A Trip Through New Zealand Harvest
We’re heading to the Southern Hemisphere on the blog this month. We love to take you to one side of the world for a glass of deliciousness and then bring you back to California from time to time
As you likely know, the seasons are flipped, so while we just entered Spring here in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s Fall for our winemaking team in New Zealand. Harvesting grapes, or picking the fruit, is the first and most important step of the winemaking process. Whether you’re hand picking or machine harvesting, it takes time, patience and a little bit of intuition. Knowing when to pick the fruit isn’t an exact science — it requires measuring the level of sugar in the grapes (this is called brix) and some degree of gut feeling to know when the grapes are ready, which is usually based on taste.
Our Assistant Winemaker Diana Hawkins is based in New Zealand (you may remember her from our Women’s History Month feature - read it here). We are going to get to see harvest through her eyes. It’s not too often that you get the chance to go behind the scenes with the women at work in the vineyards and winery. But that’s just what we do. Break the rules. Drink the wine.
Winemaking in New Zealand is an art that spans across 10 main wine regions. Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough and Central Otago are areas which all attract a significant amount of wine tourism due to their international reputation for producing excellent wines, and they are where we make our wines at McBride Sisters.
Map Source: Wine Traveler
The McBride Sisters Collection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc comes from the top of the South Island in Marlborough and the McBride Sisters Collection Sparkling Brut Rosé (available in store only) comes from the Hawke's Bay region in the North Island.
Now let’s catch up with Diana as she heads to Hawke’s Bay for harvest of our McBride Sisters Collection Sparkling Brut Rosé this year.
Located on the North Island, Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s oldest wine region, with the first plantings of vineyards dating back to the 1850s. It is also the second-largest wine region, with production reaching approximately 41,000 tonnes of fruit in 2018 which is approximately 41 million bottles of wine, according to New Zealand Winegrower’s Annual Report. The temperate climate and excess sunshine, which is moderated by the region's proximity to the sea, make it the perfect area for fruit-growing.
Source: Audley Travel
The Drive Down
Diana: “The drive down to Hawke’s Bay was stunning, with winding mountain roads and breath-taking views. It’s tucked between the Kaweka and Ruahine ranges and the Pacific Ocean. Like most of New Zealand, the region is geologically active. It borders a geothermal power plant and isn’t far from Lake Taupō, which is, technically speaking, atop a dormant volcano.
When you come down the mountains, the coast finally comes into view. Then, in the blink of an eye, you’re out of the hills and surrounded by vineyards and orchards. Hawke’s Bay is known as the fruit basket of New Zealand. With ample sunshine and warm summer days, fruits and veggies grow abundantly here, including grapevines. Between the farm-fresh produce and award-winning wines, it’s a foodie’s paradise.
After settling in, I checked out the towns of Hastings and Napier. In 1931, Napier and parts of Hastings were razed to the ground after a 7.8 earthquake. The quake also changed the entire layout of the area, raising some coastal areas by almost 6 feet and turning them into dry land. When the towns rebuilt, they did so in an Art Deco style. To this day, Napier embraces that era with 1920s themed shops and attractions.”
We’re Off To The Races
Diana: “The next morning, I joined the team at the winery to get to know some of the vintage (another word for harvest) crew. The first fruit was Pinot Noir from the Twin Rivers vineyard in Te Awanga. The fruit was picked in the vineyard and delivered to us in the winery. We’re working with Pinot Noir grapes first to make our Sparkling Brut Rose. These grapes are picked earlier than other varietals because sparkling wine grapes are picked for flavor and acidity.”
Pinot Noir Vineyards in Hawke's Bay are in blue & pink shown via Google Maps
The earlier grapes are picked during harvest, the higher the acidity they will generally have. Acid in sparkling wine gives these crowd pleasers life and vibrancy.
“The vines themselves were planted on sandy loam soils at a vineyard between the Tukituki and Ngaruroro rivers. The vines were trellised using the Sylvos method, which is pretty unique and something I hadn’t come across before. It’s utilized here because it allows for better airflow and higher quality fruit for sparkling wine.”
From Grapes to Wine
Diana: “When the grapes came in, they are immediately pressed. We press them more gently because we want to get the juice out of the grapes, but not any of the bitter flavors that are present in the seeds. Grape skins are what give red wine its color. Without them, you end up with a pale pink rosé, which is exactly what we’re looking for.
Once the juice was pressed, it was sent to tanks for fermentation. Fermentation occurs when yeast gobble up sugars and produce alcohol and CO2. Because they’re living breathing organisms and essential to the winemaking process, as a winemaker it’s really important to ensure they’ve got everything they need to get the job done. That could mean giving them a bit of nutrition or a cheerleading session by yours truly to keep their spirits up.
Once fermentation starts, the color of the juice gets paler, the sugar level goes way down, and the key flavors you usually find in the wine start to take shape. It is no longer Pinot Noir juice; it’s officially baby Pinot Noir rosé with an electrifying acid backbone and hints of strawberry and raspberry. A wine that will eventually make our delicious McBride Sisters Collection Sparkling Brut Rosé!”
The harvest in New Zealand is something very special. The country is unlike any other region in terms of natural beauty and a pureness of place, the climate is simply perfect for the wine styles we produce. Harvest takes a village and we have Diana leading the charge to make sure we craft the most delicious glass of bubbles you will ever taste.
We can’t wait for you to pick up a few bottles of our next release of McBride Sisters Collection Sparkling Brut Rosé that’s being made right now. We hope this look into the winemaking process gives you more of an idea of the work and LOVE that goes into every bottle.