Often rightly considered the finest producers of Central Otago Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this low intervention, gravity fed, organic and biodynamic winery is all about hands-off purity, quality and class. Felton Road dates back to 1991, with the planting of the Elms Vineyard on Felton Road, in the Bannockburn district of Central Otago. However lauded the Chardonnays and Rieslings may be, the international profile of Felton Road is justly upheld by the series of vineyard specific Pinot Noirs which express the nuances and character of each individual site.
Felton Road Pinot Noir Magnum Set 1 – Bannockburn, Cornish Point and Block 3 2016
Felton Road, New Releases, 2016
By Nigel Greening
“Our 20th Vintage marks a return to full size production of our Pinot Noir’s after a couple of leaner years however the Chardonnay’s allocation remains very small (and, as we have the 17’s in barrel now, we can advise it will be followed by the smallest vintage in the last decade).
The release is later as we now are giving the Bannockburn Pinot Noir the same length of elevage as Cornish Point and Block 3 then releasing these wines together with Bannockburn Chardonnay. Calvert, Block 5 and the single block Chardonnays are still in barrel and will be bottled August / September. This is now our standard pattern for releasing wines.
So what of the wines of our 20th vintage? A report below.
And now for something completely different…
One of the puzzles of Central Otago is why the coolest Pinot Noir region in the world produces such dark, intense and relatively alcoholic wines; surely these are characters of a warmer region? For a while now we have had theories that the combination of high ultra-violet light levels and very cool nights is the secret, for details on how this might work, you can go to the end of this piece.
We know that the cooler years, especially with the colder nights, produce the most intense wines. So what happens when we see the warmest run into harvest, with by far the warmest nights, we have seen for at least 10 years, maybe the biggest sustained warm spell since Felton Road began? The first thing to say here is that while this period was exceptionally warm, it wasn’t destructively hot, so we aren’t looking at a cooked season, but one where Central Otago had the sort of weather we might see in a good year in Pinot Noir’s traditional home.
Our theories would suggest such weather would give us lower sugars, hence lower alcohols, and an opportunity to see physical ripeness at a much earlier point in the flavour ripeness cycle. As we don’t like the fuller character of warm season’s fruit, 2016 was an ideal opportunity to try to capture a fresher, more etherial, more aromatically driven moment, rather than wait for a fuller, riper style.
And so; we give you the 2016’s, our 20th vintage and one of the most surprising.
Boasting the lowest alcohols we have ever seen (and by some margin), this is a different side to our vineyards. Gone is the high impact fruit, replaced by a mineral seam, driven by perfume and transparency. Each vineyard is still indelibly showing its personality, but in a pure, more subtle tone rather than our usual cascade of flavour, aroma and texture. Maybe this is a vintage that will divide opinion. Some will miss the fruit depth, others might celebrate the more cerebral tone.
Please don’t like this too much as it isn’t a trick we are likely to be able to pull off without the help of another extreme warm spell. Indeed, as we can already see from the 2017’s, which come from a cooler, windy, snowy and generally gnarly vintage, normal service will be resumed next release whether we like it or not!
But it seems appropriate that such a unique vintage should have such a unique thumbprint. In may be counter-intuitive that a long warm season gives a lighter, more dancing style, but seizing the moment seems to have pulled off a surprising result. And in doing so it has helped us understand the process of ripeness in a unique wine growing environment.
Why does a warm, late summer create lower sugars and a relatively earlier harvest opportunity?
We have three factors playing here. The first is that peak efficiency in photosynthesis occurs below 30C. So as the weather gets warmer, vines produce less sugar. The second is that our normal nights are so cold that the vines go into a sort of dormancy for the coldest part of the night. As the vines get colder, their metabolism slows down and they respire less. Since respiration uses up sugar, slowing up the respiration causes less sugar to be consumed. So retained sugars get higher with cold nights. Lastly, that dormancy at night stops the clock on the physical ripening process, so it takes longer for the vines to get physically ripe. Since the physical ripeness is the cue we need for the right time to pick, if the nights are cold, the harvest is later. So, if the harvest runs, say, 7 days later, that is an extra 7 days of daytime ripening which is adding to the sugars.
Second on the agenda the troubling issue of pricing. We have been persuaded to lower our ex winery pricing slightly to offset the pain of Sterlings collapse to junk currency status. (I have been advised that my previous comparisons to its new found parity with the Matabele gumbo bead might be viewed as culturally insensitive and unfair the Matabele). We have always been very conservative with pricing leading to the almost incredible fact that our UK wines have only risen by 12% in the last 15 years in NZ dollar terms. So, against inflation, prices have dropped over 15 years!
We have to pass the bulk of the change in value on, so prices have risen about 17% over the 15’s. This still leaves the wines looking pretty sharp pricing compared with many top New Zealand Pinots.
Lastly, we were somewhat gobsmacked to be advised that the Drinks International “World’s most admired wine brands” has us making it’s debut at number 13! For such a small winery to attract that much attention took us aback a little, not to mention the position, which puts us immediately behind Vega Sicilia, but just ahead of Chateau Petrus and Sassicaia! Heady company to contemplate.”