To cap off a week of conversations with our region's organic Pinot Noir wine producers to celebrate #pinotnoirday, we are in the picturesque valley of Waipara with the team at Greystone.
Michael Saunders, Company Viticulturist and Dom Maxwell, Winemaker talks about the challenges and opportunities of making Pinot Noir in Waipara.
During seasons with a lot of disease pressure what organic methods do you use to combat these? As we build resilience in the vines by improving balance and encouraging the vines natural immunity we still rely on an organic spray program to compliment our cultural management techniques. We physically manage the canopy to allow natures best fungicides; air and sunlight to ward off disease. Air helps dry the canopy and reduce humidity (humidity aids fungal disease development) and most fungal pathogens are UV intolerant so getting sunlight into the canopy and onto bunches helps prevent disease development. We manage this by restricting bud numbers at pruning to allow room for each shoot to grow freely, shoot thinning early season to open the canopy and remove any unwanted shoots, then leaf pluck just after flowering to open the canopy and allow sunlight onto bunches as they enter their critical expansion phase. How has the 2019/2020 growing season compared with other seasons in Waipara? Covid-19 aside, the season was a very good one for North Canterbury. It wasn’t quite as good as 2017/2018 in terms of heat and GDD, but it was more consistent allowing for gradual development of sugars and flavour as the season progressed. Rainfall was low, allowing us to apply just the right measured amount of irrigation to keep the vines cranking while also encouraging them to send roots deep looking for water, building resilience. Some late season rain at the end of March and some early frosts increased harvest stress levels, but overall fruit came in clean and healthy with solid sugar levels.
Have the vineyards adapted fully to organic viticulture if they started as a 'conventional’ vineyard? No. But I think the bigger question is how are the vineyards coping with evolving vineyard management techniques? As our understanding of plant and soil biology and health grows, our management techniques change and like any cycle, the vines have to adapt and evolve to the different processes. For every challenge you throw at a grapevine, you need to buffer it by assisting it in some way. For example, remove synthetic fungicides, increase cultural canopy management to increase air and sunlight exposure. For example, increase undervine competition, increase soil biology to help the vine tap into nutrients locked up in the soil profile. I think our vineyards are still adapting post conversion, but we’re also still putting extra challenges in front of them. These challenges will ultimately help balance and develop resilience in the vine and produce better quality fruit. How do you think organic and/or biodynamic processes affect the flavour profile of the wine, do you see this during winemaking process? Organically grown fruit arrives, often with a sheen or a bloom. It’s a sign of healthy microbial life on the fruit and therefore from the vineyard. As we ferment with natural yeasts this bloom is so important to providing a healthy wild ferment. It means the juice will ferment well...which flows through to the wine’s aroma and flavour profile. Whilst a ever present sense of fruit prevails in the wines, it is the natural earthy and more mineral characters that we see shining through in the wild ferments from organic fruit. What is the most commonly asked question about organic Pinot Noir from Waipara? A couple of the most common questions (and our answers!) we get with regards to organic wine are:
- Does it help show a sense of terroir? YES absolutely … limiting added inputs means limiting outside influence to the wine. - Is it just for marketing purposes? NO absolutely not…the benefits are endless from making more unique wines, helping soil and plant health, assisting biodiversity and benefiting staff health.
Dom Maxwell and Mike Saunders