After a typically hard winter we were all eager for the Marlborough summer to arrive. Much to the detriment of our summer tans, it showed up a bit late.
Although in the early spring we saw warm enough temperatures, flowering and shoot growth wasnâ€™t as vigorous as in previous years. Winemakers around the valley began to worry as we experienced day after day of unseasonably cool temperatures. Forecasters told us it was the coldest February in 80 years!
Half way through March we were wondering if vintage would ever start and the harvest team were put on standby. Our winemakers fretted and what began with expectations of a low yield became reality as the non-existent summer ran into autumn. Our vineyard manager Dave and his trusty assistant Rick were kept busy watching over the crop.
And then finally the sun arrived. Everybody had been on tenterhooks but it was worth the wait. While weâ€™d been wishing for sun the grapes had enjoyed an extended ripening period and were then given an extra blast at the end of the season concentrating flavours and sugars even further. Having had extra growing time, the canopies had filled out nicely and were able to take full advantage of the late summer sun.
Highfield started harvesting on 27th March, handpicking the Chardonnay grapes for our Elstree CuvĂ©e. The Pinot Noir followed, first for the CuvĂ©e, then for our ultra premium red. Our Sauvignon Blanc grapes basked in the glorious autumn sun, the second sunniest April in 80 years this time, until 25th April. By the 2nd of May everything was in the winery with the Riesling coming in last as usual.
Quality not quantity is what 2012 vintage will be remembered for in the future. 2012 will be talked about in years to come as an extremely testing vintage but one that ended with outstanding fruit quality. Although our crop was down by approximately 30% on normal we can all breathe a sigh of relief having brought into the winery perfectly formed grapes showing masses of potential. Weâ€™re in the middle of blending right now and bouncing up and down with excitement.
For a third year in a row Highfield has experienced another easy vintage. Very dry and cool climatic conditions have provided the perfect backdrop for harvesting. Coupled with strict harvesting criteria, Highfieldâ€™s fruit is of the highest quality for 2011. It was another excellent year with outstanding flavours and fruit condition.
After a bit of a slow start due to cooler conditions at the beginning of the growing season, things really came right from February onwards. After what seemed like an easy vintage in 2009, it got even easier again this year. This was mainly due to the benign climatic conditions but was also a result of lower than normal crops and strict harvesting criteria. In fact the only depressing thing about vintage 2010 is the thought that we may never have another one quite like it. Flavours were excellent, the fruit condition was great, and everything went smoothly in the winery. A dream vintage.
Vintage didnâ€™t get underway until mid march this year about 10 days later than other years due to cooler temperatures during the late stages of summer. Vintage was completed with clear skies, the fine dry weather allowed us to pick all our fruit in peak optimum ripeness within a timeframe that wasnâ€™t determined by the weather which made our job a lot less stressful of having to manage handpicking gangs and machinery harvesters at the same time. So it really seemed a bit easy this year with no dramas and none of the usual stress surrounding picking decisions, just getting very clean fruit in the receival bin, and very good flavours in tank.
With a warm, sunny growing season and fantastic weather in the build up to harvest, many grape varieties ripened at the same time leading to logistical and congestion issues at the winery. March had hot days and cool nights, allowing the grapes to ripen more slowly and retain fruit flavours and acid. Compared to other seasons, the 2008 harvest started early and finished promptly. Rainfall in April was well above the long term average, though hard work and long days put in by the harvest staff meant that the fruit was picked when it was ready.
A wet and wild spring influenced flowering in Nov/Dec 2006, contributing to uneven fruit set and low yields. Many bunches developed the desirable hen and chicken effect (mixture of medium and small berries) which we can see some good intensity from. Summer started out cool and it didnâ€™t really kick off until mid to late January. The ripening period proved quite erratic with some days exceeding 30Â°c and others only reaching 15Â°c. March and April were warm and calm leading to a trouble-free and relaxed vintage with low quantity and high quality. Outstanding Sauvignon Blanc.
The season was very dry and warm with harvest beginning two weeks ahead of usual. A short spell of wet weather eased the drought in March. The harvest and vintage ran smoothly with no disease pressure or problems. The fruit was able to be left on the vines until peak ripens levels were reached.
Average vintage conditions prevailed this year with some patchy rain throughout the season. After the last of the Highfield Sauvignon Blanc was harvested, the rain clouds set in over the Marlborough Valley and hung around for quite a while. Most of the Highfield fruit was picked by this stage so no major issues there. The Sauvignon Blanc showed great promise from the very outset with good consistency in most Highfield vineyards.
2003/2004 was a fairly cool season for Marlborough particularly January and February. It almost seemed like summer didnâ€™t arrive at all. This cooler weather shaped a long drawn out ripening period which is great for flavour and sugar development. The sparkling base, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir all benefited with fantastic fruit aromatics and fine texture.
This vintage will long be remembered for the severe late season frosts Marlborough was hit with in October and November 2002. The two hard frosts had wide spread devastating effects on the quantity of fruit and caused tiny shoots to be burnt. On a positive note, the quality of the fruit was very high. Because the vines had less fruit to ripen, they had more energy and goodness to put into what fruit was left. The Highfield wines from 2003 are concentrated and full of intensive fruit flavours
October 2001 through to January 2002 saw above average rain fall which produced high vigour and good crop levels. Some leaf and bunch thinning was necessary to reduce disease pressure. In typical Marlborough style, the sun came out from February right through until late April. This made for great harvest and vintage conditions. A somewhat surprisingly good vintage.
The start of the growing season was slightly cooler than usual. The summer was long and dry and was recorded as a drought year. We experienced devastating fires over the Wither Hills on Boxing Day 2000.