After three months of arduous work, my vintage duties have been fulfilled. After wrapping everything up on Friday (completing work updates, passing along my programs, cleaning out the desk, saying goodbyes, celebrating with the winemakers and a few bottles of wine, etc.), I was excited to have some freedom. I awoke Saturday to blue skies and offshore winds. The surf at Pines was small, so we decided to drive around the corner to Makarori's to check it. We found perfect conditions with chest to head high waves.
A handful of surfers were up the beach surfing the point itself, but it looking pretty inconsistent. We decided to sit a bit further north at Centres, which was breaking very clean and only had a couple surfers on it. The forecast is calling for 6-8 foot southeast swell this week couple with offshore winds and sunny skies. Looks like I may be staying in Gisborne a bit longer than expected. I've been planning on heading to the west coast to revisit some of my favorite spots from my last trip, originally this upcoming weekend, giving me almost two weeks to enjoy Taranaki and Raglan before I leave for Bali on the 5th of June. Well, I guess there are worse things to be worried about.
As we move through April, the winery has received and processed almost all of the 2009 vintage's fruit. With only a handful of tons remaining on the vines, the winemaking side of things is finally slowing down. We're just watching the remaining wines that must complete alcoholic fermentation and beginning to malolactic inoculate the lots that require it. Below shows a the tasting bench full of the current ferments on a typical morning during vintage, which now only has about fifteen samples.
So far, all the wines are looking excellent. Despite some poor weather during vintage, including several days of rain, all the fruit has arrived at the winery in excellent shape. All of the sparkling base wine arrived prior to weather issues, and the majority of the remaining fruit was not heavily affected by mold or rot issues. The best fruit ripening later in the season is hand-picked, allowing sorting for removal of any poor quality fruit. The hand-picked and smaller lots of fruit are processed in smaller presses. Loading the bins into these presses is down via an elevator that is loaded via forklift. It then raises the bin up and flips it into a hopper which is slide to one of the two presses. Below shows the elevator in the foreground with the two presses behind.
The wines destined for sparkling base are all looking great. They have developed nice citrusy flavors with crisp acidity. Only one or two of the lots have developed any green flavors even though they are harvested rather early on in the season. The table wines are also coming out very well, with each component developing as planned. The Pinot Gris lots seem to be split between tropical fruits of melon and grapefruit and the stonefruit flavors of nectarine and white peach. The best Gisborne varietals are considered Chardonnay, Gewurtztraminer, and Viognier. While Gewurztraminer is mainly sourced from the Patutahi region, Chardonnay and Viognier are found both here and in Ormond (considered the best area for Chardonnay).
The Gewurtztraminers here are made in both dry and semi-sweet styles. The flavor profiles of the Gewurtztraminer at our winery cover a large spectrum since the winery sources fruit from a range of vineyards in the area. Most lots of Gewurztraminer have lovely floral notes, including rose petal and honeysuckle. While more common tropical fruit flavors are predominant in many lots, several have developed nice stonefruit and treefruit, including apricot, nectarine, pear, and green apple. Complex spice and slight kerosene flavors are also prevalent and lead to further complexity on the palate. As these wines complete ferment, they are becoming quite balanced and integrated.
Most of the Viognier has been harvested, except for a few tons which will be aimed at late harvest wines. We are conducting a trial on Viognier production that has produced a range of components that will make some great wines and potentially a new product. Most lots have delightful floral aromas, primarily violet and geranium. Stonefruit and citrus, such as apricot and tangerine, are the predominant fruit flavors, though many have great tropical fruits such as pineapple and mango. Though several are still completing alcoholic fermentation, they are developing nice balance with oily, honeyed finishes. Some of the trial lots are quite interesting, including one lot that underwent 24-hour skin contact and another hyper-oxidizied after pressing. The picture below shows the new premium cellar that's in the process of being built.
Chardonnay is the most prevalent grape variety in Gisborne and is used to make sparkling and table wines that fall into several different price-points. With over a dozen Chardonnay products at our winery, vineyard management and production are varied to achieve the desired wine styles. Coming from Edna Valley, I've become rather accustomed to Chardonnay production and was quite interested to see how Gisborne's Chardonnays would compare. The Chardonnays here traditionally consist of stonefruit flavors, such as apricot and peach, and treefruit flavors like pear. While these are still prevalent this vintage seems to be dominated by riper flavors of tropical fruit, including mango, kiwi, and pineapple. The barrel fermented lots are developing lovely spice, as well as vanilla and coconut. All are very balanced with good acid structure and mouthfeel. We are currently separating out which lots will undergo malolactic fermentation in order to achieve more palate weight and slightly curve acid levels for creamier wines. The main difference between Gisborne and Edna Valley Chardonnay seems to be the emphasis on heavier, creamier wines with less crisp acidity and fruit-forward aromas and flavors. Edna Valley tends to have quite ripe fruit flavors in comparison to those found in Gisborne, and also usually have less new oak influence.
The last of the reds arrived at the winery on Thursday. Above is the cooperage where most of the finished reds are matured. Gisborne winery has earthquake-resistant barrel systems setup in their cooperages. In 2007, a large earthquake damaged many tanks and equipment at the winery. With less reds being produced than previous years, the cooperage will not be very full come the end of harvest. So far the reds have arrived in good condition. Approximately half the reds have completed fermentation and quality is already looking promising. The Malbec and Merlot are both developing into fruit forward wines with red currant and plum flavors. The Cabernet Sauvignon from Hawkes Bay is also developing into a rather big wine, with deep colour, good structure, and spicy, blackberry and black currant flavours. Good color and phenol extraction has been aided via micro-oxygenation on several lots. While none have yet reached the cooperage, several lots have been pressed off their skins and will be put to barrels in the following weeks.
Timing is an important part of making wine. Harvest demands may bring grapes into the winery faster than expected. Even when expected, it's typically faster than desired. Tank space becomes an issue, particularly at a large winery receiving a significant amount of tonnage everyday. With a few exceptions, white wine grapes are typically pressed off their skins immediately after arriving at the winery. Then, the juice is pumped into a tank for cold settling, a time consuming and space limiting process that often interferes with further grapes reception. Gisborne winery expedites the settling process via flotation. When I was first introduced to this system, it seemed a bit strange.
Cold settling allows juice to settle undisturbed in a tank for a certain period of time, typically between 24 and 48 hours. The temperature of the juice is decreased to 7-10 degrees Celsius (45-50 degrees Fahrenheit) and fining agents such as bentonite, gelatine, and casein are added to react with particles such as lipids, pectin, and phenols. These substances then settle to the bottom of the tank, over time. The juice is taken off these solids and moved into a different vessel (another tank, barrels, etc.) for fermentation. The photo above shows several of the winery's settling tanks.
Flotation uses the same basic principles of solids removal as cold settling, but takes significantly less time. This Della Toffola (DT) flotation unit can clarify 80,000 liters (21,000 gallons) of juice in about two hours to the same standard as one or two days of cold settling. The DT unit uses a series of pumps to dose juice evenly with fining agents as it is transferred out of press tanks. Then, it pressurizes the wine to 6 bar (600 kPa). The juice continues into the floatation tank, a 30,000-liter (7,900 gallons) open-top tank with a very high surface area.
As the treated juice fills the flotation tank, the nitrogen helps pull the solids to the surface. Instead of taking juice off the top of solids, the solids are taken off from the top of the juice via several vacuums. These vacuums rotate around the top of the tank. The clean juice can pass through a screen and be removed into the next holding tank. Below shows the rotating vacuums removing the foamy solids from the top of the tank.
Expediting solids removal allows the winery to use less juice receival tanks, which allows quicker processing since trucks are forced to wait for the previous day's juice to be transferred out of settling tanks. After floatation, the juice is typically transferred to a holding tank before it is pastuerised.
My second week working in Gisborne felt a bit more comfortable, and I was beginning to truly prepare for vintage. Since the winery produces such a large quantity of wine, there are five full-time winemakers employed at the facility. Each winemaker is in charge of specific brands or programs at the facility. For vintage, I have been employed to manage the inoculation programs and coordinate with each winemaker to ensure that proper specifications of each lot of grapes are met. After reading and studying all the information provided and receiving some training from the other winemakers, I felt relatively well prepared once the first grapes of vintage arrived on Thursday the 19th. The winery received just under a 100 tonnes of Chardonnay, and was able to assess its new grape reception setup in action. I was quite interested to see Montana's equipment and how it compared to what I've been accustomed to operating.
Above shows the container and auger used to feed the newly received grapes into the destemmer/crusher. The first picture shows the reception container, which has a capacity of approximately 10 tons, before its hydraulic arms rotate it upwards to evenly distribute the grapes into the auger at the top of the container. The second picture shows this movement and how it feeds into the destemmer/crusher on the left side of the picture. From there, the grapes travel through the must lines into one of six bladder presses. The third picture below shows all six presses, while the fourth shows one of the two new Della Toffola presses and the conveyor that transfers pomace (skins and seeds left after pressing off the juice) over the wall to the dumpsite. From there, the pomace is taken to off-site for composting before it is returned to the vineyards.