Celebrating 25 Years – March 2024

It is 25 years since we started planting our vineyard. Each month we are reflecting on our journey and sharing some of our stories and our older wines. This month we are recalling some of the trials and tribulations of our early harvests.

Blue Earth Estate vineyard from the hill behind.  Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes and olives

Finally, a harvest

We got there eventually, but it was rocky road.

For our first harvest, we battled wasps. We only had nine rows producing that first year, so every grape was precious. The nets were on to protect the grapes from birds. The weather forecast was looking promising. And then the wasps arrived. Whole bunches of grapes were smothered in wasps who managed to pierce holes in the ripe fruit and then hollow out the berries so only the skin remained. The wasps were not tempted by the jam we used to try and lure them to the traps or the poison. Our next attempt was to knock them off the bunches. The wasps being drunk on the ripe fruit would fall to the group and lie there while we stamped on them. But there were too many. In the end we resorted to going out with small paint brushes and painting poison on the back of wasps hoping they would take it back to their nests. It must have worked as we did not have it ever happen quite like that again, but it was a very reduced first crop.

The next year, it was again looking promising, but as the bunches ripened, we noticed that some of the berries started to shrivel and were falling off. We were assured by experienced viticulturalists that “shatter” would sometimes happen due to a nutritional issue, but we were unlikely to lose more than ten percent. But that ten percent expanded to much more like fifty percent. A glum harvest was followed by soil and leaf testing and the application of trace minerals so we could rectify the issue for the future.

In the following years, the trouble started earlier in spring. Wind. Wind strong enough to snap canes off the vines during the early months of the season. Strong enough to strip leaves off the canes later in the season.

Through these years, Mike regularly muttered that we should just pull the vineyard out. Margaret would resist saying we have invested too much time and effort to do that.

And finally it all settled down. We got the soils in balance so the plants were healthier and stronger. We found techniques to manage the climate challenges. We started putting up wind net every five rows in the vineyard to protect the plants. And would then have to take them down again in January, so the fruit would not be shaded and could ripen evenly. We learnt to spot trouble early and then deal to it. All through this time the Martinborough Vineyard crew were helping us. They were almost as excited as we were when we got our first harvest.

Every season has hiccups. You start each year with full promise, and then wait to see what goes wrong. But the plants have got older, stronger and healthier. We have got wiser, and more fatalistic. And we get to drink beautiful wines even from those challenging years.