What a difference a year makes

In the past couple of weeks I’ve kicked the dirt and studied bunches of grapes in Central Otago, Marlborough, Nelson, Kumeu and Matakana. In the next couple of weeks I plan to visit Canterbury and Hawke’s Bay. It’s a nerve-wracking time for the nation’s grape-growers. Cold wet weather during flowering, heavy rain just before harvest, hail or frost can mean a trip to the bank with cap in hand.

La Nina has given grape-growers cause for optimism. The same hot, dry weather that put a smile on the face of holidaymakers has made a lot of grape-growers very happy. Drought conditions don’t suit sheep or cattle but irrigated grapevines love it. If the current weather continues to the end of harvest the new car and tractor salesmen in each of our wine regions are going to have a bountiful year.

It’s not all good news. The area of productive vineyards increased by around 10% this year but the tonnage of grapes harvested is not likely to rise by a similar figure. Early frost damage in Hawke’s Bay, the country’s second largest wine region, seems likely to reduce the crop by up to 50% according to one commentator. Other regions have also suffered damage but not to the same extent.

What does the size and quality of a vintage mean to the wine drinker? Quite a lot. Large vintages can sometimes be an indication of over-cropping resulting in dilute flavours. That’s particularly true of wines such as Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. On the plus side when supply increases the price may drop a little.

Top French wines are very price-elastic, dropping dramatically in poor vintages and rising just as dramatically in good and great vintages. The top Bordeaux producer, Chateau Haut Brion (tastings), sold in this country for $850 in the excellent 2000 vintage but dropped to $230 a bottle in the slightly below average 2002 year. In the great 2005 vintage it fetched about $1500.

In this country prices don’t change too much from year to year even if quality does. The message for wine drinkers is clear: stock up on good vintages and boycott the bad. Here’s how to pick the good from the bad.

It’s a good vintage if …

  • A high percentage of “Reserve” or flagship wines are produced
  • The winery owner trades his Holden for a Mercedes
  • It’s described as “the best vintage ever”

It’s a poor vintage if …

  • There’s a lot of Rosé on the market (in a light vintage it’s possible to beef up red wines by “bleeding” off juice to make Rosé)
  • The winery owner decides not to take the family to Fiji this year
  • It’s described as the vintage of the century

New Zealand Vintage Charts

White Wine

2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000
Auckland – Chardonnay 8 8 8 7 6 8 6 9
Gisborne – Chardonnay 9 7 8 8 6 9 6 7
Hawke’s Bay – Chardonnay 8 8 7 8 5 9 6 8
Martinborough – Chardonnay 7 8 6 6 7 6 9 9
Nelson – Chardonnay 8 8 10 8 9 8 9 8
Marlborough – Sauv. Blanc 9 9 7 8 8 6 9 9
Marlborough – Chardonnay 8 8 8 7 8 7 9 9
Canterbury – Chardonnay 7 7 6 7 8 7 9 8
Otago – Chardonnay 7 7 6 5 8 9 8 7

Red Wine

2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000
Waiheke Cab/Merlot 8 7 9 9 5 8 6 7
Gisborne – Merlot 8 7 7 8 7 9 5 8
Hawke’s Bay – Cab/Merlot 9 8 7 8 5 9 6 8
Martinborough – Pinot Noir 8 8 6 6 8 6 8 8
Nelson – Pinot Noir 8 8 10 7 9 8 9 8
Marlborough – Pinot Noir 8 8 8 8 8 7 8 9
Canterbury – Pinot Noir 7 7 6 7 8 9 8 9
Otago – Pinot Noir 8 8 7 6 9 8 8 8

10 = It doesn’t get better than this 0 = Well, there’s always next year

To hell with the price

Dog Point 2006 Pinot Noir, Marlborough $36

Best online price: $35.99 plus freight (Caro’s Wines)

This is great Pinot Noir with masses of ripe cherry and plum flavours plus a drop-dead silken texture. It knocks spots off many far more expensive wines. – view on bobcampbell.nz

Impress your friends

Muddy Water 2006 Unplugged Riesling, Waipara $26

Best online price: $22.37 plus freight (True Wines)

If this was a German Riesling with price tag of $40 I’d think it was a bargain. It’s quite sweet with a suggestion of honeyed botrytis influence balanced by mouth-wateringly crisp acidity. An absolute classic from a vintage that may never be duplicated. – view on bobcampbell.nz

The right side of $20

Waimea 2005 Dry Riesling, Nelson $17.90

Classy bone-dry Riesling at a great price. Lovely bottle-developed wine with lime, mineral, toast and spicy apple flavours. – view on bobcampbell.nz


First published in Your Home and Garden Magazine – Apr 2008.

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