Our Winemaking Philosophy
At Waipara Hills our winemaking philosophy is simple. It’s about allowing the characteristics of each season’s fruit to shine, creating perfect balance with as little interference as possible. The result is wine that is rich, vibrant and bursting with complex flavour. For us every harvest signals the beginning of a new adventure, creating wine that is distinctly from our place – a place where from contrast comes beauty.
After completing a degree in commerce and marketing, Simon studied winemaking at Lincoln University in Canterbury. He then spent several years travelling between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres working harvest and following styles and winemaking techniques, until he was offered a fulltime position at De Loach Vineyards in the Russian River, California in 1999. After four seasons Simon travelled to France for his next harvest and made wine in the Loire.
In 2006 he was excited to be offered a role as winemaker at Waipara Hills, an opportunity to work in an emerging wine region with aromatic varieties such as Riesling and Pinot Gris, two of Simon’s favourites. Several years on, Simon has played an instrumental role in forging the direction of the Waipara Hills wine styles, seeking to reflect both the region that they come from and the people that work to create them.
With the greatest number of varieties of all the regions, Waipara often has the most prolonged harvest. The first fruit picked in Waipara was the same block as last year with the hand harvesting of some Clone 95 chardonnay for the Equinox range on the 28th of March. This region also enjoyed the fantastic summer conditions which stretched along the entire east coast of New Zealand. Sauvignon Blanc developed some great flavours, with ripe nectarine and stone fruit characters predominating. It’s different from the typical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc flavour spectrum, but delicious all the same.
The other highlight was the first harvest of fruit which had been grown using organic methods. Separate parcels of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling were grown without the use of synthetic herbicides or fungicides in a trial to see the resulting quality of fruit produced. This will be continued for the next two years as a learning experience for both vineyard and winery staff. The fruit this first year looked very exciting on the vine and I am looking forward to seeing the resulting wines at grading.
Waipara as a region seem to love growing great Pinot Gris and Riesling. The fruit develops lovely ripe fruit flavours without necessarily accumulating too much sugar which produces wines of intensity and finesse without excessive alcohol content. I fully expect that 2013 will produce Pinot Gris that will match some of the best examples of 2011.
For the record, harvest started on the 28th of March and was completed with the final Pinot Gris harvested on the 1st of May.
Simon McGeorge, Winemaker
Every year when I come to describing how the past vintage has gone I inadvertently end up using quite similar words, like “challenging”, “stressful” and “rewarding” and I guess this is due to the nature of wine growing, which is so dependent on the weather and the “ups and downs” of the season. This season has been no exception in that way and yet has taken things further than ever before in certain ways.
We started the season without too many surprises with budburst about the usual time, followed by a few frosts but nothing unusual and nothing that couldn’t be managed. The flowering was however not so good and the crops that we went into the season with were estimated to be 15-20% down on normal. This isn’t the end of the world as it meant that considerably less shoot and fruit thing was required to get a balanced crop. Then the Summer arrived, or didn’t arrive as the case may be. I don’t have the stats, but it felt like one of the coolest Summers here for quite some time and while it didn’t rain significantly more than usual, the cooler temps really delayed the ripening of the fruit.
By mid-March, when our Harvest Crew was starting to arrive, we were still a long way from looking to harvest anything and with occasional showers coming through we were starting to get nervous. However the Autumn settled in, the warmer weather did finally arrive and eventually (about 3 weeks late) the first fruit was harvested in great condition. From a late start the harvesting picked up quickly after that and we ended up having one of the most condensed harvest periods in recent memory, which made for a busy time.
The cooler season overall has produced wines with higher levels of Malic acid than normal, which means crisper acidity and in some cases more structured wines. The Riesling has lovely fruit depth, crisp acidity balanced with a generous mid palate. The Pinot Gris is really quite opulent and lifted already, which is surprising given it’s age. The Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough show lovely vibrancy and depth. The Pinot Noirs all look bright and fruity yet with some decent structure and length, even though a number of them have yet to finish MLF. It’s hugely satisfying to see the wines looking as good as they are after what was quite a stressful and worrying harvest season.
Simon McGeorge, Winemaker
2011 has been one of those harvests that seemed really long, but when looking back you realise that it wasn’t as long as many. There have been plenty of weather concerns and the different varieties and clones have performed differently as a result of these.
The season started off early, with stable and unexpectedly warm temperatures in Spring waking the vines about two weeks earlier than normal. The frost period didn’t affect things too badly either. The vines went into the growing season in good condition. The crops that set weren’t as heavy as those we saw in 2008, but were still very generous considering what the vines could realistically carry through to ripeness. The vineyard managers started a serious programme of crop adjustment to bring those varieties that we had concerns about into line.
The early growth meant we anticipated an early to mid March start for harvest, but cooler weather and rain in February delayed this. Our first fruit in the winery this year was the Central Otago Pinot Noir on the 25th March. The Waipara Valley Sauvignon Blanc came in soon after, approx a week later than normal.
The variety that really stood out this season was Waipara Valley Pinot Gris. I’ve always thought that it liked the longer “hang-time” season as I call it, and this year really re-enforced this opinion. The Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc also showed some lovely flavours and good texture and the Waipara Valley Chardonnay is looking fresh and vibrant. The 10-5 clone of Pinot Noir had a great year, developing depth and concentration that has rarely been seen in other years. The Dijon and Davis clones found this season a lot more difficult, although they’re looking nice and vibrant now they’re in tank.
Simon McGeorge, Waipara Hillls Winemaker