New Zealand Climate Map
Nigel Greening already owned Cornish Point vineyard when he purchased Felton Road from the Elms family. The high success rate of wine enterprises in Central Otago, despite the widespread belief that Pinot Noir was a difficult grape to grow and the limited experience of winemakers and investors there, had first stimulated his interest in the region and he became intimately acquainted with its terrain, soils and viticulture. Following some intensive fieldwork as he searched for suitable parcels of land, Nigel found a number of sites where the slope, terrain and aspect met his criteria. They ranged from Lowburn to Bendigo to the Felton Road locality. ‘Another one we short-listed was the back paddocks beyond Felton Road that has now just been developed.’
Buying his preferred sites proved much more difficult because most were part of large sheep stations. When Cornish Point came on the market, he finally found what he was looking for. This triangular parcel of land at the confluence of the Kawarau and Clutha rivers has excellent cool-air drainage. Damaging frosts are rare on this site, as Cossens’ work had shown for the whole of the Cromwell Gorge. Nigel was especially impressed by the enthusiasm of the locals for the quality of the apricots grown on this site: ‘I’d spoken to a lot of locals and they’d all said, “Oh, the Cornish Point apricots, they’re the first to ripen – best tasting apricots in the region.”’ Such direct physiological evidence was weightier than the limited climatic data available.
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The owner was planning to subdivide a few sections on the site and sell the rest as a parcel but Nigel convinced him to sell it all. It is now in vines – 7.6 hectares. When he purchased the land he already had clear ideas for the configuration of the vineyard:
My idea from the start was I wanted this to be a laboratory. I want to try every which way possible and see which way works. So the idea with this was to break it into blocks. And we sized the blocks to a convenient small fermenter size. So it’s 25 blocks here, each the size of a 3-tonne fermenter.
The large number of small blocks was designed to allow as many combinations of rootstocks as possible with the clones of Pinot Noir available at the time (Table 8.7): ‘Obviously with rootstocks we’re trying to match the soils – we’ve got sixteen different combinations of clone and rootstock.’
To ensure production while the experiment proceeded and to keep costs down, half of the Cornish Point vineyard was planted in the popular clones proven in New Zealand (10/5, 5 and 6), all directly on their own roots. Nigel’s ultimate aim for the clonal mix is much more ambitious. The most successful combinations of rootstocks and clones will replace these vines on their own roots: ‘In ten years’ time we’ll have the entire thing on grafted plants with our dream team of clones!’
Nigel’s vineyard experimentation was not restricted to clones and rootstocks. He seriously considered planting some of Cornish Point at the traditional Burgundian spacing of about 1 metre in the row and 1 metre between rows giving 10,000 vines per hectare. He finally decided not to complicate the Cornish Point experiment by increasing the density, as it would have required hand-cultivation of the vines, or a tractor and equipment suited to the narrow rows. But he couldn’t resist planting a small area at this higher density on part of the Felton Road property: ‘Just over an acre planted in Dijon clone 777. It’s going to be our Grand Cru experiment!’
Nigel Greening also has some pretty futuristic ideas for marketing their wines online. A virtual, but real, winery would allow the consumer to, for example, order wines aged in different oaks, to know the physical characteristics of the sites that influence the tannin structure, sugar content and flavours of wines in different seasons, and order mixed cases of Pinot Noir that have been fermented and aged separately in different barrels. This approach is analogous to an appellation system, with the enterprise and its practices ensuring the integrity and distinctiveness of the wine, rather than a geographic parcelling of space based on assumed relationships between the natural environment and the wine’s quality. Such an approach to marketing also makes commercial sense because retail sales would be made direct to the consumer.
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