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A (very) good vintage is in the making

May 7, 2024 May 2024 No Comments

Pinot Noir clone 115 growing in Te Muna Valley (Credit: Joelle Thomson).

By Joelle Thomson

What does the perfect growing season look like for wine?

Well, 2024 came close. It’s all very well growing grapes in a region that is typically hot, typically dry and has a decent dose of wind (to prevent disease), which are all the big boxes that Martinborough and the wider Wairarapa wine region routinely tick. 

Or should I say, historically ticked, because there is a new normal these days, which ensures that life is anything but business as usual for most winemakers in most wine growing regions around the world. It’s called climate change, (surprise).

It is responsible for the good, the not so good and the downright horribly unpredictable, as torrential rain and a devastating cyclone showed us all over the past two years. We now live in a world in which anybody working with viticulture (grape growing), horticulture or agriculture has to learn to live with the unexpected, which is why it was so refreshingly joyful for winemakers in this region to have such an outstanding lead up to harvest 2024.

That lead up had many winemakers suggesting that 2024 may be one of the best years ever for the quality of Pinot Noir in the Wairarapa. The proof was hanging on the vines; with picture perfect looking grapes, particularly Pinot Noir, which is the most important and highest volume grape in the region with approximately 50 percent of the total vineyard area of 1090 hectares in the Wairarapa.

The 2024 vintage was a stark contrast to 2022 and 2023, begging the question as to how much of a role climate change has been playing in the roller coaster journey of torrential rain followed by devastating cyclone followed by an ideal summer that was hot and dry with cool nights kicking in at just the right moment.

There are two tough years of interesting and valiant attempts to coax the best out of Pinot Noir from 2022 and 2023 and now, thanks to a kinder expression of Mother Nature this year, there is also the incredibly consistent quality of ripe grapes with textbook lignification of stems (wine lingo for ripe brown canes – or wood – on the vines). If you could dial up exactly how you want ripe, high quality Pinot Noir to look, this year certainly met the mark.

It has been a rare year and it follows two pretty tricky ones, so if you see Wairarapa winemakers celebrating now that their grapes are safely tucked into their fermentation tanks, it’s for good reason.

And this region is not alone in celebrating an outstanding vintage. While quality was high, volumes were lower than usual, also due to the impact that climate plays.

The region with the most similar climate and wine styles is North Canterbury where winemakers were level pegging in terms of weather, temperatures, dryness over the summer and, now, high quality grapes in tanks and barrels. 

Early reports from Marlborough are similar. I can’t wait to try the wines in barrel and, further down the track, in bottle from this exceptional year.

As we wait, try this: 2021 Te Hera Pinot Noir RRP $29-ish. 18.5 out of 20. 

John Douglas was the pioneer of Pinot Noir on Te Muna Road, nine kilometres east of the village and now home to 340 hectares of grapes (predominantly Pinot Noir) and some flash names in wine (Big Sky, Craggy Range and Escarpment Vineyard).

This Te Hera wine is an outstanding expression of Martinborough Pinot Noir and it comes from the exceptionally high quality 2021 vintage. Yields were low that year and the quality of the wines made as a result is stunning: Pinot Noirs with concentrated dark fruit aromatics, underpinned by savoury structure and an impressive body. It all adds up to a wine that’s a keeper.

(Joelle Thomson is an independent wine writer, author and communications specialist, lives in Martinborough and loves wine).

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