NZ 2017 – cyclone-hit but no write-off

Vintage 2017 New Zealand

tasting with Michael Brajkovich of Kumeu River

With the 2017 vintage, New Zealand suffered some of the most challenging weather in recent memory. Cool temperatures early in the season created variable fruit set, and delayed ripening. Then, just as vineyards caught up in ripening, two cyclones moved across the country – the first a week into March, and the second just a week later – bringing record rainfalls and extensive flooding during harvest. Each of the maritime-influenced growing regions was impacted by the weather with many vineyards suffering split fruit and high disease pressure as a result. Thanks to its surrounding mountains, Central Otago was spared from both cyclones, instead merely maintaining cool temperatures which prolonged the growing season.

Many wines from across the country reflect the difficult weather. Some varieties were simply not harvested as the rains essentially destroyed them on the vine. Larger producers with the capabilities for extensive manipulation in the cellar will probably bring those varieties to market anyway. The weather brought with it increased variability in quality on a site by site basis, also depending largely on the farming practices implemented long before the rains came. Well-managed farming proved essential to ripening fruit before the rains hit, or restoring vine balance between storms. As a result, there are good wines to be expected from New Zealand’s 2017 vintage. The key to finding them rests in knowing the producer and their farming practices. Short of that, looking to smaller, more hands-on wineries is a safe first bet.

In late 2017 I met with winemakers across the country tasting 2017 wines from barrel to see how such a challenging harvest would show in the wines. The best producers from the country are well aware of meeting and even exceeding quality expectations. Many managed yields in the vineyards to encourage earlier ripening, thus increasing the likelihood of harvesting before any autumn storms. In the case of varieties devastated by the rains, the best producers simply did not make wine from that fruit. In other cases, producers have chosen to declassify less successful wines. Many smaller-production producers have multiple quality tiers in their portfolio. Among them I consistently saw wineries choosing to bottle wines at the quality level appropriate to the final outcome of the wines, rather than by the previous history for the cuvee. I asked producers to share their insights on the weather and resulting wines from the vintage. Those I have included here are among those whose 2017s I would recommend on the basis of what I tasted in their cellar.

The following looks at growing conditions from the major growing regions of New Zealand moving north to south, and west to east (see your online map of the wine regions).

Kumeu

Vintage in the Kumeu region west of Auckland started with unusually cool temperatures, which would normally delay vine growth. However, persistent winds throughout the season seemed to re-balance …

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