On our first, bright and hot, morning in New Zealand we visited Kumeu River estate, world-famous for its Chardonnay production. We learnt:
- Unusually the vines here are predominantly Lyre-trained (see the pictures). The split canopy means better exposure to both the sun (helps with ripening) and breezes (less disease). The vines are planted at 2,500 per hectare so they can easily carry the load.
- New Zealand is bird paradise and so all the vineyards have to be netted as the berries go through the change known as veraison. After all the vine’s whole reproductive strategy is based on ripe grapes being attractive to birds.
- Although Kumeu River, north of Auckland, is far north in New Zealand (and therefore has a warm climate), the cool climate variety Chardonnay excels here because of the cooling influence of the two oceans on either side of the isthmus.
- The key piece of winery equipment here are the two pneumatic presses which gently press whole bunches and produce high-quality juice with some solids. The aim is to make structured wines with some capacity to age – if you can resist them when young.
- All the top wines are fermented in barriques. This gives both better integration with oak and a less oxidative effect than fermentation in tank followed by oak ageing.
- Through testing at the university, Kumeu River knows that they have a unique population of yeasts based on vineyard yeasts.
- All the wines go through 100% malo in order to soften the naturally high acidities. The total acidity starts at between 8 and 9 in the vineyard and drops to between 6 and 7 by bottling.
- Grape tannins, flavonoids, are vital to the quality and texture of Chardonnay, according to Michael Brajkovich MW, – though we don’t yet understand why.
- The estate is increasingly focused on Chardonnay, with the Merlot being replaced by the former; a small amount of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir is also grown. A small production of sparkling wines is underway.
- Needless to say they have a great range of wines at ‘village’, ‘estate’ and single-vineyard level for Pinot Gris, Chardonnay (of course) and Pinot Noir. The Chardonnay stars were Hunting Hill 2010 and the Maté’s Vineyard 2006.
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