de la terre Vintage reports 

2018 was a vintage of extremes for us.
Firstly, it was the second warmest growing season on record since 1990.
Secondly, significant rain during the critical months of February, March and April were well above average for Hawkes Bay.
We experienced very hot dry weather right through to about the end of February – lack of rain and very warm temperatures caused our domestic bore to run dry and (roof) water shortages at the winery.

Then the rain hit!

However, having our grapes on sloping terraces and at higher elevation than most Hawkes Bay vineyards again paid huge dividends for us.
Due to the higher elevation our fruit is typically 10-14 days behind the vineyards lower down on the plains.
When the worst of the rain hit, our fruit had higher acid and tougher skins meaning we were not exposed to the botrytis pressures of the more advanced sites around the Bay.
(Rain is just as much about timing as it is about the actual amount that falls).

Once the rain settled down, we experienced a kind of ‘Indian Summer’ and we were able to get our fruit through to full ripeness with almost no botrytis.
Every time I visited the vineyard after a rain event, I expected to see botrytis development and planned for the eventuality of having to race fruit into the winery.
Thinking back on the severity of rain, coupled with the heat/humidity of 2018, I still find it hard to believe how the fruit remained so clean – certainly sloping terrain and an elevated site played a major part, but for several years now we have been doing a huge amount of shoot-thinning, leaf-plucking and fruit-thinning prior to net application – this, I believe was also a critical factor.

Our biggest problem in 2018 was trying to keep up with the harvesting to ensure we did not get sugars levels above 25 Brix.
The whites were clean with vibrant, ripe flavours and great intensity. The reds all had great colour, tannin and depth of flavour.
Without doubt, what was looking at one stage like a really difficult vintage has turned out to be almost certainly the best vintage we have experienced since taking control of our new vineyard in 2013.

2017 can best be described as a “challenging vintage”.

Definitely a game (year) of two halves as the rugby guys say. Extreme drought conditions in Hawke’s Bay for the whole of the Spring and Summer up until mid-February. On February 18th, the first of the rain hit and it pretty much continued in stops and starts for the whole of vintage.

It’s years like this when having vineyards situated on sloping terraces (rather than flat plains) repays the extra running costs and difficulties in vineyard management, I am sure we suffered less (from the rain) than the guys on the flats.

Every year we seem to be doing more shoot-thinning and leaf-plucking to open up the canopies and expose the bunches to air flow – it’s the cheapest and most effective ‘spray’ going. This also helped save our bacon.

Our “bottom line” was clean (botrytis-free) fruit. In most cases, we sacrificed a degree of sugar ripeness to achieve clean fruit. I fine-tuned the winemaking to suit the characteristics of the grapes and chose not to make Reserve levels of Syrah and Tannat, nor will there be a Noble Viognier 2017.

Instead, we created a few new styles – a big, ugly oaky/buttery Chardonnay (not my thing but our Distributor says there is a big market for it). Also, our first Methode made from a Barbera base wine – you will need to wait 3 years to see this though.

The stars from the vintage are the Reserve Chardonnay and Montepulciano. I heard on the rumour mill we were the last to harvest Chardonnay in Hawke’s Bay – the fruit was as good as any year to date. In a year when the Montepulciano (very late-ripening) was destined to fail, it looks stunning in the fermenter.

Overall, 2016 vintage was a season of 2 halves – a markedly cool spring, right up to about Christmas times, followed by a very warm and reasonably dry Summer and Autumn.

Of particular note, once the warmer temperatures hit about mid to late January, we experienced particularly warm nights and finished up with Growing Degree Days (GDD) close to the exceptional 2013 and 2014 vintages. February was especially warm. This meant that the vintage that everyone had been predicting was going to be late due to the cooler weather early on, actually started at about the same time as previous years.

Flowering and fruit-set in Spring was variable with some blocks well down in yield on 2015. Ripening patterns for some varieties were rather odd this year, possibly due to cooler early-season temperatures reducing sugar accumulation but the warmer nights later on dropping more acid to provide riper flavours at lower Brix.

Rain events in late March and early April caused us no major issues and the settled warm weather in late April was ideal for our late-season varieties and styles – Tannat, noble Viognier and Montepulciano.

On the whole, 2016 was yet another good vintage for us.

Following on from the warm, dry conditions of 2013 and 2014, 2015 was another fantastic Hawkes Bay vintage. Almost unheard of to have 3 stunning vintages in a row!

A long, late summer provided ideal growing conditions and there was no pressure from the weather in our picking decisions.

We had purchased a larger press at the end of 2014 which made harvesting decisions easier for all involved

ie we could pick and process full blocks in one day rather than spread it over 2 days as in previous years.

We had also produced disgorging equipment for our Methode Traditionnelle which allowed us to significantly increase the amount of this wine.

Following on from the stunning 2013 vintage, 2014 was yet another fantastic year for grapes in Hawkes Bay. After an excellent flowering, the growing season was warm and dry through the main harvesting period to provide clean, ripe fruit with real flavour intensity. We managed to work around some troublesome late-season rain to pick the later ripening varieties in great condition.

In 2014 we extended our winery – effectively doubling our processing area as well as purchasing a range of new equipment. This allowed us to now process all 40 tonnes on site at de la terre, thus giving us greater hands-on control of the winemaking.

With the geese gone from the Barbera, the knowledge gleaned from the 2013 vintage, and Murray managing the vineyard we went into this vintage with a lot more confidence.

This vintage was a stunner – probably the best vintage in 30+ years of winemaking for me.  Warm, dry conditions throughout the growing season gave clean, ripe fruit with real flavour intensity.

This was a watershed year for de la terre as it was the first vintage from our new Hill Country Estate vineyard – a cluster of small limestone terraces nestled among the hills of the Te Mata Special Character Zone, Havelock North, Hawkes Bay. We took over this vineyard 6 weeks before vintage started so we had little knowledge of it performed and no input into how the grapes were grown for that season.

Tony’s decisions on wine styles and fruit selection for this vintage were largely based on best guesses of how the canopy had grown and how the fruit developed in the few weeks before we started picking.

We learnt a lot about the vineyard that first year, but on the whole, his fruit selection for the different wine styles was correct – just some fine-tuning required for the next vintage.

Geese in the Barbera block caused us a few problems – this red variety ripens quite early and although the fruit was fully netted, the geese would push the nets in to get at the fruit. This caused quite a bit of damage and lowered the yield – needless to say, the geese didn’t live to see another vintage!

2013 was also the first vintage we made 2 tiers of Tannat as the newly planted Road Block produced enough fruit to allow us to do this. The Tannat vineyard is not far from Hill Country Estate and is in 2 blocks – the picturesque terraced House Block overlooking the Tukituki River where we source the fruit for the Reserve wine, and the flatter, heavier Road Block where the Estate wine comes from.

Our Vineyard Manager, Murray, who Tony had worked with at Church Road, started working for us in time to oversee the pruning, which meant we would go into 2014 vintage having had full control over how the vineyard was managed.