The Annual Cycle: starting with Budburst
It’s spring in Marlborough (September/October). This is the starting point in the cycle, the start of about a 24-month process before the wine is eventually on your table. It’s a long process!
Budburst is the point where the vines wake up after their winter sleep. In spring conditions, buds swell and burst out from the canes. The buds grow and go on to become shoots. After flowering, the shoots bear the fruit.
Each variety follows it’s own timeline too. Some burst earlier than others, depending on the climate at the time.
It can be a vulnerable time of the year. If the fragile buds are damaged or compromised in anyway – from say, frost, hail or high winds – then this can affect your crop for the year. At this point, Mother Nature plays a vital role in the success of the vintage. We are anxious for her to be calm.
At this point, its early summer (November / December) and the shoots are growing madly.
Here we train these shoots to climb up a vertical trellis. Collectively, these shoots and leaves form a canopy above the trunk. The amount of leaf cover and canopy for each individual vine is important. The leaves basking in the sun capture the suns energy, combining water and atmospheric carbon dioxide to form sugars in the plants, and eventually each individual berry. Further down the track, this sugar, with the help of natural yeasts, turns into alcohol. In New Zealand, our climatic conditions are such that we have lots of light and sunshine, so photosynthesis is efficient.
Getting the right balance in the canopy is key to quality grape production too. So at this point we look for any unproductive shoots; shoots that will bear no fruit. These unproductive shoots are no good to us as they demand energy from the vine, so it’s best to remove these. The selection and removal of unproductive shoots is important. We need to be careful not to remove the good shoots, so this job is done by hand by our Viticultural team.
Think about this, the next time you taste a wine without much flavour. Perhaps they didn’t do this process…
It’s now Summer time (January/February) and it’s time for flowering.
Flowering is an important time in the year as it determines the fruit set. Good flowering means a good fruit set which ultimately means good quality bunches of grapes. Conversely, a poor flowering means poor fruit set which ultimately affects the quality and quantity of fruit harvested for that year.
Flowering generally happens 8-10 weeks after budburst, depending on the climatic conditions at the time and depending on the variety. Like budburst, when it comes to flowering each variety follows its own programme.
The little florets are delicate and vulnerable too. At this point we hope Mother Nature is kind to us. We want warm, dry, still conditions.
Now we are in the height of summer (February).
And this is the point in the process where the little bunches start to form. At the start of this process, the grapes are little dots, green and hard, barely recognisable as grapes. But as they grow, they start to swell, change colour (for Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer) and form bunches with many berries – and this is the start of ripening.
The berries are now starting to make themselves known to the Fauna, trying to be as attractive as possible.
This point in the process is called ‘veraison’.
As the season continues we are heading into late summer (March).
The bunches with all the individual berries are continuing to plump up, soften and the natural sugars in the berries rise. The volume in each berry increases and acidity within each berry decreases.
Throughout this process, we are looking to maintain balance – the right amount of natural sugar, retaining the right amount of acidity and ensuring all elements – the berry skin, the pip inside the berry, the stems – are in harmony with one another.
At this stage there are many management activities in the vineyard that can enhance ripening or combat any threats. For example, to improve ripening, we might take more leaf cover off the canopy to expose the bunches to more sun. Or if there particularly humid conditions, we might thin out the bunches so more airflow can move through, keeping the bunches nice and clean.
It is throughout this process that the Viticultural team and the Winemaker work very closely together deciding when the right time is to harvest each variety. It’s a process where you are constantly tending to the vines, helping them with their journey – depending on what Mother Nature is doing at the time…
It’s now almost Autumn (April/May), so the grapes have had as much chance as possible to ripen. So it’s time to harvest.
We can do this via two ways; mechanical or by hand. For Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, we use machines to harvest the grapes, getting the fruit quickly into the winery to preserve the natural flavours and aromas. For Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir, these varieties are a little more fragile, so harvest is done by hand. Harvesting is done very early in the morning, before sunrise. This means it is still climatically cool and the natural flavours and aromatics in the berries are preserved.
And like budburst and flowering, each variety will follow its own programme. Some varieties will ripen sooner than others, depending on their micro-climate, or the yield they bear. Further, it is not always necessary to pick all of one variety on the same day. By staggering the harvest dates you have the opportunity to create different characters in the wine. This is what we do with Insight as it creates another flavour dimension in the wine.
Think about this when you are next drinking a glass of wine. If there is less flavour, or it is bitter or tart, then maybe they didn’t achieve full ripeness or perhaps the method of harvest used didn’t suit the variety…
In the Winery
Once the bunches are off the vine, they are transported into the winery (it’s April/May). And there are many parcels coming in at different times and days.
At this juncture, for the white wines, the task is to remove the berries from the stems and prepare for them to be crushed and the juice extracted. During this process we aim to filter just the juice through to the tanks, leaving behind the skins, and any additional stems and the pips.
This process is an important part of the winemaking cycle. Here it is vital to be gentle. If you’re not, the stems and pips will fall into the juice and potentially add bitter or green characters to a wine.
At Insight, our policy is to be very gentle with our pressing. Gentle pressing makes the wines more elegant, pure and balanced.
It’s now early winter (April/May) and our juice is in refrigerated stainless steel tanks. We use stainless steel as it is sterile and doesn’t interfere with the natural aromas and flavours formed in the fruit in the vineyard. The stainless steel is refrigerated for preservation.
We then invite certain yeast strains to join the process and start eating their way through the sugars, turning it into alcohol.
It’s a busy time in the winery, watching how the yeasts perform.
But out in the vineyard, we are starting to think about pruning…
For some varieties, such as Pinot Noir, they benefit from spending time in Oak barrels. This allows the Oak character to gently infuse into the wine adding complexity.
The Insight Pinot Noir generally stays in oak for up to 11 months.
Our preference is to only use Oak from French forests and Coopers (a Cooper is a person who makes the Oak Barrel) as it offers a level of sophistication that we are aiming for in the wine.
This is the part of the process where you get a smoky or woody character, like cedar, in the wine – it’s from the Oak. Look for this character in the Insight Pinot Noir.
This is an essential part of the process. It’s where we get the wine into the bottles, labelled and into the cartons, ready for their trip to your table.
Coordinating bottling, labels and packaging is the job for a person with good organisational skills!
Now the harvest is over, the season has changed dramatically. It’s Winter (July/August).
It’s a spectacular time in the vineyard, the autumnal colours across the vineyard are rich. And it’s at this point that we need to prune all the excess wood off the vines and get them ready for next vintage.
Good pruning technique determines quality and quantity. So, it is important this is done well. Cane selection is important at pruning. Ideally, you want to select the best quality cane and remove all others.
At Insight, we chose to prune each vine by hand, as this gives us more control and ultimately improves quality. We have a specialist team of people that help us with this task, and they know each Insight vine intimately. Therefore, we get consistency – and come Spring, the vines are healthy, balanced and standing strong for the year ahead.
To Your Table
And we’re there!
After this very long and intense process, you finally get to enjoy the fruits of this labour cycle.
Here they are. The ‘Single Vineyard’ range of wines from a charming site in the Waihopai Valley, Marlborough New Zealand. Made by Mother Nature guided by a very talented team.
Discover more about each individual variety’s aroma here.
And discover what they taste like here.