The 2012 harvest at Felton Road has proven to be a whirlwind of a harvest. On the whole, crisp mornings and warm sunny afternoons set the backdrop for what I can only describe as sheer pleasure. Bar the pain of running nets!
Unusually, almost all of the Chardonnay was picked before any Pinot Noir this vintage. It was a wonderful sight to re-enter the vineyards after our pre-harvest holiday to find that pest and disease pressure was minimal – a little powdery mildew, botrytis, and bird peck here and there – at the kind of levels that remind us that in a bio-diverse ecosystem we possess the undesirable in addition to the desirable.
As with all grape harvests in all of the world’s wines regions, getting the fruits of our labour to where it will be turned into some of New Zealand’s finest is quite a feat. Each morning a group of pickers assembled at one of the three vineyard sites that Felton Road grows wine. Anticipation filled the air. On colder mornings so did the comments referring to the fact! Off into the vineyard the team would march, lining a row of vines in the particular block where the fruit had reached optimum ripeness. Picking is great fun. There becomes a real camaraderie within the team, consisting of people from different backgrounds and different life stories. These stories get exchanged over the course of the harvest and friendships are formed. Chatter and laughter often fill the air, along with the chug of the quad bikes making their way up and down the rows to lay down grape bins and pick them up once full.
The traditional working day in New Zealand is divided by a morning break and afternoon break in addition to lunch. A nod to the past these breaks are referred to as smoko, and are fifteen minutes worth of tea, coffee, fruit, cake or whatever each vineyard worker so happens to prefer. Throughout my year at Felton Road I have grown to enjoy them, not only as a welcome rest, but also as they allow time for conversation amongst the team, with each smoko offering a different view of the surrounding countryside. It is no different at harvest, but now Karen King, wife of Felton Road’s Viticulturist Gareth, is the daily smoko co-ordinator. At each smoko pickers flocked to where Karen had set up the spread of either savouries in the morning, or cakes in the afternoon. The smell of fresh coffee filling the air, a life line to the energy sapped! To thank for the coffee we have Alastair McLaren, a Felton Road harvest veteran for eleven vintages now. He buys and roasts fresh coffee beans himself, resulting in the tastiest coffee for miles. Alastair’s coffee has become a cornerstone of harvest smoko, and Alastair’s work a cornerstone of harvest.
Following the gastronomic theme, and in addition to the delights that smoko bring, harvest at Felton Road means that proprietor and pinotphile Nigel Greening takes to the kitchen to bring a handful of harvest lunches to the picking team. Easter Sunday brought with it an early finish to picking and a wild boar roasted over a fire pit nestled in beside Block 3. There was plenty of succulent pork, killer guacamole and freshly baked ciabatta bread rolls to go round, not to mention great wine of course.
On one day off Gareth and his family, along with chief coffee aficionado Alastair, descended on our garden. Cricket, barbequed wild duck and great wine ensued. Wine from one of Marlborough’s biodynamic leaders, Seresin, was a highlight. The 2009 Chiaroscuro is a blend of Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris; an untraditional flavour profile owing to this untraditional blend, the wine is delicious, with pleasant floral notes and an exciting mouth feel. One of the most memorable whites that I have enjoyed in New Zealand.
The last day of harvest was momentous. For the vineyard team it was the culmination of one whole years work. Pruning, cow pat pit, 501, wire lifting, hand weeding, shoot thinning, bud rubbing, compost, leaf plucking, green harvesting, 502, nets, and picking! For me it represented the first time that I was able to experience fully the cycle that a vineyard goes through over a year. To finally pick the fruit that I had helped grow before it goes off to be made into beautiful wine was especially satisfying.
The end of harvest was in the middle of Block 3, an area of the vineyard that grows Pinot Noir with particularly favourable characteristics. That momentousness that I mentioned resonated as the last bin loads of fruit were tipped onto the sorting tray – there were cheers, hugs and handshakes all round. We had cracked the vintage!
There was no time to wait around though. After washing the bins for one last time celebrations were to be had! The last harvest lunch of more delicious wild boar, crackling to die for and quince grown at the Calvert Vineyard was the perfect end to a successful harvest.
As autumn sweeps through the vineyards of Bannockburn, leaves that were brilliant green when our hands worked amongst them over the summer are now a golden yellow and beginning to carpet the ground where we walked again and again. It is now time for the land to rest, the vines to enter their dormancy, and nature to continue with its ebbs and flows.