The onset of a cold and wet autumn marked a swift and definitive end to one of the longest seasons I can remember. It was unusually wet with the highest Winter/Spring rainfall in nearly a decade. This meant excellent growth but required an enormous amount of labour in the vineyard.
Suckering had to be followed up twice to facilitate wind movement through the canopy which prevents rot. Leaf breaking was laborious and took forever. Exposing the bunches to sunlight is a practise long used at Iona as a means of getting rid of some of the overtly green flavours in the finished wines, especially on the Sauvignons where we prefer a floral profile rather than the caricatured New Zealand style. This painstaking detail is deemed essential by us to ensure the quality of fruit we want to make wine from. Topping of the vines was necessary in most of the blocks barring the Red Varietals which all seem to think they are growing in the Sahara and for whom the extra water this year was actually a boon. This was a year where slopes with good drainage and lots of stone, showed their pedigree, and anyone who tells you they got away scot free with rot is talking rubbish. The possibility of rot loomed like a black cloud over my head, especially as the middle of March rolled on and Iona had yet to harvest a single grape.
As it turned out if you’d survived December and early January you were home and dry. But it still required that we harvest with some discretion in the vineyard and do some fine tuning on the sorting table. Werner (our winemaker) had previously made his intentions clear that he wished to spend more time in the vineyards with the teams, and without his support in the vineyards this year I doubt we would have coped half as well. At the end of season party when he thanked the teams, both farm and contract workers, he mentioned most by name which was perhaps the real give away as to how involved and how much time he really spent in the vineyards this year. The additional effort required in the vineyards this season, was however, well rewarded. Yields were encouragingly generous – as a rule we have learnt to accept that in this cooler climate our fertility rate is not as reliable as the warmer areas – so an extra ton per hectare is always a bonus, especially when you have a healthy vine to support the extra bunches. Come harvest, fruit had hung for an average of two weeks longer than usual, guaranteeing physiological ripeness which is so imperative for balanced wines with ageing potential.