It’s not only New Zealand’s cricketers that are enjoying their time in the sun; Hawke’s Bay winemakers seem to have a renewed energy and confidence, no doubt springing from two smashing vintages on the trot – 2013 and 2014.
Going to show that people do have more money than sense, Australian wine firm Penfolds has announced it has sold all but one of the dozen A$168,000 glass ampoules it unveiled in June.
Containing 750ml of the 2004 Kalimna Black 42 cabernet sauvignon, which normally retails at $600-700, the wine comes packaged in a hand-blown glass ampoule which is suspended within a fancy Australian-wood cabinet.
The luxury product was launched in Moscow in June and raised a few eyebrows. Daylight robbery may also have been uttered sometime after receiving the press release. But Penfolds is having the last laugh, as people clearly do have money to burn. David Dearie, the chief executive of Treasury Wine Estates revealed that all but one of the ampoules had been sold at its annual results, Australia’s Herald Sun reported.
“If anyone is after one of these limited ampoules, you’ll have to move fast, because although launched only a month ago, we’ve sold all but one of these fantastic Penfolds sculptures,” said Dearie.
So, I’ve decided that I should probably source some wine, claim that it’s made in limited quantities and call it Moneyfolds. I’ll put it in a plywood cupboard and stick it up on ebay and see if I get any bids.
After rains all week in the Napa, the sun finally came out to dry out the fruit and hopefully ensure the 2011 crop isn’t riddled with rot. It was a particularly unseasonable week when I visited but the rains seem to follow me wherever I go. Perhaps drought-ridden areas should call me in…
So, a seminar on climate change between downpours seemed relevant. What is going on with the weather?
Napa Valley Vintners supported a study published this year breezily entitled ‘Climate and Phenology in Napa Valley: A Compilation and Analysis of Historical Data’ (!) in response to growing concerns about climate change.
Rex Stultz, industry relations director a the NVV, explains, “We started to see reports on USA today and NBC tying climate change to agriculture, saying that if the climate continued to change we might not be able to grow grapes in the Napa Valley.
“It created a bit of a stir in the community, asking if it was true.”
A two-year project followed to study the historical weather trends in Napa, and how this change affected wine grape growing.
Using 12,000 data collection points through the county, the study found that the Napa Valley had experienced warming but not to the degree that had been originally suggested.
Perhaps the problem was that the previous studies had been based on just two temperature collection stations. The first at the Napa state hospital, a facility for the criminally insane (not that that had any effect on the study but it’s a piece of trivia), which was positioned next to a road. The other station, in St Helena, was on the top of a fire station roof – not exactly representative of the county.
After studying some complicated-looking graphs, the results show that the average temperatures in Napa Valley have increased 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past several decades, but considerably less warming than the fire station and mad house station had suggested.
Christopher Howell of Cain Vineyard & Winery said “Globally, the years 1998, 2005, 2006 and now 2010 were the warmest years on record, but they were some of the coolest for the Napa Valley. There is a suggestion by some climate scientists that, as the interior areas warm in the future, Napa temperatures may actually remain relatively moderate, or even cool as maritime air gets drawn further up the valley.”
But this doesn’t explain why so many wineries have alcohols into the high 14s and 15s. Winemakers claimed canopy management, lower hanging fruit, more efficient yeasts in the winery, rootstock selection and lower yields have resulted in higher alcohols.
However, in my opinion, late picking seems to be the main factor in these higher alcohol styles in Napa. There’s a bunch of producers that don’t have these high alcohols like Clos du Val and Corison, who pick a little earlier than most, proving that top Napa Cabernet doesn’t have to be horribly high in alcohol, and these producers are making some of the most attractive wines. So it’s not the climate; it’s all to often a human decision.
A tour of winery barrel halls is about as exciting as watching paint dry. And when winemakers tell you which brand of barrels they use, it doesn’t mean much to most of us non-winemaking mortals.
But suddenly it makes much more sense after sitting in on a barrel trial tasting session with Chris Carpenter, winemaker for Cardinale, La Jota and Lokoya in Napa.
We sat down in front of five dense 2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignons from the sub-region of Mount Veeder, which is destined for the Lokoya brand. They were the same wine but had been put into different types of oak. They had been in barrel for the same length of time, the toast was the same on each barrel, and the age of the barrels was also the same – but the wines tasted dramatically different.
Carpenter explained, “Mt Veeder has big fruit and giant tannins so we need to fill in the middle. We try to do that in the winery but oak also helps.”
We each marked the wines on that basis with the coopers Bel Air and Taransaud coming out joint favourite. Other coopers’ barrels flattened the smell of the wine while others overpowered the fruit. It was interesting to see Carpenter and his assistant winemaker completely disagree on the Bernard-made barrel, showing wine is totally subjective even when you know what you’re doing.
However these barrel test results are specific to each wine so while our favourites for this wine were Taransaud and Bel Air, this test doesn’t apply to the other Cabernets or Merlots Carpenter makes.
It is also interesting to note that most of us were non-plussed with the World Cooperage Barrels. These barrels just overpowered the fruit, giving an unpleasant coffee, mocha and vinyl character to the wine. However, Lakoya’s parent company, Jackson Family Wines, is a partner in World Cooperage Barrels.
Carpenter added, “We are going to France this year to try to figure out why they are like this. Is it how they are cutting the staves in France or is it the cooper in Missouri? These barrels do work with out Merlot but not with our Cabernet.”
Inevitably, with consolidation one of the key trends in the wine industry at the moment, there is some pressure from accountants to use this oak, as it is up to 50% cheaper.
French producers started to return to their estates this week after their annual August holidays. I was on the news desk at Decanter.com and here’s the highlights of this week’s news.
It was a busier week than anticipated with the harvest beginning unusually early in Bordeaux. Sauternes star Chateau d’Yquem and rose producer Chateau de Sours started to pick the first grapes on Wednesday.
On Friday. Champagne producers in a number of villages were also permitted to start the harvest. The only harvest that has ever been earlier was the sweltering 2003 vintage. Grape growers and Champagne houses came to a compromise to allow 12,500kg to be harvested per hectare this year – more than 20% up on 2010, in response to growing demand
Heading to the southern hemisphere, New Zealand was covered in snow. The white stuff even fell in Auckland for the first time since 1939. Unhappily for one winery, it wasn’t just the weather that was gloomy. Gisborne winery Amor Bendall has gone into liquidation. The company has faltered amid the oversupply situation, the strength of the New Zealand dollar, and tough competition. The question is, who’s the next victim?
Over the Tasman, Australia is also struggling with its oversupply problems, and change is not happening fast enough, according to its generic body, Wine Australia. Its chief executive has been brutally honest, admiting many players are still in denial that the problem is long-term and requires major change. The new realities reshaping the industry include depressed trading conditions in its two main export markets: the US and the UK; the continued strength of the Australian dollar, higher production costs and tougher competition in all markets. Bulk wine sales and ‘opportunistic brand trading’ have also eroded margins, said Wine Australia’s Andrew Cheesman.
Suspicions that the 2008 Mouton-Rothschild label would be designed by a Chinese artist were confirmed last week.
Prices have been creeping up in the past 12 months amid the speculation. Since Xu Lei was announced as the artist, prices went up 20% overnight. According to Fine & Rare Wine’s market data tool (frw.co.uk), a year ago, you could pick up the 96 Parker point wine for £2800; now you’re looking in the region of £8750. A 211% rise in value.
The Mouton move followed Chateau Lafite’s announcement that the 2008 vintage would feature the Chinese number eight symbol on the bottle. The wine’s value has since surged. In the past twelve months, the price has increased from £4857 to £15,303– a rise of 215%.
Which brings me to ask the question – why aren’t other producers doing the same thing? A New World producer with some traction in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai would be pretty smart to follow the likes of Mouton and Lafite. If a Kiwi winery – say Craggy Range, Te Mata or Villa Maria employed the services of a Chinese artist or designer for their top Bordeaux blend (Sophia, Coleraine and Twyford Single Vineyard respectively) it woud be incredible PR – increasing awareness, sales and possibly prices. Surely, it couldn’t be that difficult and a cost benefit analysis would no doubt conclude benefit benefit benefit.
I’ve been asking myself whether Hawke’s Bay should be concentrating on Syrah or Bordeaux blends for a few months now â€“ and it seems the same question is floating around on Waiheke Island.
Bordeaux blends initially put the island on the map but Syrah is now creeping up behind it and making a big splash.
Syrah is my favourite grape variety so I’ll admit I could be a bit biased but in my opinion, the Syrahs from Waiheke better reflect their sense of place than Cabernet blends. Feel free to disagree but that’s the way I see it.
The Bordeaux blends are very good, often elegant (although some aren’t so good: I don’t think Cabernet and American oak go together) with black ripe fruits, firm tannic structure and medium to high alcohol.
There are green capsicum (even brussel sprout) notes found in many Cabernets here alongside a ripeness of fruit and tannin that you don’t find in Bordeaux. The green aromas are not unpleasant at all (hey, it’s Cabernet’s varietal character) but in a cooler year, ripening can be an issue. Neil Culley, founder of Cable Bay says, â€œThe Cabernet sites need to be warm right to the end of the season so they need to be in the middle of the island or sheltered sites.â€ Cool sea breezes scupper Cabernet’s chances of ripening and some sites are certainly not suited to it.
But the Syrah screams class in a glass. It’s unique and performs consistently year to year. Yes, it’s a vigorous little bugger but on a low vigour site and with careful management, boy is it characterful.
Daniel Schuster (no relation of Michael), a flying wine consultant with Stag’s Leap and Chateau Palmer on his CV, says, â€œThere are Bordeaux varieties here and it is obvious they are working. But the Syrah is the closest I have seen to classic Rhone. They have Syrah that doesn’t taste like marmalade, full of American oak.â€ Which Syrah producing region are you referring to, I wonder Danny?!!
The Syrahs here are full of blackberry, violets, floral notes and, although many try to deny their wines are peppery, they are. Get over it â€“ some of us kinda like it.
If I were a producer on Waiheke, I’d be planting Syrah and I think this should be the Island’s flagship. Duncan McTavish, winemaker at Man O’War, the island’s largest producer, says, â€œI don’t think we necessarily need a flagship. The two can co-exist. We built our reputation on Bordeaux blends. Syrah is the new kid on the block and it has made a big statement early on. But we can’t focus on one to the detriment of the other.â€
Summer is drawing to a close in Auckland. The chilly mornings are making it increasingly difficult to haul myself out of bed to do an hour’s MW study before starting work. But at least we’ve had a decent summer â€“ which is more than you can say in England most years.
Waiheke Island is just 35 minutes by ferry from Auckland CBD and temperatures are two degrees C warmer on average than the nearby city. The occasional downpours we’ve had in Auckland have failed to reach Waiheke’s shores. It is experiencing the worst drought on record, which go back 50 years.
The vines seemed to be holding up remarkably well considering no-one on the island irrigates their vines (or so they claim â€“ if anyone does irrigate, they were hiding it well). Most of the vineyards sit on clay-based soils which are renowned for water retention (Bordeaux’s right bank based on clay usually does well in dry years while the left bank based on gravels does well in wet years). In the words of David Evans, owner of Passage Rock â€œClay soils hold on to the water quite tightly then release it slowly.â€
Hawke’s Bay producers would probably like to donate some of their water with rainy day after rainy day. While there are often parallels drawn between the two regions which make Bordeaux blends and Syrah, Nick Jones of Mudbrick says, â€œWaiheke is a different world to Hawkes Bay. We seem to do well in even years and they get good results in odd years.â€ It’s not particularly scientific but it does have some legs.
Producers are optimistic about this year’s harvest. Of course, they’re going to tell a journalist that but looking at the vines and tasting some of the grapes, there’s no reason to believe otherwise. There were a few stressed parcels but if they’re picked relatively soon, they should be ok. The Cabernet Sauvignon was still green as hell and eye-wateringly sour but that’s to be expected of a late ripener and they won’t be harvested for at least another three weeks while the Viognier was sweet and tasty and was fermenting late last week. Neill Culley, founder and winemaker at Cable Bay was pressing his Viognier when I showed up and he is looking to make a wild yeast, barrel-fermented Reserve Viognier for the first time this year (you heard it here first) but it all depends on what goes on in the cask in the coming months.