There always seems to be an event in the viticultural year that is sent to test us.
This year there were two.
The first was in November 2009 when an unseasonal snow made effective vine burying impossible in many parts of the vineyard. The burying soil insulates the vines during winter when temperatures can reach -20C and below and the ineffectively buried portions of the vineyard suffered some losses as parts of vines were literally frozen to death later in winter.
April 2010 brought our second test when the threat of frost well into what is normally our first growing month, discouraged farmers from unearthing vines, thus shortening our already brief growing season.
The remainder of spring and summer were normal with warm to hot weather for the flowering and fruit setting periods allowing the vines to catch up a little.
After several years of successful trials with Ningxia grapes, we took the opportunity to “go-ahead” with a quantity of grapes from this province this year.
Our vineyard team spent much time travelling the Ningxia vineyards, carefully selecting quantities and varieties. The grapes had to meet the stringent quality requirements of Grace Vineyard. These wines will provide us with an interesting insight into the capabilities of our own vineyard in that province.
Conditions in Ningxia were similar to those of Grace Vineyard with the early snow and spring frost. As a result the region also had to deal with a slow ripening year. Conditions returned to warm and dry in September and we were able to harvest quality grapes.
Back at the winery, harvest began with a small quantity of Chardonnay grapes destined for our sparkling wine project. This was followed by our conventional Chardonnay harvest – this year producing fresh, crisp grapes and wines with good flavour and refreshing firmness.
Red grapes followed in their usual sequence – Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, although we did pick our first small quantity of an Italian varietal, Aglianico. Our opinions changed from day to day about this wine but the consensus is that it will be a soft savoury style with interesting cherry and raspberry characters.
Merlot and Cabernet Franc have the best varietal flavours I have seen for some years and Cabernet Sauvignon is very firm and tightly structured as usual.
And the wines?
At this stage I am pleased. A post vintage tasting suggested that we will be able to allocate more than 60% of the harvest, to Reserve and above quality. My feeling is that the 2010 wines will not be full and powerful, but more structured and refined. The colour and flavour is exceptional especially considering that grape maturity at harvest was less than optimal (due to the shortened growing season). This is thanks in no small part to the dedication of our winery team who worked long and hard to extract every bit of flavour during fermentation.
Chief Winemaker and Viticulturalist