It’s mid November and we are having 30 degree days already – it seems that spring has quickly been bypassed by summer and you can almost see the vines growing. We have a bit of bud rubbing to do but otherwise things are fairly quiet on the home front. The vineyard looks stunning because after all the rain this winter everything is so green and yet basked in sunlight. The new fruit looks full of promise. And the grapes aren’t the only things growing – Archie is now running around (16 months), Finn has just turned nine and Tahlia is about to become a teenager – arggghhhh!!
Archive for the 'Viticulture' Category
What a great feeling it is to have the pruning all done and dusted for another year. We finished cutting, stripping and tying down (went through almost 10 000 ties) the last of our vines a week or so ago. Our sincere thanks go out again to those who pitched in and gave us a hand when morale began to fail …somewhere around vine 3899 with a cold southerly blowing the ties from your pouch and rain falling yet again. To Grandpop Noel, to my wonderful friend Sarah, to the ever energetic Geoff and to Emilien the friendly froggie…your hard work and great company were so appreciated. It always amazes me that there are people out there who are happy to lend a hand when there’s nothing in it for them and no great cause, other than to help out a mate. Thanks to our kids too for helping out and putting up with weekend after weekend of boredom, or as in Archie’s case – time spent mastering his walking up and down the rows. However, it hasn’t been all bad – there were some beautiful days out in the vineyard where I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. Dad has Dexter cows in the paddock next door and three baby calves were born as we pruned! And while there’s been crappy weather too – it’s not like we’ve been in Christchurch. Our heart goes out to all the Cantabs and if any of you need a break from the shaky city, let us know as there’s always room around here for extras. What else can I say other than, may your next fiasco be a wine!
Speaking of the earthquake, we experienced our own firsthand consequence of the quake earlier this week when we bottled our 2010 wines. There was a delay in getting the labels here from Christchurch which meant we had to bottle the wine without them – labels are over-rated anyway aren’t they, isn’t consumer choice all about cost at the end of the day? There are details on the label though that legally must be displayed so alas we will put the cleanskins (naked wine bottles) back through the bottling line on Tuesday to get labelled. Ironically we had the name “Shaky Isles Wines” trademarked before deciding to go with Fiasco. I guess both are somewhat appropriate give the state of Christchurch.
I suspect everyone is now ready for the Spring to arrive. The buds on our vines haven’t burst yet and it’s always a bit of fun predicting when they will. Although it is September, when you make wine it feels like this is the start of the year – when there is new growth and the whole cycle starts again. Happy New Year all
We’ve returned from a trip to Australia that involved a mixture of business and pleasure. It began with a random meeting with John Key at the Blenheim airport – he came over for a chat…only in New Zealand! In Aussie, it was great to meet our distributor and to see Fiasco on the menu is some Brisbane restaurants. In Brisbane there are numerous new restaurants opening every week so the sheer opportunity was refreshing. The warm Northern Queensland climate also made Townsville very appealing. We had to laugh at the ‘Beating the mid-winter blues” article in the local paper when it had been 27 C and sunny for days.
It has been a reality check coming back home to where the wine industry and the economy in general are still facing hard times. It’s grey, cold, wet and we have thousands of vines to prune and unpaid bills to chase up. We have friends at the moment who have lost jobs through ‘restructuring’ and others whose wine based businesses have hit the wall. I know there are those in Blenheim who will feel no sympathy for the stress being experienced by those in the wine industry, but regardless the ripple effect will move through our whole community. When one bill is left unpaid, the next guy struggles to pay his and so on. We feel such sympathy for those who have lost jobs and/or their businesses but know they are resilient, hard working and positive thinking people who will find new opportunities.
I am an optimist and do believe that things will stabilise. And surprisingly, I do still prefer New Zealand to Australia. We don’t have half as many poisonous creatures, a lack of marked seasons gets a bit boring, our native bush is awesome in comparison, we make better Savvy and hopefully Saturday will prove our rugby boys are superior!
Well I’ve reached an all time low in blogging efforts – almost down to one a month! The months of March, April and May are always very busy for us as Aaron works fulltime for Indevin (an independent wine making company) and his hours are long. As a consequence we feel like we are the bloke on our logo – running on a moving wine barrel, only we need to get that wine glass back in hand! We have discovered that having your own wine label means there are never-ending tasks to do - contract growers can pause and celebrate the fact the their fruit is harvested and a cheque from the wine company is on the way, however we have a much longer road ahead. At the moment our focus is on making the wine and getting labels and bottling sorted, pruning is just around the corner and sales and marketing need to be constantly worked on.
On the upside we are going to Brisbane soon to meet our distributor there and see how sales are going…tax deductible Gold Coast – I knew there had to be some perks! It’s great exporting to Australia because for us there is a lot less labour shipping in bulk than marketing and selling small volumes via multiple outlets here in NZ. There is also the advantage of being able to claim back the WET tax. ‘Wet’ seems a funny name for a tax, especially for a drink – but it actually stands for Wine Equalisation Tax. In 2000 the Australian government added this 29% tax to its wine and when wine producers there went mad they decided that producers could claim this tax back for their first million dollars worth of wine sold each year. This ability to claim it back was later extended to New Zealand wine producers.
We also need to visit Auckland again soon to touch base with the outlets selling Fiasco there. We have recently added our wine to the menu list at The Falls - an awesome cafe/restaurant in West Auckland. We had an all day brunch there at the end of last year and I can personally vouch for the high standard of service from Allan and his team (five stars from me and I don’t do that often!). Aside from tax deductible travel, the other main advantage of having your own label is the buzz of tasting and sharing an end-product that you have produced. One of our Sauvignon Blanc ferments finished today so will soon be filtered, bottled and on its way to the shop shelves. It is tasting beautiful at this stage – Aaron tells me it will be our best yet. I’ll let you know when I’ve tried it – am sure women have far superior taste buds to men.
The countdown is on until our 2010 grapes are harvested and while obviously nowhere near as important, there are some parallels to being expectant parents. You have this date (April 17 for us) that your data projects as the likely harvest day but really it’s down to nature. It’s taken months to get the fruit to this stage but there is no reward until its safely in the wine tank. Others in the same boat report gleefully that their fruit is in and still you wait. Others keep asking you if you’ve harvested yet. It’s a time of nervous anticipation.
At the moment I go out every second day and handpick 300 individual berries from a range of locations in our vineyard and Aaron takes them into the winery to test - yesterday our Brix level (measures sugar content) was almost high enough but acid levels are still just a bit too high to harvest. But the fruit tastes ready, it’s delicious and disease free. There is a temptation just to get harvest done and dusted. It’s a bit like being in the late stages of pregnancy when you just want to get the business done while everything’s looking good and you face decisions over whether to induce if there are problems on the horizon. When it comes to the grapes, rain, frost risk and heavy harvester bookings make harvest now look appealing. But we’ve decided to wait and risk the weather and risk losing our booked harvester spot as there’s truth in the saying that great wine is made in the vineyard – we have to do our utmost to make sure the fruit is ripened to perfection. Besides, the great thing about the ‘grape pregnancy’ is that Aaron has to do most of the labour while I get to be the support person! It’s a much better role – in fact in a week or so I’ll have to give my mates a ring and we can go out for a celebratory cigar and beer while Aaron gets the fruit settled into the tanks and keeps a close eye on its progress.
The fruit is ripening and vintage is almost upon us…the calm before the storm is about to come to an end!
Aaron is back working full-time at Indevin to help out over the next couple of months with all the fruit coming in. Today they had their first lot of Sauvignon Blanc coming into the winery, although it is pretty green and being harvested on the early side for someone wishing to make a low alcohol wine. However, by Easter it is predicted that the Brix (sugar) levels of fruit in local vineyards will see the grape harvest well and truly underway in Marlborough. I’m guessing employers will be hoping they can just skip needing labour on the Easter stats, but it will be touch and go. It would also be nice if the rain stayed away over the next few weeks as everyone could do without rot and a mad rush to get all the fruit in at once.
The anticipation of vintage is a time of mixed feelings: there is a sense of excitement - harvest is the climax of a year’s work and it’s all action 24 hours a day. Winery workers flock into town from all over the world and unite with those in the industry here to get the job done. But as vintage progresses the fatigue, the lack of family time and the stress can take its toll (Aaron will be working 7pm to 7am with no days off for weeks on end).
For now we wait while the sun does the last of the ripening. Many vineyards are netted to keep the birds from feasting on the grapes. With wineries wanting reduced yields I had thought the birds could be great free labour in thinning out the fruit but it’s not quite that simple as half pecked fruit leads to disease problems. I go walking out through the vineyards most days with Archie although the impending harvest has challenged my objectives somewhat! My mission to get Archie to sleep while passing bird bangers is no easy feat and my aim to burn a few kilojoules in the process is un-done by my obligation to taste test the crop. And the grapes do taste good! Archie thinks so too…
…definitely too sour yet…
“Right O, I’m done taste testing - let me out of here”
I’ve often thought as I walk through the vineyards that this crop could be described as an accountant’s dream… the vines have just been trimmed and they look so neat and orderly, all set out in straight rows with wires to hold any unruly growth nicely in place. Each row has a label stating variety and number.
And to add to the appeal, grapes have traditionally been pretty good at keeping the cashbooks in the black…but alas this is no longer an assumption that can be made. Our local paper tonight reported on the continuing pressure on growers caused by dropping fruit prices with one grower quoted as saying: “It’s a break-even scenario. We’re not making any money.” Certainly a depressing place to be after all the work that goes into producing a crop. Aaron & I are fortunate with Fiasco in that we lease our vines from my folks on a year by year basis and so have little capital invested. If it all turns to custard we can walk away without too much pain. It is a different story when you own the vines and I feel for those that have borrowed heavily to establish their vineyards and who now face the prospect of having to pull out their grapes or to on-sell their vineyards at a loss. It’s going to take time for demand to catch-up with supply and unfortunately there will be some casualties.
I know there are those who will have little sympathy for grape growers and who will be smiling at their possible demise, labelling them as greedy and driven to viticulture by dollar signs. However I believe that to borrow substantial amounts to risk on a crop of any sort is gutsy. Not only are you at the mercy of the weather and a myriad of other natural factors that can destroy your investment but you also risk changes in market demand – consumers can be an unpredictable lot! To throw your savings into it and give it a go regardless suggests if anything less of an obsession with money. And if it works these risk takers bring rewards that spread right through their communities. As a prominent big spender in the industry once said to my Dad, “I couldn’t give a **** if I lost the lot, as long as I’ve still got my wife to cuddle up to at night.” He risks his money because he knows he has a solid base, he knows what really matters and that this will see him through.
But enough of that, on the positive side the early bunches are looking full of potential and the worldwide recession is supposedly over…roll on the ripening of juicy grapes to taste test daily!
Summer has arrived and with the warm days you can almost see the leaves growing on the vines. It’s incredible to think just a few months back they looked so barren. Aaron has just finished wire lifting in the vineyard. This simply involves lifting wires (that run the length of the rows) up and onto nails (on the posts) to help tame the quick growing vines. It is hard going if you leave it too long as you then have to battle the weight of the plant and the surprising strength of the tendrils.
With all the growth and the sheer area of Marlborough planted in grapes, it’s easy to think that there are grapes everywhere! However it pays to keep in mind that we are but a drop in the bucket of world grape production. It’s funny to think that places like India produce five times the tonnage of grapes that we do and that Iran makes the top ten as far as land area in grapes goes. The reality is that most of little ole New Zealand’s grapes are grown in little ole Blenheim and while it may seem that we are swimming in the stuff here, on the world scale each year’s wine really is a limited release.
Anyway, we’re having a couple of days to celebrate a great year. We are perched up down the Sounds and about to have a vino or two with the friendly folk from Forrest Estate who own the neighbouring bach. Might have a laugh doing our own wine awards with some blind taste tests of each other’s product. Though I suspect there will be plenty keen for a beer or a some spirits, as is often the case when winemakers get together and wish to forget all about work! Happy New Year all – hope 2010 is a beaut for you! And don’t forget our party on the 23rd of Jan
The following pictures are all of bird life I’ve seen around the vineyard over the last few weeks bar one which is an image of the type of bird we sponsor through More Fm. All of the birds seen around our vines are my own pics except the last one (hat tip doc website )as it flew off before I could click. We are fortunate to have such diverse birds in our backyard especially when you consider how viticulture has changed the landscape in Marlborough. Dad has retained some stands of native trees on the property, has planted new trees and has done work on the river – I think that has made a real difference in terms of providing favourable bird habitats. Anyway to get to the point : a FREE bottle of our new 09 Sav will go out to the first person to correctly name all six birds - common name is fine . Be brave – have a crack!
One of the reasons we went with the name ‘Fiasco Wines’ is that we wanted something that reflected the action and vibrancy of making wine in Marlborough. A ‘place name’ label just seemed too sedentary to do justice to the reality.
Before gaining first hand knowledge of the industry here, when thinking of winemaking I’d get pictures in my head of little vineyards on hillsides, people carrying grapes in baskets and a wrinkled old man fluffing around over old barrels doing tastings. I guess this was based on what I’d heard of Old World winemaking and it all seemed pretty slow paced and somewhat romantic. But the reality couldn’t be more different. There is state of the art technology; a myriad of different types of people working in the industry and the year just flies by with all that needs doing. Harvesting the grapes is all action, with harvesters and wineries operating 24 hours a day throughout March, April and May. Then there are a massive number of hectares needing pruning and hundreds of workers brought in from overseas to cope with the workload – so June to August is all go. Then the new spring buds burst in September and frost fighting starts - with frost a very real risk until November. There is some amazing technology involved in this and those on the job are often up half the night checking data and making the tough decisions on what action to take – helicopters and wind fans are not cheap and their noise causes a stir with the locals. This time of year is also time to bottle and label the 2009 wines. Ours are being bottled later this month. The end of the year is busy for sales – with all the social events that come with Christmas, summer and general celebrations. So I suggested to Aaron that early 2010 we should have a chance to have a breather and a Fiasco Wines party in the old woolshed on the vineyard. “Sure,” said Aaron but don’t forget we’ll only be 8 weeks or so from harvest then!