Every vintage is the story of a great coming together. As the grapes reach the peak of their condition, everyone in the vineyards and in the winery work together to get the best quality fruit into the glass.

Vintage 2022 Harvest was no exception, with everyone from hand harvesters, to harvester drivers, truck drivers and cellar hands, coming together to guarantee their smooth delivery into the winery; even down to micro-managing the quantity of grapes going into each truck.

“They say good wine is made in the vineyard, but all the hard work during the summer can be quickly undone if we don’t pick the grapes at the best time” says Marlborough Viticulture Manager David Bullivant.

The weather over the harvest period had our vineyard staff on their toes as there were some periods of rain that forced our harvesters into hibernation. Water on the fruit dilutes the fruit going into the winery. So when the weather was on our side and the grapes at optimal ripeness, our team jumped to action, working tirelessly to harvest the grapes and get them to the winery.

With the Babich Wines team yet again working seamlessly together, wine lovers have a lot to look forward to, with our Viticulturalists in both Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay predicting there to be some fantastic wine to come from this vintage.

“I think there will be some very good and interesting wines to come out of this harvest. The growing degree days were up and I tasted some very good flavours in the vineyard,” says Hawke’s Bay Viticulturist Tony Smith.

And now that the Harvest is done, and the reins are handed over to our winemakers to work their magic, our hard-working vineyard teams can enjoy a break, before reflecting on what they can improve on even further, next year.

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Vintage 2022 officially kicked off at Babich Wines this month, with harvest starting across all our estate-owned vineyards. Our team have been relentlessly working towards this exciting moment for the past 6 months and eagerly got stuck in.

Chardonnay & Pinot Noir are the first grapes to start coming off the vines, as the teams in Henderson, Hawke’s Bay & Marlborough carefully hand-pick whilst enjoying the fresh air and rural settings. There are a few early morning starts for some, who are up before the sun, however, the beautiful sunrises sure make it worthwhile. Others battle on in the heat of the day (26+°C at times) and we’ve heard many are being reacquainted with muscles they have previously neglected! Our founder, Josip Babich, would be proud of them all.

Check out a few snaps taken by various team members across the country documenting harvest, below.

For the next several weeks, we will see the remainder of our red and white varieties picked using a mixture of hand and machine harvesting. Once harvested, the grapes will find themselves in the winery, where the magical winemaking process will begin…watch this space…

 

Grapes are like honoured guests in the winery. When the first lot arrives in a couple weeks from now, the team need to be ready to give them the welcome they deserve.

One of our biggest challenges is that grapes of the same variety all tend to reach optimum condition for harvest at the same time. Even between varieties, the difference is not that great – no more than a few weeks – and because we want to harvest every bunch of grapes when it’s at its very best, that means that our winery has to be ready to accept a lot of fruit, in a very short period of time. Everything has to run smoothly – not just because it’s stressful enough when a year’s worth of work and production arrives at your doorstep all at once, but because we want to be able to preserve every bit of flavour and quality we get from the vineyard.

In the last weeks before harvest starts, everything undergoes a deep clean, from the grape receival bins to the presses, conveyors and tanks. Being mindful of waste, we try to use as little water as possible, applying it at high pressure for maximum cleaning power. All cooling systems and machines are checked to make sure they’re working as they should, and the team ensure the winery is as empty as possible – especially the fermentation tanks and barrels – so there is room to receive the new crop as it begins its winemaking journey.

Of course, you need dedicated people at every step of the winemaking process, so we’ve added staff to make sure there’s always a watchful eye and caring hand to guide our grapes on their journey to becoming the best wine they can be.

Every vintage brings its own challenges and joys. And as new vineyard blocks come into production, it’s always exciting to see the quality of the fruit and wine that arrives. This year, our Tetley Brook C block in Marlborough has finished its three-year transition to being fully organic, and we’re eager to see the results.

Vintage 2022 is on its way, watch this space!

 

With summer drawing to a close, soon it will be time for our vines to reward us, as we edge closer to the most thrilling time of year; Harvest. Our teams have a lot to do in the lead up to this, as each have their own crucial part to play in ensuring our grapes are delivered to the winery in the best possible condition, so they can go on to make the best possible wine.

After caring and tending the vines and grapes for the past 12 months, our vineyard and viticultural teams are busy concentrating on keeping the vines in tip-top condition. Primarily, by plucking leaves and trimming the vines to make sure they get enough sun and airflow around the young bunches so that diseases don’t take hold, causing rot. They’re keeping other predators in check too; ensuring the vines have first dibs on nutrients in the soil by removing weeds, and placing netting over the vines to protect them from birds.

More importantly, they’re keeping tabs on the fruit – specifically how much there is, their development and condition – because, knowing how much of each variety we are likely to harvest enables us to prepare the Winery team and allocate resources, more effectively.

Careful water use is always front of our mind, especially at this time of year as the vines are extra thirsty. Consequently, the team is busy monitoring irrigation and looking for leaks in the driplines to ensure no water goes to waste, and using new high-tech probes to constantly monitor the moisture content underground. This helps to make sure our vines have enough water and energy for the grapes to ripen to perfection but, are thirsty enough to deliver the concentration of flavour that Babich wines are famous for.

Finally, in the last stretch towards vintage, we make sure everyone on our team gets the opportunity for some well-earned rest before the mad rush of harvest begins. When the grapes are ready to be harvested, the team needs to be ready too, then, it’ll be over to our winemakers to ensure that what ends up in your glass, is pure bliss!

Tune in next week to hear what the winery team are busy doing in preparation for Vintage 2022…

The Babich family is mourning the passing of Joe Babich, New Zealand wine industry pioneer, who passed away on 13 January 2022 after a two year battle with cancer, aged 81.

David Babich, Joe’s nephew and CEO of Babich Wines, said, “On behalf of the Babich family and with great sadness I would like to announce the passing of Joe Babich, much-loved husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, and New Zealand wine industry pioneer.  Joe was an exceptionally well-regarded and talented winemaker, but his greatest legacy is his positive impact on those around him. Joe was invariably and famously down-to-earth, warm, and approachable, with a wry and gentle sense of humour. He will be sorely missed by family and friends, and colleagues in the wine industry.”

Joe was born on 10 October 1940 into a winemaking family, with his father Josip having founded Babich Wines in 1916 and in time his brother Peter also working in the business. After initially exploring a pharmacist apprenticeship, Joe decided to join the family winery, where over a 60 year career in the wine industry he built a reputation as one of New Zealand’s most talented and respected winemakers and wine judges.

He combined a traditional attitude to winemaking with an open-mindedness that allowed constant innovation. Joe produced, in secret and unknown to family or the winery, one of the first New Zealand Chardonnays to be not only matured, but also fermented, in barrel. The resulting wine, Irongate Chardonnay, continues to be an icon in New Zealand wine even today.

Joe’s contributions to the New Zealand wine industry are extensive, and are recognised by a range of accolades. These include the Winemaker of the Year Award at the New Zealand Royal Easter Show (1994), the Sir George Fistonich Medal in recognition of service to New Zealand wine (2013), the ONZM in the New Year’s Honours for services to the Wine Industry (2015), induction into the New Zealand Wine Hall of Fame (2015), induction into the West Auckland Business Hall of Fame (2016), and investiture as a Fellow of New Zealand Winegrowers (2017).

Joe also served as Chairman of Judges at the New Zealand Wine Awards on six occasions, testament to his leadership, and the respect with which he was held in the industry. He was also instrumental in setting up the wine export certification process which helped pave the way for the growth of New Zealand wine on the world stage.

Joe Babich is survived by his wife, Judy, and son, André and partner Magdalena and their daughter Stella.

 

With the New Zealand summer in full swing, we’re enjoying the sunshine and so are our vines. Unfortunately, there’s another fan of the summer heat — the fast-growing weed.

Now, we love plants in general. But we do tend to favour our vines over anything else, especially when they’re competing with our vines for nutrients and water. And nothing is as greedy as a fast-growing weed, so effective management is a crucial part of our summer work schedule. If we don’t keep weeds under control, they undermine our chances of having an excellent grape crop when harvest time rolls around.

How do we keep weeds under control? Although chemical sprays are highly effective in weed management and are safe for the environment when used carefully, non-chemical weed control is much more ideal. On our certified organic vineyards, we make judicious use of an organic herbicide, but we also have two other handy methods that help us deal to weeds without sprays.

The under-vine cultivator cuts the weeds’ roots and turns over the soil, leaving the exposed weeds to die in the heat and sunlight. The under-vine weeder looks something like a road or gutter sweeper, with rotating brushes that cut and smash the weeds. It doesn’t kill them, but keeps their growth under control.

As well as the machines we also use methods of old, with our vineyard workers pulling out weeds by hand, or cutting their growth with weed trimmers.

But why do we do it? Can’t weeds and winemakers peacefully co-exist? Unfortunately, no. At least not if we want to keep producing our sustainably crafted wines year after year!

First of all, when weeds compete with our vines for water (which is a big problem if we have a dry summer) and for the vital nutrients in the soil that we work so hard to maintain, it reduces our crop levels and our vines start to suffer, losing their vitality and health.

Second, they pose a frost risk. Not so much in summer, of course, but it’s not unheard of. All that weed foliage at ground level is just asking to frost up if an unseasonable cold snap hits, which isn’t good for the vines at all. The weeds also block air movement around and under the vines. Grapes grow better with plenty of good ventilation.

Third, weeds can harbour nasties that our grapes don’t need, providing a handy place for mealy bugs and other pests to hide away.

 

So, there you go — we need a weed-free zone under the vines to reduce a whole range of negatives that impact vine growth. Because without healthy vines, we wouldn’t get to make the wines we love!

Before wine, we need grapes. And before grapes, we need flowers. In fact, flowering is one of the most important phases of the 18-month process of growing a grape that’s ready for us to harvest. It’s an exciting time for our team as we watch the new crop start to flower. Nothing beats wandering between the vines on a hot summer’s day, hearing the cicadas sing and knowing that nature is hard at work.

However, flowering season can be a nerve-racking time for our viticulturists, as what happens from now helps determine the size, quantity and quality of the grape crop come harvest. Every Vineyard Manager wants an even Fruit Set (when the fertilized flowers develop into a grape and then turn into bunches) as this prevents fungal infections and diseases on the grapes – it also ensures the grapes grow evenly and perfectly for optimal ripeness…no pressure!

To trigger the transformation from buds to flowers, it takes consistent average daily temperatures of between 15-20°C (59-68°F). If it’s too cold in spring, or there’s not enough sunlight, it can impact the number of flowers — which in turn impacts the number of grapes we have to harvest for our next vintage. And cold temperatures or heavy rain during the flowering period can cause what we call shatter, where we lose flowers. If that occurs, we don’t grow such tightly packed clusters of grapes, which isn’t ideal, as it can lead to inconsistent grape size.

For all of their importance in the process, once they’ve announced their arrival and put on their show, the grape flowers only stay around for about 10 days. But during this time, something pretty magical happens.

Unlike other plants, bees don’t have to buzz about in the vineyard to get the job of pollination and fertilization done. Grapevines are hermaphroditic (they possess both male and female organs) so as long as they’re kept safe from extreme weather and pests or disease, they can manage the job of turning flowers into grapes (or berries, as they are properly known) all by themselves!

The vineyard never looks prettier than when our vines are in full flower. But there’s also something ugly lurking at this time of year too…an abundance of weeds. They love the same conditions as our vines. Check out our next blog to see how we keep them under control!

Wine is something of a time machine. When you drink it, it’s a celebration of the present, but the wine is also an encapsulation of the past – it tells the story of the summer when the grapes grew, what it was like in the vineyard back then, the heat and the sunlight on the vine leaves, how the grape bunches grew to juicy ripeness.

When we make wine, we take that knowledge of what went before – over a century of winemaking expertise – and project it into the future. This is not science fiction, it’s good winegrowing!

If you go down to our vineyards today, you’ll see people walking between the rows, counting the floret clusters on the vines. The reason we want to know how many there are is that each of these floret clusters will develop into a bunch of grapes in the coming months…

Of course, we still don’t know how big those bunches will be. The weather over the summer, especially in December, will determine that. But by understanding the amount of floret clusters we’ll begin to understand how to apply the lessons of the past to most effectively tend the vines in the future.

For instance, if we’ll need to thin the bunches to optimise the concentration and depth of flavour. And if we do, by how much. This type of vine management regulates how much energy the plant is able to put into each grape, its flavour profile, and ultimately the quality of wine in the glass.

Over the coming months, we’ll be watching, waiting, and working in earnest. Because what happens next will determine exactly how many of those floret clusters will turn into juicy, flavourful grape bunches, and how much delicious wine from vintage 2022 we’ll be able to deliver to your glass.

Now that’s something to look forward to!

Make no mistake, it can get incredibly hot and dry in Marlborough over summer. That heat is great for ripening grapes, but it also makes the vines thirsty. And the trouble is, the time when they need water the most is also the time when the rivers are at their lowest. River flows in Marlborough during summer are something like ten times lower than in the winter.

But it’s not only the vines that need water – the rivers and riverbanks are teeming with life. The fish and the birds and the frogs and the plant life all need water. If we take too much of it, they suffer…

At Babich, we do everything we can to live and work in harmony with nature. Always have. We’ve been around as winemakers for over a hundred years and three generations, and we want to be around for hundreds of years and generations to come. Sustainability is not only the right thing to do, it’s the only way forward.

So, the smart thing for us to do is to store as much water as possible in the wet season, when rainfall is plentiful and the rivers are pushing masses of water to the sea, so we don’t need to take so much from the river when nature cannot afford us to.

That’s why, over a number of years, we’ve been systematically building dams to help irrigate our vineyards. In fact right now, we’re just about to finish our fourth. This large earth dam, on our organic Headwaters vineyard, will hold enough water to carry the vineyard through summer, even if we have three months without rain. (Which is what happened last summer. When we say dry, we mean dry!)

The addition of the new dam means we’ll have enough water stored to irrigate almost 70% of all our Marlborough vineyards this coming summer, with a water storage target of over 500,000m3 by 2023. All so we can leave the water in the river, where nature wants it.

And let me tell you, if the stream is flowing well, there’s no better way to finish a hard day’s work than with a plunge into that cool, fresh and pure mountain water, with a BBQ and a glass or two of refreshing Babich Sauvignon Blanc waiting for you back home!

Working with the environment like we do, we have a deep appreciation of its interconnected and circuitous nature. The rain that feeds the rivers that flow from the hills and mountains of New Zealand into the sea, all originated from the sea. And being an island nation, we New Zealanders have a unique connection and appreciation for the beaches and oceans around us.

That is why we jumped at the opportunity to sponsor the Surfrider Foundation, firstly the originating organisation in the US, and now the Australian arm of their operation as well.

The Surfrider Foundation was founded by a group of surfers in Malibu, California in 1984 with the mission to protect the world’s oceans, waves and beaches through coastal protection schemes, education, public advocacy and clean-up initiatives. Over time, the Surfrider Foundation and its important messages has spread to over 80 countries and active chapters around the world, and an expansive volunteer network with the Australian chapter being founded in 1991 on the Gold Coast.

Among their most important and interesting initiatives is not only cleaning up plastic and pollution in our oceans and waterways, but working to prevent pollution in the first place by promoting good environmental practices at hospitality venues and businesses, particularly those on the coast, and advocating for marine protection and conservation. Their work in maintaining public beach access through advocacy and litigation has also resulted in dozens of beaches remaining open for public enjoyment and appreciation.

While there may not be an obvious link between Surfrider Foundation and wine, with Babich Wines’ long-running history of promoting sustainability and sensible environmental practices in winemaking, our support for likeminded organisations such as the Surfrider Foundation is an easy fit.

So, while the world is large, complex and disparate, it’s important to recognise that we only have one environment. When we each do our little bit, whether picking up a plastic wrapper while walking on the beach or supporting organisations like Surfrider Foundation, we can help ensure that future generations enjoy the world, and our wines, the same way we do today.

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