land & vines

The land is the most important factor in growing fine wine

"The signal mark of a Grand Cru is its ability to produce fine wine year after year, ripening fruit fully whilst retaining acidity. These exceptional sites enjoy relative immunity to seasonal conditions not shared by lesser vineyards which suffer more obviously from vintage differences. They are favoured by their position and soils to produce ripe fruit incorporating subtle elements of aroma and flavour which allow sympathetic and skilled hands to transform a humble bunch of grapes into a wine of magic and distinction." Grand Cru: The great wines of Burgundy through the perspective of its finest vineyards by Remington Norman

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

Grand Cru sites only exist because of the determination of people to achieve great things. Our reason to plant vines was simply to grow great pinot noir. An uncompromising search for the right land led us to a small hill at Alexandra in Central Otago.

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.
February
February

May
May

June
June

The land

Total area 10.85 hectares
Area in vines 7.8 hectares
Dimensions
  • Earnscleugh Road frontage: 350 metres
  • road to top of slope: 300 metres
Geo location 45˚ 15' 13" South, 169˚ 21' 36" East (-45.25350, 169.35987)
Altitude 158-173 metres above sea level
Slope from front to back 2 degrees
Rainfall 300 mm average
Weather station http://harvestalarms.com/w.cgi?hsn=3523

The vines

Planting dates 38,000 vines, planting completed 8th October 2003
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.
Training In winter vines are pruned back to a single cane per vine. Spring growth is trained to the vertical shoot position system (VSP)
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.

Maps

Located in Earnscleugh, Grasshopper Rock is on the south side of the Alexandra basin across the Clutha River from the town of Alexandra, Central Otago, New Zealand.

The vineyard is on warm north facing slopes.

The name

The vineyard takes it name from a rare grasshopper, Sigaus childi, which is found only in Central Otago, and predominantly on the Earnscleugh gold tailings, which lie along the Clutha River, across the road from the vineyard. We can't claim to have made the acquaintance of the grasshopper, yet, but we felt that the name had a certain distinctive ring about it.
And the Rock alludes to the gold that is no longer in the tailings, and probably never was. The new gold is wine and we hope that you will find a little bit of gold in the pleasure you get from Grasshopper Rock.

Vintage summaries

2017 Current vintage. Updates here

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.

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