At the risk of repeating myself I love this time of the year, everything in the garden is starting to sprout into life again after being dormant during the winter, the daylight hours are longer, daylight saving has started, the sun is warming us once again and most importantly the first of the 2019 vintage wines are on the shelves for you and me to buy.
A couple of week’s ago I went to the trade tasting session of the Wine Nelson annual new release tasting and with some 120 wines available for tasting, along with a few special bottles some producers had tucked under their tasting tables, I simply wasn’t going to be able to taste every wine in the two hours available.
To get a snapshot of the 2019 vintage across the region I tried a couple of new release wines from each producer and I have to say, my suspicions about a vintage of outstanding quality were confirmed, 2019 wine produced in this region are simply exceptional.
The highlight of the vintage was the severe drought that gripped the region, there was no rain at all between Christmas and when harvest was due to start in early March. This created a number of challenges in vineyards where the soil is stony and free-draining while well established vineyards located on clay based soils came through the drought without too many issues at all.
As happens when you are working with Mother Nature she usually does a few unexpected things so it was no real surprise when it rained just as harvest was due to start. Fortunately most vineyards were in pristine condition, fruit was ready to harvest a week or two earlier than normal and grape growers are getting used to a bit of rain in early autumn so were well set to manage the rain when it did arrive.
While growing conditions seemed to be exceptional the heat was maybe a little too much; warm, humid night-time conditions meant disease was always a risk but most importantly the lack of cool temperatures at night slowed flavour development in the grapes.
The result was grapes in excellent condition with natural sugar levels rising rapidly but grapes that could do with a bit more flavour. In many locations around the region the first burst of rain did a huge amount of good to the fruit, as long as the grapes weren’t too ripe with soft skins the extra water didn’t split the grapes and encourage rot, but it did dilute the sugars a little giving the fruit a chance to develop more flavour as the rains also brought slightly cooler evenings.
The day or two extra that grape growers were able to leave their fruit on the vines has resulted in exceptional flavours in all of the wines I have tasted from the 2019 vintage.
As you would expect, every vineyard is different with fruit ripening at slightly different times and this year was no exception, there were a couple of vineyards where the rain didn’t help some varieties and growers chose not to harvest a few tonne of fruit. A wise move indeed, better to leave compromised fruit behind than compromise your brand by producing substandard wines.
Despite a small amount of fruit not being harvested 2019 was the largest vintage on record in the Nelson region. Some 12,370 tonnes of wine grapes were harvested in the region, an increase of 36% on the small 2018 vintage. It was also 3.1% of the total New Zealand harvest for 2019 and made Nelson the 4th largest producer of wine grapes in the country.
While 3.1% may not seem much we need to remember that Marlborough produces 76.6% (305,467 tonnes in 2019) of grapes grown in New Zealand, Nelson moves ahead of Central Otago and is now only behind Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne in terms of production.
The other notable feature of the 2019 grape harvest in Nelson was how fast it was. In a perfect vintage grapes ripen at different time meaning winemakers can control the flow of wine production in the winery at a nice pace, this year the harvest was short and intense.
For smaller producers the vintage lasted a mere 10 to 14 days with every variety hitting the winery at the same time and while this did put winemakers and facilities under pressure there were also plenty of smiles on tired winemakers faces. The smiles were brought about because of the incredible quality of fruit being delivered from vineyards for them to work their magic with.
Again, it goes without saying some of the larger vineyards couldn’t be harvested before the long days of rain arrived and caused havoc with remaining fruit so imagine just how big the vintage could have been if Mother Nature didn’t have a little cry.
What do the wines 2019 vintage taste like? In a word, beautiful!
My picks for this year – 2019 wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Rosé from Nelson are packed with ripe fruit flavours with refreshing yet soft acidity making them irresistible.
Based on some barrel samples I had recently when wines like chardonnay and pinot noir are released in about 12 months you simply have to buy them, there are some real treats slumbering away in barrels.
Most wineries open their cellar doors after a break for vintage and winter at Labour Weekend so head to www.winenelson.co.nz and download the regional wine map then spend a few days enjoying the beautiful wines on offer in this region.