New Zealand Map South Island
Four and a half tonnes per acre is over 10.5 tonnes per hectare. These are very high yields compared to those for the Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards of a region such as Burgundy, or even Sancerre, where yields are restricted under the appellation laws. It does appear that even when produced at higher yields in the natural environment of the Marlborough region (and some other parts of New Zealand), Sauvignon Blanc grapes do reach an intensity of flavour that is more difficult to achieve in other parts of the world.
After the establishment phase, which lasted until the mid-1990s, the Forrest winery was often larger than necessary for the tonnage of grapes their company harvested -an ‘overcapacity’ which rests on the variability of Marlborough’s weather in the early autumn and the effects it can have on different varieties:
If you get a frost, you’ve got ten days to get the fruit off and avoid that leafy character. You can get rain – you’ve got ten days to sort of grab things. If it’s really hot, rather than having three or three and a half weeks to do your Sauvignon Blanc vintage, you’ve got to do it in 10 days.
In the years of temperature extremes, such as 1998, this strategy paid off handsomely:
Up until then ’90 was our previous hottest year. I knew how quickly flavours change here for Sauvignon. So I was awake to that and we started vintage on the 14th of March. I didn’t plan to, but when I saw how quickly things were changing in the vineyard – completely unripe on one side of the row, to overripe on the other – I said, ‘God, we’ve got to move here!’ But I had the capacity built in to do it. We were finished by the 1st of April for Sauvignon.
New Zealand Map South Island Photo Gallery
Such flexibility from staged investment in the winery, coupled with astute observation of the vineyards’ responses to different weather and climate events in each season and across the years, can make substantial differences to the profitability of winegrowing enterprises.
John and Brigid Forrest have improved the probabilities of success for their wine enterprise in other ways. Although partly fortuitous, establishing and maintaining a substantial presence in two regions has enabled them to present a much stronger portfolio of wines to their distributors. On marketing trips within New Zealand, but especially overseas, John Forrest captures some extra kudos by bringing out some of his well-made Bordeaux blends from Hawke’s Bay, often at the end of a trade tasting. These wines can be compared and contrasted with his Pinot Noirs from their firm’s diverse sites in Marlborough. Few companies of their moderate size are able to do this as effectively.
The flexibility of the Forrest enterprise runs even deeper. At various stages in its evolution John has emphasised the grape-growing arm of the enterprise and at others the winemaking. For more than a decade, John has supplied Merlot and Cabernet grapes from their Cornerstone vineyard to Villa Maria’s Esk Valley winery for their reserve wines. Conversely, from their first vintage, John has always been prepared to ‘send bulk wine off to Australia quickly, all up-front money, pre-paid’. Such strategies smooth the seasonality of the Forrest income:
Those wines for Cardmember go into a mixed case – you’ve only got to make the best wine in a carton, not the best wine in the world. And 80 per cent of Cardmember is paid by the 20th of May when I have to pay for fruit, for winemaking, and all sorts of other things.
Such efficient and enduring links bring the Forrest enterprise much closer to the Australian wine market.
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