Please note these summaries represent the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowing District as a whole and therefore do not specifically reflect the experiences of individual member producers and their vineyards.
2012 provided a very long growing season that was challenging but also surprising. Characterized by a cool spring to start with, vines set small crops as the cooler weather extended through flowering. Even though spring was cool there were relatively few frost events which meant that vine growth progressed steadily into summer.
The usual hot Hawke's Bay summer didn't eventuate, although it was fairly dry with cool to mild temperatures experienced across the region. As a result, the season was significantly delayed. Veraison occurred later than usual and harvest didn't commence until well into late March.
With the uncustomary late start a lot of harvest decisions were based on fruit flavour as flavour peaked well before usual targeted sugar ripeness levels were achieved. With the onset of autumn rain small windows of opportunity were needed to be taken to get fruit into the winery in good condition.
Thankfully, a warm dry spell finally came after Easter which gave about 20 dry days through to the end of April. Fruit still on the vine had the opportunity to fully complete flavour development.
Merlot - the longer growing period created physiological ripeness but at lower sugar levels. Wines will show elegance and balance at slightly lower alcohol levels.
Syrah - Syrah continues to impress with its versatility to our conditions. Very attractive flavours are showing with heightened florals and purity of fruit portrayed. Later harvested blocks produced some very ripe fruit.
Cabernet Sauvignon - being such a late variety benefited from the late dry and warm spell in the latter part of April. This, along with the tiny crops, resulted in some very good quality Cabernet Sauvignon being harvested.
In summary, the 2012 vintage has been a pleasant surprise, given the challenges of a longer, cooler, growing season and unsettled weather conditions around harvest. The hallmark vibrant colours and flavour in all of the red varieties remains, along with good tannins, albeit a little lower than normal. We can look forward to more medium bodied wines enjoyable over the short to medium term.
In the 2011 season the heat summation was actually better in the summer months (Dec – Feb) than in 2007 and 2009 on the Gravels. It was the warmest summer since 2005.
December was warmer than normal and the warm weather continued through January until the 18th of the month when there was a 5 day period with rain. On the 24th of Jan it fined up again and there followed a very warm dry period of 14 days.
This was one of the hottest spells of weather experienced in Hawke's Bay that threatened to rival the heat of February 1998. Unfortunately the weather became cooler from mid February on. It was more in line with seasonable averages. There followed periods of rain through March and April to the harvest and beyond.
Because the Gravels are so well drained they coped well with the wetter than usual summer and autumn. The fruit really benefited from the warmth of Jan and Feb. The sugar levels in the fruit were lower than normal due to the wetter autumn but there are no signs of unripeness in the resultant wines.
The wines are expressing very pure and ripe berry aromas. The Merlot and Syrah have lower tannin than is usual. They are lighter in body but have a very nice freshness and acidity. The tannins are ripe. The Cabernet's have more tannin and concentration and are surprisingly big. Again, the tannins seem ripe.
In summary, the vintage will produce soft, lighter styles that will be attractive sooner than in normal vintages. We may be surprised with the longevity of the wines. The tannin ripeness may prove to be their strength especially for the wines that came from fruit that better weathered the wetter periods.
The 2010 season could be described as a season of two halves.
The growing season began in September with good shoot growth and development. A few spring frosts were encountered but comfortably negotiated without significant impact. Some cool weather was experienced over the flowering period which affected the fruit set across most varieties. This resulted in berry numbers per bunch being lower than previous seasons; consequently, the yield potential was restricted from this point on.
Throughout the growing season the bunches remained open due to the low berry numbers and thus crop loads were lighter than usual. Fruit thinning was still required on some blocks but, on the whole, reduced due to the light weight of the bunches.
The summer months (January, February) could be described as mild. There were few days that reached over 30Celsius which slowed the development phase of the fruit. This resulted in veraison being later than usual, the main colour change not occurring until early Autumn.
Autumn was a completely different proposition and can only be described as fantastic! Warm, dry and settled conditions helped to really accelerate the ripening phase and the fruit started to make up for the summer it didn't really have. The weather was so fine and settled that harvest could commence at a slow but steady pace. Winemakers' spirits rose in the confidence that an 'Indian summer' had started to unfold.
Chardonnay benefited from a long maturation period and was harvested later than usual but in perfect condition. Ripe, clean flavours with balancing fresh acidity are the key attributes for this variety in 2010.
By the end of March, Merlot and Cabernet Franc tasted ripe and fruit was very clean due to the continual warm conditions. Winemakers continued to hang fruit on the vine in search for additional flavour development and tannin maturity. The majority of fruit wasn't harvested until well into April, the result being very pure and distinctive expression of these varietals.
Syrah continued to impress. There were some concerns about how this variety might perform with a cooler summer but all doubts were firmly allayed. With the settled autumn conditions Syrah performed to a very high standard and will, without doubt, produce some of the most exciting wines coming out of the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowing District from the 2010 vintage.
Cabernet Sauvignon was a challenge but well set up and managed vineyards still produced very good quality.
In summary, the 2010 vintage saved the very best until the last. The "Indian summer' experienced highlighted the value of settled weather over the vintage period. There is no doubt that 2010 will produce some of the most interesting GIMBLETT GRAVELS wines yet.
Vintage 2009 In the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowing District will be one to remember for red grape varieties and is expected to create some of the best ever wines to date.
While the season started with a few frost events during spring, the growing season through to veraison was dry and warm, perfect for wine growing. With very warm December conditions we experienced a very quick, even, flowering which resulted in great conditions for fruit set.
January brought warm, dry conditions (20 degree celcius average) which helped keep berry size small. These conditions pushed all varieties through to bunch closure and veraison very quickly setting the season up to potentially be "the perfect vintage".
Early February brought about more dry settled weather which further accelerated ripening, but in late February we had a significant wet weather event (50mm) that put botrytis pressure on some of the early white varieties.
Due to the perfect December/January conditions fruit for the red varieties was truly ripe. Intense flavor had developed, tannins had developed nicely, seeds were ripe brown in colour and vines were in good balance, all of which signals the potential for phenomenal wine production.
Certainly the Bordeaux blends and single Bordeaux varietals produced from 2009 will be some of the best yet produced from the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowing District.
Syrah benefitted from a longer than usual ripening period and as a result the flavours in the berries were very intense, delivering the potential for outstanding wines from this vintage.