Growing Pinot Noir in the Waitaki Valley

Jeff Sinnott writes about the 2018 growing season for Pinot Noir

Growing grapes in the Waitaki is not for the faint-hearted. 

It is neither easy nor hugely profitable in a monetary sense. Which suits us down to the ground because it has, so far, driven the speculators out of our small corner of paradise. Not that we belong to the “NIMBY” fraternity, it’s just that where commercial imperatives override quality aspirations, it is the wine that ultimately suffers. 

We are fortunate in this valley that our colleagues growing grapes and making wine share a similar philosophy. They are also small growers by any stretch of the imagination, particularly given that the average vineyard size in Marlborough is heading towards 50 hectares, in the Waitaki it is closer to 3, even in Central Otago the average vineyard size is closer to 5 with several vineyards significantly larger than that. 

What this means is that we simply cannot afford to drop the ball when it comes to grape and wine quality and, given that we excel at Pinot Noir, we get easily found out if we do. 

The 2018 growing season will be widely remembered at our latitude as one of the warmest on record.  Our friends over in Central Otago spent most of the season chasing their tails as growth was some 2-3 weeks ahead of average and the vines simply would not stop growing. 

In the Waitaki Valley, North Otago the season was still very warm and distinctly dry but not as dramatic as over the hill.  Bud burst was slightly early and we had sufficient soil moisture reserves in our limestone sub-strata to provide the vines with all the water they needed. 

As the summer got going we started to see vine vigour accelerate and our vineyard team were very quickly challenged by the growth, working endless days tucking and trimming trying to keep the canopies under control.  By the end of December we had what could be described as a spectacularly well-set crop and all that remained was to thin it down where appropriate so that the vines could actually ripen what nature had provided.  And ripen they did with harvest starting on April 17th after receiving over 20% more heat than normal.


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