Tag Archives: Winemaking

The joys of abundance

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I used to be able to buy a glass ( or bottle) of wine without a care in the world – especially for those who toil on a daily basis to create what fills that particular glass or bottle.

Changed days.

In the relatively short time we have been the proud new parents of our little vineyard in paradise, we have had more sleepless nights , stress and worry than any of our collective three offspring or two labradoodles ever brought us.

Don’t get me wrong. Like actual new parents, we love it. We are bursting with pride, we tell anyone who stands still long enough all about it and like childbirth, you forget the pain quickly as you appreciate the benefits!

However we have a new found respect for the hard work of those making the decisions to ensure that harvest brings the best quality grapes that , in turn, will make the highest quality wine.

Yesterday in the vineyard was the green cut or final thinning ; the time you take out a varying quantity of grapes, depending on what mother nature has thrown at this particular vintage. Certain weather conditions will bring greater numbers of bunches per vine and heavier weights of bunches. All of this is critical to the winemaker to ensure they get the best product for them to weave their magic in the winemaking process.

‘Waste not want not ’

Now it may be my Scottish blood, but I’m no fan of waste. Seeing beautiful bunches of grapes ( that taste sensational!) lying disregarded – even if for the ultimate sacrifice – makes me sad but then, more positively, makes me start looking for ways they can be used.

We’re not alone, a quick drive around our neighbourhood shows many of the vineyards doing the same thing in their quest for the perfect vintage.

I spent part of the day collecting the disregarded bunches and distributing them to family and friends ( ….funnily enough not as much of a novelty for them in this wine region, as it would have been in urban Auckland…!).

New friends find it wildly amusing that my newcomers eyes still marvel at the produce around us – and the amount that goes unused and unloved. They tell me that over the years  I’ll get used to it.

I’m not so sure.

I love the idea of using everything I can – for ourselves and sharing –  and I have set myself a challenge this year of making maximum use of everything we produce. Not quite self sufficiency- I’m nowhere near capable enough for that ! –  but at least a step in its general direction.

To be honest, some things are easier than others ! Apricots ? Plums ? No problem.

So I up my challenge to try to make things I’ve never done before.

‘Fun with grapes’

Finding good productive use for the surplus grapes is the current challenge.

After a quick trawl on-line, thoughts turn to verjuice and delicious natural juice from sun kissed grapes that on another day would have made stunning pinot noir.  Then there’s jams, jellies, raisins – thanks to a borrowed dehydrator-  and when all else is done, there’s compost!

I have added them to my growing list of ‘things to produce’ in my search for using as much as I can from this wonderful little pocket of the world that we call home.

Of course there is always a silver lining – the birds are happy with this suddenly readily available and easily accessible food source so hopefully , if we are very lucky, they may focus on that and leave our netted precious bounty alone.

Cheers,

Fi

 

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what a waste….

 

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Something’s bugging me

Literally .

Although not just something . I know exactly what it (they) is (are).

There were a few things that failed to make it on to the property particulars when we moved to Marlborough and, more specifically, to Paradise.

One was the wind in late spring / early summer. Although we had visited the area many many times, we must have just hit lucky on avoiding the wind. Windy Wellington – your more beautiful and slightly wine addled neighbour across the Strait can most certainly give you a run for your money on the wind front – at least for part of the year.

But that’s not it.

What’s bugging me is bugs.

Not affecting me personally, but there’s most certainly a fleeting possibility of threat for our precious babies budding out in the vineyard.

At a certain time of year (now) , the brown beetles or May bugs ( creatively named after their annual appearance in the northern hemisphere ) awaken from neighbouring paddocks to strike fear into the hearts and pockets of grape growers. The bugs choose to burst into life as the sun sets on beautiful days and, from nearby paddocks, aim for the moon and land on the vines. If they get their chance they will then happily procreate and eat their way through the leaves and buds, potentially causing damage.

My first reaction on hearing about our unknown challenge  was confidence that there must be something that could deter them ( or more accurately blitz them into oblivion). But being organic, with a karma-esque attitude to living things, we have found our options are limited.

So, our ritual now is an enforced walk of the vineyard every night as darkness creeps in. Torches in hand, we inspect the leaves and flick the bugs to the ground, where they can no longer do any damage.

No matter how many times we are told by those who have considerable experience in this : “ you’ll know when you have a problem” – ( thankfully, we haven’t found out so far) – we still spend our time cursing the little bug(ger)s and counting how many we knock off. Although a swarm in the thousands is what we are told will indicate an issue (?!) , we still feel the overwhelming need to protect our babies and that’s where it gets compulsive. We are the equivalent of first-time parents. Anxious to do the right thing but no experience yet to give us any real perspective. Being told that we are probably the only growers paying such attention is little comfort.

Although small numbers of bugs will not cause damage, the very fact they are there ‘bugs’ M & I . So we currently spend our evenings knocking as many off leaves as we can, while acknowledging nightly that we can’t get around every single vine.

But we still try.

A good friend who is born and bred in both the area and the industry and therefore experienced in such matters, not so reassuringly said to me, “ you really don’t have a problem until they’re mating on your eyeballs….” .

Now there’s a less than comforting thought to hold for the next few weeks…..

But. 

And there’s always a but!

This has given us the pleasure of having a nightly walk together under glorious inky skies. The doodles happily chase hedgehogs and whatever else they pick up a scent on. We talk. We appreciate our surroundings. We count blessings.

Welcome to Paradise !

Yours (hopefully) bug free,

Fi

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The little                  brown bug(ger)s!

Of frost and fans

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Frost fan against an indigo dawn

On the many visits to Marlborough before making the permanent move , I have always loved seeing the large but elegant fans in the vineyards which make up the stunning landscape of the area.

They were almost reminiscent of days spent in Holland and the beautiful windmills amongst the fields of bulbs .

That’s where the similarity – if indeed there ever was one – ends .

Our baptism of frost came on day 2 in Paradise . Frosts can wipe out your budding vines and destroy your crop for the current vintage year and even beyond . It’s not a vineyard owners friend at this time of year . Fair to say , no one thought to mention this on the sales particulars …..

But , enter the fans . Without getting all technical , they warm the air by helping it circulate around and stops frost from settling . To do this they are big .And tall .                And noisy . Very noisy .

We are surrounded by vineyards so the culmination of all the frost fans jumping into life is loud – and unmissable .

Last year , as first timers , our response system was based on watching the weather forecast from several sources ( in case one was wrong ) , then based on that , me waking up every hour to look out the window to see if the temperature sensitive alarm lights were showing the right colour for us to leap into action . There are 3 colours of alarm  . One says get ready to move , the second says run quickly to your vineyard and the third says find another day job . Suffice to say that after you see the first colour , your chances of sleep after that – until the sun has risen and starting spreading her warmth – is limited at best.

Then there are the frost pots . Or Dante’s Infernos as I fondly(?) renamed them . Fiery scary noisy heaters that warm the areas the fans can’t reach.

And then there are the helicopters . Larger vineyards bring them in at massive cost to fly low and move the air around their vines. A skilled and precise job with no air traffic control and only night sight vision keeping them , and all of us below,  safe. Not for the faint hearted . No surprise then to know that Richie McCaw was piloting over our heads most of the night . ( I can’t say that didn’t add something wonderful to the overall experience !)

I’ll never forget one moment when standing in the middle of all of this , having the thought that it’s the closest ( thankfully) I’m likely to get to a war zone.

M , being the more practical , was thinking of the commercial opportunities of offering overnight frost experiences to Marlboroughs visitor population …!

Our first night was spent walking around making sure everything was on and operating and then waiting in the hands of Mother Nature .
The payback for this disruption to your nights sleep however is more than compensation . Achingly beautiful sunrises – the likes I have never seen before .

Thankfully these frost events, we were assured, were few and far between and there had never been two in a row . That is , until our third night in paradise .

But this time I knew the drill and knew what would make an overnight stay amongst the vines, more palatable .Pillows, blankets , food , hot drinks and extra clothes are now a permanent fixture in the Ute and ( to be really honest )make it a bit of fun and you always have a spectacular sunrise to look forward to in one of the most beautiful settings on earth. Reality kicks back in when you then just have time for a quick shower before travelling somewhere or skyping a client !

As I’m typing this I’m on a flight heading home to Paradise with frost predictions for the next two nights . It’s the weekend so slightly more manageable than a busy travelling work week , but the thing I’m most excited about is seeing the next most amazing dawn .

How fortunate are we .

Fi

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  Buds worth protecting

 

Harvest time

“The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest”  – William Blake

Marlborough, as well as all other New Zealand wine regions, is currently alive with the sounds of harvesters, trucks, bird scarers and backpackers accents from all corners of the globe as they pick up casual harvest work.

It’s a magical, frantic, stressful and intense time of year.

Watching harvest from the sidelines – with an occasional opportunity to get amongst it – has been an eye opening experience and has given us both a further massive appreciation for that glass of wine we have for so long taken for granted.

On D day , our grapes were hand picked to ensure minimum impact and were collected in antique prams – ingenious yet perfect for holding the small amounts of grapes in each crate. This protects them and their skins which ultimately gives Pinot Noir its flavour.

Wine making is not for the faint hearted. especially for wine makers whose life’s work is to produce world class wines of the highest quality. We are thrilled that we have one of those individuals looking after our grape babies.

Calculating when to harvest is rocket science ( or almost). Balancing of the sugar levels of the grapes vs the weather forecast of imminent rain or wind is key as both can have a catastrophic effect on the quality of the wine. It’s nail biting stuff and you need to be made of strong stuff to be in this job.

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Gently does it 🙂

But the buzz around the winery is palpable. It’s hugely exciting . A new wine is being born.

Our wine has no interference. Nothing is added. Nature is allowed to do her thing with nothing but gentle encouragement ( and a good dose of classical music!).

Within days the wine has already started working its magic – it looks, smells and tastes great . We have been visiting every day like proud parents 🙂

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Mum and Dad learning all about it

As this wine is laid to a well deserved rest for 18 months before bottling, we look forward to seeing the next vintage burst into life ( and our glasses) in May. Then it’s time to start all over again and give our next bunch of grape babies the best start in life possible.

So next time we pour that glass, maybe a quiet thanks is in order and a nod to those wine magicians who have toiled so hard for our pleasure.

Cheers !

Fi