Form is Temporary, but Class is Permanent
19 September 14
In Kumeu we are blessed with relatively cool ripening conditions, thanks to regular cloud cover that keeps the temperature down and the acidity up. We never get excessive sugar (and therefore alcohol levels) because of this, but in most vintages we still get enough quality sunlight to ripen the aromas and flavours of the grapes so that the resultant wines have true varietal character and the texture that we expect. This was certainly the case in 2012, where the wines have varietal purity of aroma, and lusciousness on the palate that belies the cool, and occasionally rainy, conditions.
On the face of it, 2012 was not a remarkable vintage. We started harvesting at the beginning of March, the same as we do in most years. The overall crop was just over 300 tonnes, which is also about average. The sugar levels were good, but not particularly high, and the acidity was crisp.
However, despite the overall feel of an average cool climate season, the 2012 wines have turned out to be anything but average.
Hand-harvesting plays a critical role in a vintage such as 2012. Humid conditions did lead to the outbreak of small instances of bunch rot, and it was only due to fastidious sorting by our team of pickers that enabled these damaged berries to be excised from the bunches, so that the fruit arriving at the presses was in perfect condition.
I was recently in the classic Chardonnay region of Chablis, in Northern Burgundy. There I was privileged to visit my favourite producer of them all, Vincent Dauvissat. We tasted through all of his 2013 wines, all ageing quietly on their lees following the malo-lactic fermentation. When Vincent described the conditions of his 2013 vintage, it sounded very similar to what we experienced here in 2012: Cool and moist ripening conditions, followed by the onset of botrytis bunch rot in the weeks leading up to harvest. Things were not encouraging, but they took the time and trouble to go right through the vineyard a few weeks ahead of harvest and remove by hand all of the infected berries. There was no further trouble, and they were able to harvest a beautiful crop of grapes, if not quite as sugar ripe as they would have wished. I can tell you that the wines are remarkable, pure and rigorously true to the typical characteristics of the Chablis Appellation. They have the racy vibrancy of fruit aroma and the salty, tangy, chalky minerality for which Chablis is famous. It was great lesson to see how careful and painstaking work in the vineyards can mitigate the effects of inclement weather and lead to such stunning wines. This shining example of viticultural care and attention to detail is precisely what we try to emulate in our vineyards in Kumeu.
It is also a tremendous illustration of the principle espoused in the above title: The variable form of the weather may be less than perfect, but a well-run vineyard in a superior site will always produce wines of character and class.