hour, unlike the strongest gust this week which was 97.8 kilometres per hour.! No wonder I sometimes feel as if I’m going to get blown away. I kid you not – pegging clothes on the line is absolutely not possible.

And our temperatures swing all over the place at this time of the year too. In the past seven days, our maximum temperature was 17.7 ° celsius, and the minimum just -0.6° celsius. Yes, a frost, and we woke up at about midnight with the frost machines all down the valley motoring away like crazy, lit up like a runway. I wondered why the light was on down at the barn and it turns out Rowan slept there with his alarms at the ready and when the temperature dropped too low, he went out and lit the frost pots to warm the air.

All’s well now though, as it’s raining. How to go from spring, to icy winter, to summer madness, to the fierce mistral, then back to spring rains, all in the space of seven days. A week for all seasons.

A Good Day’s Work

I don’t know what it is about living in the country but it’s certainly good for the soul. And when you’ve been away overseas, it’s lovely to come home and go around the garden looking at your plants to see how they’re doing. There had obviously been a lot of rain and wind in our absence, because a few of my plants are looking a bit dishevelled, but they’ll bounce back. They’ll have to, because I’m not going to nursemaid them through life. This is not the botannical gardens. I actually have a bit of a weird attitude to gardening – to me, a weed is just a plant in the wrong place at the wrong time. If the weed is threatening to steal all the water and nutrient from something I’ve raised from seed, or bought at the garden centre, the weed loses. But because we have such harsh conditions here – searing hot in summer, icy cold in winter, windy all year round – there are many weeds which are actually quite pretty groundcovers which I am allowing to stay. One, for instance, which is flowering now, has a tiny, azure flower and it’s so brave the way it creeps all over the stones and hard ground, determined to thrive.

That said, today I replanted sage bushes, cardoons, and about one dozen artichoke plants (I raised them from seed last summer) which have multiplied. They make great shelter belts, plus who can resist the delicious heads. Boil them until tender, then serve with a vinaigrette of olive oil, melted butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper and garlic if you wish. Peel the leaves off one by one, dip the soft end into the vinaigrette and scrape it off with your teeth. As you progress through the artichoke, the soft parts get bigger and bigger until you have the delectable heart. It’s like opening a present really – pass the parcel all to yourself. So this coming summer I’ll have masses of artichokes, hopefully, to deliver to our friends in Wellington. I might even sit out at the gate and sell them (just kidding).

Meanwhile, Colin was down dismantling and tidying up the old pump area just through the gate. Before we went away he dug out, with great difficulty because it was cemented in, the pump shed, and we dismantled it and brought it up to use as a pig house. Today he went down and dug out a random post which had a pipe and electrical wiring attached to it. Unable to find the source of the wiring, he refused to just bury it, as I kept suggesting. (Just chop it off and bury it, darling, just bury it, ad nauseum). He hates a job half-done, so I left him to it, digging his way to England, and came back up to my garden.


Hours later, after splitting more firewood for me on the way back, he arrived at the house and informed me that the wires were still attached to the pump, probably live, so luckily he didn’t, as the old ball and chain kept suggesting he do, “just chop it off”.

The vineyard is looking a picture, all beautifully pruned and tied up, ready for the new growth. Rowan’s been at work with the new mulcher, which is attached to the tractor and goes along the rows gathering up the prunings, chomping them up and spitting them all back in the rows as compost. It’s good for growth, plus, if you just leave the dead prunings around the place, you risk disease getting into the vines.


We’ve also had FrostBoss here hi-teching the vineyard with all sorts of flash weather stations so we’ll be able to get state-of-the-art information on wind speed, humidity, temperature, rainfall – every time the vineyard sighs, we’ll know about it. Don’t ask me how it works yet, I don’t know, but for sure we will be given a lesson by Nick and Rowan.

So it’s very satisfying to work hard, physically, all day – even to dig a hole in this weather when the ground is relatively wet requires massive swinging of the pick-axe – lie down and read for a wee while, then take a nice hot bath and pour ourselves a glass of wine. Which is what I intend to do, right now.

Snow, Frost & Ice – RedbankJames’s WineBlog

In New York I got blisters on my feet from walking around in the heat wearing sandals. Back in Martinborough I’m in danger of getting chilblains. This morning was another cracker, glittering frost, but of course we then have beautiful warm days. Off to tennis at 9am, then back home to throw my bicycle in the back of the wagon and drive to Featherston to cycle with my friends around the country lanes, chattering and looking at some of the lovely old houses.

On the way over, the snow on the Tararua Ranges was spectacular – white against the blue sky – and I made a mental note to take a photo. Of course, when I got home, however, finished my Herald column and sent it off, then went back into town and out the other side, much of the snow had melted. However, this gives you some idea of the gorgeous view we have when we drive towards Featherston:

Then on the way home, I stopped at the “look out” and took a photo overlooking the little township of Martinborough. As you can see, if you don’t know this place (and I know I have a number of overseas readers now), it is very tiny. But, like all things in small packages, perfectly formed.

If you look at the photo, beyond the town to the hills, that’s the direction in which we live. One of those hills is Smitty’s paddock (though yesterday I went up the hill and brought him back down into the vineyard). You’ll also get some idea of how much the proposed wind farm will dominate the view – 65 giant wind machines will march along the horizon and turn this largely unspoilt landscape into an industrial site. It’s vandalism, in my view. I’m not totally opposed to windfarms, but between here and the coast there are far more appropriate, and more isolated, sites on which to build one. I suspect the energy company planning this site prefers it because of easier access. Well, my advice to them is, if you want to construct your windfarm with the least resistance and objection from the community – talk to us. Don’t buy a fight.