The Winery: Video of 2012 Harvest and Winemaking
The winery was constructed in 1993 with a further expansion in 2003. It has the capacity to process around 450 tonnes of grapes. The winery has been designed and equipped so that we can take our time, and do a good job of the processing and winemaking. We like to whole bunch press the white wines, so we have a special press to do the job gently and slowly. We have a dedicated small tank room where we handle all the aromatic whites in small parcels and we have a Pinot Noir hall equipped with all the tools we need to gently handle the grapes and wine in an efficient manner without unnecessary handling. Our underground barrel cellar can house about 350 barrels in a natural temperature and humidity controlled atmosphere.
Our winemaking philosophy is driven by the premise that we enjoy drinking interesting wines rather than tasting special wines. We make our wines to be enjoyed with food, conversation and contemplation. We do not enter competitions; so our wines tend to demand some interaction with the drinker, they do not deliver everything on offer in the first mouthful.
Generally, we try to make wines that are complex and interesting, textural and elegant, wine that shows good fruit/acid balance and genuine flavour length. Fortunately in Central Otago we are blessed with some of the best cool climate grapes to be found anywhere. The grapes are always very clean and display vivid and expressive flavours. The natural cool climate acid we have in the juice keeps the flavours pure and bright.
The other ace we have up our sleeve in Central Otago is our mineral soils. All the soils in Central Otago are based on schist rock and quartz that contain very little organic matter (actual dirt). So our vines are literally growing in a bed of minerals. This is important in the final product because it is the presence of these minerals that will give the wine the expressive and long flavour length that we are looking for. The trick for us as winegrowers and makers is to tame the abundant fruit and acid that we have, to be able to expose the texture and minerality in the wine beneath.
Pinot Noir makes up 70% of our production so this is what we live and breathe. Our style can be described as ELEGANT. We are well aware that we are producing Pinot Noir, so first and foremost the wine must be elegant. To achieve the style we are after we are adding less and less to the wine in order to extract the stuff that we thought we needed, to the point where we are now making Pinot Noir very naturally. We do not specifically try and extract colour, or use commercial yeasts, yeast nutrients, or extract loads of fruit; we use very little new oak. We are more concerned with making sure that the wine delivers complex aromatics on the nose with texture, length and purity on the palate.
In the vineyard we are also discovering that the more we do naturally the better the vines perform. Again crop loads are rigorously kept low so that the quality is kept high. We like to keep the fruit a little shaded by the leaves – exposing the fruit to a lot of sunlight tends to produce a wine similar in appearance to the archetypal Barbie doll, highly coloured, leathery, overblown and peroxided. Irrigation is critical and has to be timed succinctly through the season. Crucially we irrigate very sparingly while the vines are ripening, because we want the vines to be in ripening mode rather than trying to produce sugar. Picking decisions are made by taste alone, and specifically we are looking for tannin ripeness and length of flavour in the skins. Everything is hand-picked.
At the winery we prefer to include 25-30% whole bunches in the fermenter and de-stem the rest of the volume on top of that. By adding whole bunches to the fermenter we get a better fermentation dynamic, making the wine more aromatic with a finer and longer palate structure. Typically the grapes are left to “soak” for 5-8 days with minimal mixing, while the juice extracts flavour and colour without the aid of heat and alcohol. All the wine is fermented naturally without the addition of cultured yeasts or yeast food. We will mix and break the cap of the ferment by punch-down or pump-over up to 4 times a day. Once the ferment is finished the wine is left on skins for a further 5-8 days until the fruit and tannin balance is just right. At which time the wine is racked and pressed before being transferred by gravity to the barrel cellar.
Our oak regime is very specific. We work very closely with just 3 coopers from France and specifically select barrels for each parcel of wine. We use only 20% new oak barrels so that the wine maintains its purity and focus on the finish and is not oak sweet. Once the wine is in barrel we like to just leave it alone to mature. We keep the barrels topped and use the natural cold winter temperatures to delay the malo-lactic fermentation and help with stabilising the wine. We prefer a delayed malo-lactic fermentation for better colour stability and flavour definition. The wine is then left until the following February-March at which time it is taken out of barrel and blended. The blends will then rest and settle in tank for a further 4 months before they are bottled.
The most difficult of all the varieties to make, because the wine is so pure you cannot fudge it. Not only do we have to balance the fruit and acid, we also have to pay attention to the sugar and alcohol, texture and phenolics. Riesling is all about timing – mistime your decision by a day and it’s all over red rover.
We like our Riesling to display fresh fruit flavours – limes, ripe citrus; and to have some weight and substance rather than being too linear and acid driven. We strive to present a Riesling that displays a softer mineral acid leading to a long, complex and flavoursome finish.
To achieve this in the vineyard we pay very close attention to the amount of fruit we have on the vines and are quite ruthless with the crop thinning. To achieve the texture and substance we are looking for we do not crop more than 1-2 bunches of grapes per shoot. We do not expose the fruit to too much sun, so that we retain freshness and purity of fruit flavours and not dip into the petrochemical market. The decision when to pick is based on acid levels, and as soon as we determine that the acid has fallen to a level to make a drinkable wine the grapes are picked.
All the grapes are hand-picked and whole bunched pressed. Good things take time – so when we press the Riesling that’s exactly what we do. Our press cycles are usually 9 hours long. The juice is extracted very slowly and gently meaning we don’t have to use anything to aid the clarifying and settling of the juice, and that we take the time to press flavoursome juice. We ferment the Riesling in small lots (1000 – 2500Ltrs) depending on where it comes from in the vineyard and when it was picked. Most lots are left to start fermenting with natural yeast while the others are inoculated with selected yeast. When the wine has fermented to a point where all the components are in sync and balance, it is cooled to stop. All the lots are left on yeast lees till the end of the year to pick up texture and length, before blending and bottling in the New Year.
We like to make a style of Pinot Gris that can be consumed as a refreshing aperitif or with the meal. So the wine displays good fruit weight and texture on the palate. There is a hint of sweetness just to underline the fruit flavours, but the finish is dry (2-3g/L residual sugar). The naturally lower acid of the grape is supported by a soft phenol structure and quite strong mineral flavours.
We have been making Pinot Gris for a long time and have settled on this style after using a lot of smoke and mirrors to make an interesting Pinot Gris – you name it we’ve tried it: leaf plucking, botrytis, crushing/non crushing, all sorts of products, barrels, lees stirring, malo-lactic fermentation, residual sugar blah, blah… But we have found that the wine is a lot more interesting to drink if we focus on maintaining purity and freshness on the finish of the wine while retaining the grapes natural texture and structure.
So in the vineyard crop, load is the key. Pinot Gris can throw massive crops and the wines can be thin and dilute as a result. We target a crop of just 6 tonnes/hectare – the rest goes on the ground. Irrigation is also very critical and plays a big role in berry size and the ripening curve. We don’t like to pump our vines up with too much water, that scenario only ends in diluting juice with too much sugar. Picking decisions are made on taste alone and the Pinot Gris probably enjoys the longest ”hang time” (time grapes are left on the vine to ripen) of any of the varieties. We wait for the grapes to ripen past the red apple flavours and develop ripe pear and stone fruit flavours. All the grapes are selectively hand-picked.
At the winery the majority of the fruit is given a long (9 hour) whole bunch press. This gives us juice that is clear and doesn’t need fining or clarifying and after a brief settling period can be run to the fermenting tank. The long whole bunch press also produces a flavourful wine that retains purity and freshness on the finish. Some selected parcels are crushed and left overnight so that the juice has contact with the skins, producing depth of flavour and structure.
All the lots are kept separate and are fermented in tanks. Natural yeasts are used, apart from a couple of selected lots that we will add yeast to and then ferment very cool and slow. After fermentation, the wine is left on the yeast lees with low sulphur to discourage malo-lactic, but encourage the yeast interaction with the wine. We take our time at this point and leave the wine to rest for at least 7-8 months before blending and bottling. We find that by resting the wine on the lees like this we retain freshness and purity of fruit flavour, while at the same time gaining extra texture and length.
We make two Chardonnay – “Closeburn” and “Judge& Jury” Chardonnay. They are both great examples of cool climate Chardonnay and are made in the tighter mineral driven style that is gaining favour with the Chardonnay resurgence. The Closeburn is made from fruit grown on selected vineyards around Central Otago and is an un-oaked Chardonnay. The Judge& Jury is a single vineyard wine which is grown in our Tiger vineyard, it is a mix of both barrel and tank fermented wine.
In keeping with our focus on making wine to be enjoyed for drinking and to compliment food, our Chardonnay style aims to capture this noble variety's best attributes – fullness, texture, dryness refreshing acid and length of flavour. We have chosen not to use a lot of oak or heavyhanded techniques with Chardonnay because our elegant cool climate fruit can be dominated by extraneous flavours and the real standout parts of these wines – their minerality, is very quickly lost under any oaky-ness on the finish.
The Closeburn grapes are all hand-picked and given a long whole bunch press. The wine is all fermented in stainless steel tanks where it is treated as if it was in an oak barrel – the ferment is reasonably warm, the wine stays on its full yeast lees for 9 months with no sulphur additions. During which time it will go through a full malo-lactic fermentation which softens the acid and gives a creamy palate. Then the yeast goes to work and breaks down the buttery flavours produced by the malo bacteria keeping the wine pure and fresh.
The Judge& Jury is essentially treated the same way, except that a portion of the juice (20%) is run to barrels to ferment in the traditional manner. To keep the oak flavour in balance we use larger 500 litre barrels for this job. What we are looking for from the barrel fermented portion, is the fullness and richness that wine fermented in barrels has and not the oak flavour and smoky sweetness that kills the finish of cool climate Chardonnay.