Vintage 2013 Marlborough

2013 could be the best vintage we’ve ever seen. Superb Sauvignon Blanc with wonderful intensity and balance and really intense yet elegant Pinot Noir with great tannin structure layers of flavour and length.

Sauvignon Blanc

It was a fascinating Sauvignon Blanc vintage for Churton.

As a result of the very cold growing season the previous year we knew our yields would be low. We didn’t expect them to be quite so low. Our better blocks yielded about 6 Tonnes to the hectare(42hl/ha) some yielded no more than 4t/ha (28hl/ha). Putting this into context the average yield for Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough is around 12T/ha (90hl/ha). Even in a normal year we aim for about 56hl/ha, considerably less than the regional average. What this gives is wines with a good deal of intensity and fruit weight. Churton Sauvignon Blanc is typically made from yellow fruit, that is fully ripe and not over ripe. Conventional Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is usually a mix of under ripe ( green and herbaceous); ripe; and over ripe fruit (tropical). Without getting too technical this delivers that over the top grassy and tropical style. At Churton we are looking for a tighter more subtle spectrum of flavours; truly, dry, elegant and minerally wines, they have layers of fruit, texture and length. A very different style of Sauvignon Blanc.

We hand harvest the majority of our Sauvignon Blanc. This allows an emphasises on delicacy, and wines with great acid balance. Hand harvested fruit is simply transported in baskets to the winery then run across a sorting table. This year was a bad year for bird damage. It seems that a dry season in Marlborough leads to more interest from birds as they search for water. Then, they find sweet grapes and… so sorting this year was mostly to pull out bird damage. The grapes are loaded directly to the press. Each different parcel is picked and processed and fermented separately. Picking for Sauvignon Blanc continued for 10 days in excellent weather conditions which allowed for slow development of sugars and aromas. We picked all Sauvignon between 22.5 and 24o BrIx (12.5-13.5% Alcohol).

Over the past few years we’ve changed our fermentation management significantly. The emphasis once again is on building texture fruit weight and length. At Churton we don’t chase the chimeara of “thiol based aromas”. These are the short lived aromatic compounds that produce caricature wines: wines that have exaggerated aromatics but no heart and soul and no body or length. At Churton our maturation is slow and considered! We barrel ferment in large oak (in 2013 we have up to 20% in 500l, puncheons and 600l, demi-muids ) then allow long slow lees ageing, natural clearing and then minimal handling before bottling. We anticipate bottling in March 2014.



Pinot Noir

Another great Pinot Noir vintage for Churton.

 As with the Sauvignon Blanc  in the Pinot Noir we had a good flowering  ensuring evenly mature bunches with good berry  numbers. However in the end  we ended up with rather low yields ( around 3.5t/ha or 25hl/ha). This has delivered very concentrated wines with a really good backbone of fine, lacy tannins.

In the vineyard we do a lot of hand work. for 2013 the key activities were taking laterals out ion the fruit zone. This helps to open up the fruit zone of the vine ensuring good air movement. It also removes second set ( later flowering bunches)  Unlike the often used practice of leaf plucking lateral removal retains some leaf cover over the fruit. This we regard as important as it stop the bunches being sunburnt and over heating. This retains freshness and fruit aromatics in the grapes.

Often leaf plucking is justified as wine makers are trying to get fruit tannins ripe. At Churton our approach is very different. Though light has its part to play in tannin maturity the more important aspect is to regulate water uptake in the period leading up to veraison. Our belief is that with proper soil management ( biodynamic) allowing for deep rooting vines we regulate the slow up take of water. This in turn helps tannin maturation. In 2013 we had a dry year, a very dry spring led to a dry summer with only one major rain event. The benefits of deep rooting vines was certainly evident in the Churton Pinot noir blocks.

We hand harvest all our Pinot Noir and transport cool morning picked fruit to the winery for immediate destemming (100%) and then maceration. We had to hurry to harvest over the Easter weekend ( B. Northern hemisphere festivals do not suit the southern hemisphere growing season) to prevent the grapes from becoming over ripe. This year our ferments, all of which are indigenous yeast ferments ,started with 7 -10 days of picking. With very robust fruit and good tannin maturity we were a little more extractive in our handling during fermentation ( plunging twice a day with an aerative pump over as well if necessary). Ferments were sweet and clean with everything going dry promptly. Our usual long post ferment macerations followed with most cuves being on skins for 28-31 days. Thence to barrel, traditional piece bourguignon 205 of which were new. Anticipated bottling will be September 2014.

Weather Conditions

Sauvignon Blanc floweringThe season started with a wet winter. Pruning was finished in mid September. We deliberately pruned the vineyard with shorter canes than normal to help combat the lack of vigour from the previous season. Shorter canes mean less buds, which in turn means lower yields. Bud burst was a little late, not starting until late September for Pinot Noir and early October for Sauvignon Blanc. We then had a very dry spring with good flowering across all varieties at about normal time early to mid December. Even though we had a successful flowering the bunch numbers were down as a result of the cold weather in 2012. We then had a fantastic long dry summer. Some good and much needed rain arrived at the end of January and we then reverted to warm dry weather with cool nights right through until harvest. The lead up to harvest was perfect. We started picking Pinot Noir on 28th March (3 days later than average) and Sauvignon Blanc on 1st April.

We harvested wonderful, clean fruit in all varieties finishing harvest with Petit Manseng on 1st May. Though the yields were very low the quality is absolutely exceptional.

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