Harvest 2021 is finally done and dusted. At Kahurangi the last of the grapes were hand-harvested a couple of weeks back — our beautiful Montepulciano. As expected, 2021 was a pretty tough vintage overall, at least from a volume perspective.
In Nelson we are down in fruit volume by around 35% from last year, and this seems to be a number we’re hearing from around the country. On the up side, the quality is generally very good, and that means we can look forward to some great wines from 2021.
This season’s picking was finished faster than usual, so the pickers are getting an early break. For the rest of us, the fun is just getting started. Now our focus shifts to our winemakers and the special magic that turns grapes into wine.
All over Nelson, white wines are going through fermentation, with some varieties having finished already. The choices about how this is done depend on which style the winemaker is aiming for. The red wines are currently undergoing maceration, spending time on their skins. This is the first stage of a long journey to something special. Although we no longer have peasants treading the wine in barrels, the principle is the same. These days the work is done by winemakers and cellar-hands. The quality of the fruit will always play a part in determining the winemaker’s choices, but it is experience and craft that creates exceptional wine.
Right from the beginning, different wines are treated very differently. And this is where the winemakers really start to weave their magic. Chardonnays and other barrel-aged wines will undergo secondary fermentation in a range of new and old oak barrels. This process is known as malolactic fermentation which, as the name suggests, is the conversion of malic acid to lactic. This is what gives Chardonnay its buttery characteristics.
We reckon a glass of Nelson Chardonnay is the perfect choice for autumn. A little more robust than summery whites, Chardonnay is full of flavour and pale golden to match that beautiful autumn sunshine. It’s still a bit of a secret when it comes to world markets, but our cooler climate in Nelson produces some truly fantastic, quintessentially Nelson Chardonnay.
Chardonnay is a firm favourite with winemakers because they really get to play, creating complex styles with fantastic character.
New Zealand Chardonnay is generally crafted from riper fruit and tends towards wines with generous stone fruit characters and subtle minerality. Unoaked Chardonnays will be fermented in stainless steel or older ‘neutral’ barrels. These wines retain the fresh flavours of green apple, stone fruit and pineapple. But most Chardonnays are barrel aged, with the choice of barrel determining the oak spiciness of the finished wine. If you love an oaked Chardonnay then you’ll appreciate the additional flavours imparted by their oak barrels — as well as the creamy, almost velvety, texture of the wine.
Sometimes winemakers blend their Chardonnay from a range of selected barrels. To produce our award winning Mt Arthur Reserve Chardonnay for example, we carefully select the ‘best of the best’ wines after they’ve spent nearly twelve months in the barrel. Using a mix of new and used oak barrels gives the wines different characteristics. We literally sample wine from hundreds of barrels to find those special ones that go into our Mt Arthur Reserve. Our current 2019 vintage has hints of spicy butter and fresh papaya on the nose. The palate is lifted, showing well-integrated ripe stone fruit and dried apricot flavours, backed by an elegant oak richness. We’re sure 2020 will be just as refined.
Our bet is that Nelson Chardonnay will really make a name for itself in years to come. Many of our local winemakers are producing high quality wines that demand attention. It’s a great Nelson wine that we can really be proud of.
As the days grow crisper and we turn our thoughts to cosy fires and winter food, Chardonnay really comes into its own. Oaked Chardonnay, in particular, pairs beautifully with autumn produce such as pumpkin and mushrooms, while unoaked styles go well with oysters, vegetable risotto and sushi. And, of course, you can always drink them on their own! If you’re planning a get together with friends, why not check out a Nelson Chardonnay? If you haven’t discovered these beauties you could be in for a wonderful surprise.