The Brazilian Wax For Vines
In Martinborough, a winery has been giving its vines a pretty thorough leaf strip since day one. Now it’s upped the vineyard maintenance, going for the full Brazilian.
You won’t find a leaf shading the swelling fruit at Dry River and the decision to go the whole hog is getting earlier and earlier in the season.
The already-extreme leaf plucking regime at Dry River has been “radicalised even more” recently.
The vines now get denuded during flowering.
Like your first brazilian, there’s definitely a bit of fear involved in this method. “Yes people are very scared for complete leaf removal and the effects of it,” says Wilco Lam, winemaker at Dry River. “For us we’ve been doing the trials for many many many years and every time our preference is for the early early leaf plucking. It’s all to do with tannins.”
Following both chemical and sensory evaluation, Wilco explains that they get both higher and riper phenolics than vines that have more leaves shading their fruit. “It’s about increased anthocyanins and better assimilation of the phenolics. My philosophy is to increase the bank account of these phenolics and have them really high. Pick them when they are at their most transparent and ripe state but don’t hang fruit for a long time either.” Since most of their Pinots come in at 12.5 or 13% alcohol, it seems that phenolic ripeness doesn’t have to equal high alcohol.
So why aren’t more vineyards getting a brazilian?
“I don’t know. That’s what we are wondering too,” admits Wilco. “Dry River was radical from the start and that raised a few eyebrows. Now leaf plucking is common in New Zealand but only for dappled light not for full-on sun.”
Perhaps it’s the fact that there’s a hole in the ozone layer above New Zealand, which means you get burned to a crisp in minutes. But Wilco claims the grapes develop their own Ambre Solaire if you denude them of all their shade early on. “The more you leaf pluck, the more the vine becomes resistant to sunburn as well.”
And they’re not content with what nature has given them in the warmth department: there’s white reflective mulch under the red vines for the whole growing season, which reflects light and aids tannin ripeness. Why? “We can’t rely on heat in Martinborough. In New Zealand, most vines are planted high off the ground so we can’t rely on any UBV to do the work for us hence the white mulch.”
Bonkers? “Almost everything we do goes against logic,” laughs Wilco, including some of their winemaking methods, which I’ll cover in the next blog.