land & vines
The land is the most important factor in growing fine wine
The Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy, France, where man has grown fine pinot noir for centuries, have been mapped and classified. In New Zealand, we have a much shorter history.
Why a site consistently produces outstanding wine is never simple to understand and the interactions between soils, aspect, climate, vines and people are complex. With our knowledge of soils, climate and agriculture, we searched for the land we believed would one day prove to be Grand Cru.
Why we chose this land
Cool climates produce the most exciting pinot noir and Central Otago has proved to be one of the few places in the world that can consistently produce some of the finest examples of wine from this difficult grape.
Central Otago has a number of sub-regions, each characterised by its mix of temperature profile, rainfall and soils. Some areas are hotter, some cooler and some wetter, drier or windier but generally all have free draining and mostly young soils derived from Schist ,an ancient metamorphic rock.
The land we searched for had to be warm enough to consistently ripen pinot noir grapes. It had to be cool enough to slow ripening down but not too cool. It had to have high sunshine hours and low rainfall. North facing slopes are the warmest and most sheltered sites within a cool climate. There needs to be tension between hot and cold, so that pinot noir can ripen slowly and show a true and exciting expression of the site.
Alexandra is the sub-region that excited us most. This is the southernmost sub-region in Central Otago, which also makes it the world's southernmost pinot noir winegrowing sub-region. Further to the east, away from the Southern Alps, than other sub-regions, makes this the driest sub-region. Low rainfall is ideal for ripening pinot noir, but it does mean irrigation on the lighter soils is essential.
The Alexandra sub-region is a large basin and its topography and location deliver both the highest and lowest temperatures in Central Otago, with extreme fluctuations never more evident than during summer and autumn, when the grapes are ripening.
On the south side of the basin, across the Clutha River from Alexandra township, are the warm north facing slopes, where you will find Grasshopper Rock on Earnscleugh Road.
The land was originally part of a larger parcel known since the 1860s as Como Villa and has European history that dates back to the 1860s gold rush and the early establishment of grape vines in the 1870s. An old gold mining water race now brings water from the surrounding hills for irrigation and frost fighting.
Area in vines 7.8 hectares
- Earnscleugh Road frontage: 350 metres
- road to top of slope: 300 metres
Source of vines Corbans Viticulture (Whenuapai nursery)
Clones 667, 777, 114, 115, Clone 5, Abel
Root stocks 3309, Richter 110, 101-14
Spacings Vine spacings are closer than average for Central Otago. Rows at 2.2 metres and vines spaced at 1.0 metre in most of vineyard and some at 0.78 metres.
Layout Blocks 1 & 2 are on the upper slope, Blocks 3 & 4 at the foot of the slope on heavier soils and Blocks 5 & 6 are beside the road on lighter, stonier soils.
Hand tendered The vines are intensively managed by hand to achieve perfectly ripe fruit for winemaking. Harvest is by hand with only the best fruit going to the winery.
Sustainability We are an Accredited Sustainable Winegrower, an initiative of New Zealand Winegrowers. Sustainability is the capacity to endure; it is how biological systems remain diverse and productive indefinitely.
The vineyard is on warm north facing slopes.
2019 A slightly warm year but despite this there were a couple of anomalies. 12/13 October delivered the most severe frost we have experienced in at least 15 years and later, at the start of harvest, around 4 to 6 April, we experienced further frosts of -3 to -4 degrees. The events would have been devastating but our vines are well protected by frost fighting sprinklers. Spring was significantly wetter than normal but did not cause problems. February was unusually cool and veraison was slow and spread out. March was warmer than February which is not something we have experienced before and helped progress the ripening process. In total the January through to March period was 10% warmer than average. Similar in seasonal character to 2015 and 2008. Fruit set was good. Overall average bunch weight was 126 g versus historical average 114 g. (The same bunch size as 2013). Frosts at harvest, when fruit was ready to be picked, did cause minor delays in picking but the fruit held up well and was of excellent quality. Harvest 5 to 12 April. Read more
2018 One of the hottest Central Otago summers on record. The heat, early flowering and ripening and rain in February created more challenges than normal. Despite the challenges the fruit was picked in excellent condition with full flavour development and above average volumes. Temperatures in November, December and January were above average. Growth rates in late November and December were exceptional and it was difficult to keep up with vine training and shoot thinning. Flowering was 2-3 weeks early and the perfect conditions meant excellent fruit set resulting in large tight bunches. Veraison was three weeks ahead of normal. Cooler late afternoon breezes took the heat out the day and slowed ripening. Harvest started on 23 March and finished 31 March, three weeks earlier than normal. Read more
2017 The coolest vintage for at least 15 years.The unusually warm September was followed by a good October and then a period of below average temperatures through until late February. Fortunately flowering was good but the cooler weather during berry development meant bunch sizes were below average. 90 gram average bunch weight which is the lowest since 2007 and 2010 vintages. Picking started on 8 April. 2017 season seems to have favoured Alexandra which ripened earlier than sub-regions to the west. Fruit quality was excellent although yields down on average. Read more
2016 The strong El Nino produced more cool south and southwest weather than normal in the spring and early summer. Fortunately the weather was fine during flowering and fruit set was good. The cool spring meant bunches were a little smaller than recent years, which is not a bad thing. In February the heat really picked up producing our hottest February ever and was just what was needed to keep the season on track. March and April were ideal for ripening grapes. The quality of fruit picked was excellent and volume was right on target. Overall the season will be remembered for the cooler than normal spring and the particularly warm February plus the persistent winds, the extra low rainfall and the high number of frosts. Harvest dates identical to 2015. Read more
2015 The season started cooler than normal with October and November temperatures below average and a number of frosts requiring frost fighting. The cool conditions slowed flower development. December warmed up and provided a small but perfect window for the critical flowering period. While the weather at flowering was ideal, the cool spring conditions had meant some flowers proved infertile or set weak berries which did not develop. The result was smaller and more open bunches than normal. January was one of our warmest ever and February and March were good apart from a couple of early frosts. The end of March and early April were exceptionally warm and hand picking commenced earlier than normal finishing on 16 April. Fruit was similar in quality to 2014 but bunch weights were slightly lower. Read more
2014 A warm start to the season with early bud burst. A number of frost events in mid October left young shoots undamaged but flower development was checked. October to December was exceptional kind resulting in an excellent fruit set. January turned out to be one of our coolest experienced and February and March were slightly cooler than average. Despite the slow finish to the season it remained dry and frost free. Harvest was completed on 22 April with excellent quality fruit going to the winery. Read more
2013 A cool vintage with an extremely cool spring but the saving grace was perfect weather at flowering which maximise fruit set and early berry development. February and March were ideal for ripening fruit and although some parts of Otago had fruit ripening earlier than expected we did not start harvest until 22 April. Clean and open bunches and a promising vintage. Read more
2012 After an outstanding warm start with ideal spring flowering and fruit set the weather deteriorated, as it did in all NZ winegrowing regions. By the end of February total solar energy had been only average and in March temperatures drop dramatically putting us on a very slow ripening path. The large tight bunches and heavy rainfalls in summer increased the disease risk and raised fears of a difficult harvest. Fortunately the weather changed and from 12 March we had no rain, hot days and cool nights creating a perfect finish to the season and one of our best harvests ever. Harvest: 18 and 27 April. Already proving to be one of the great vintages. Read more
2011 Spring and summer heat was above average. Outstanding fruit set. Large bunches and berries. Rainfall during February was significantly higher than average throughout Central Otago, increasing the disease risk. 2011 was one of our warmest vintages and the first grapes were picked on 30 March 2011 and in our earliest harvest ever. A difficult vintage in Central Otago due to the summer rain and large tight bunches, however the Alexandra sub-region, with its lower rainfall, produced some excellent quality grapes. 2011 produced a ripe, refined and elegant expression of Grasshopper Rock.. Read more