With all of our grapes now in the winery, and winemaking well underway, our 2021 Vintage is starting to take shape. And it’s certainly one to watch. Here’s what our winemakers had to say on the 2021 Vintage.
Overall, 2021 was an excellent year for Marlborough and for Sauvignon Blanc. An early Spring brought forward budburst but cold November rain drew out flowering and late frosts contributed to a lower than ideal fruit set. A dry January was followed by rain in March that assisted ripening, bringing the fruit to excellent condition. We started harvesting early, but not exceptionally so compared with recent vintages.
Our Sauvignon Blancs are bursting with tropical fruits, perfumed thiols, displaying great depth and purity. Budburst was early in our Marlborough vineyards and fruit set light. After a wet start the season was very dry with average temperature. As a result, we had a nice long ripening period even with an earlier harvest.
Light crops and a long ripening season have resulted in flavour and concentration. This year we see lots of ripe tropical and fruit salad notes. We’re also seeing plenty of perfumed thiols; Blackcurrant, Passionfruit, and Broom. We’re bottling the first of our Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc now, with our Black Label Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc still on lees, developing yet more weight and complexity. We’ll bottle that in a few months.
Low crops have resulted in some incredible tasting fruit across all three of the valleys we grow in. Our Pinot Noirs are deeply coloured and flavoursome. They’re just starting their secondary, or malolactic, fermentation now.
Rosé + Pinot Gris
The Rosés are vibrant and our Pinot Gris are fresh and balanced.
Our Organic wines
We are thrilled with the quality of fruit coming from our Organic vineyards. The Sauvignon Blanc is displaying its typical characters (mineral, citrus, and spice) and showing real depth with layers of flavour. We will allow this to further develop on lees also.
Warm Spring temperatures brought forward flowering, kicking off the season early. A trend that continued with the earliest harvest we’ve ever had from Hawke’s Bay – starting with Chardonnay on the 23rd of February. No pressure at all to pick as the weather was kind and the fruit condition excellent.
Low crop levels meant concentrated and ripe flavours. Both our Irongate and Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay look weighty and flavoursome.
The Syrah and Bordeaux reds are shaping up to be intense, dense, and long at this early stage.
Another vintage, another exciting selection of sustainably crafted wines. This is the stage of winemaking where the magic happens and we live for it. Here’s to 2021!
Wine companies typically throw away up to a quarter of their harvest every year. Before you bemoan the loss of all that wine… no, we don’t throw wine away. It’s just that grape juice comes along with things like grape skins, seeds, bits of stem and whatnot – things we cannot use to make wine. Once the juice has been extracted, this dry marc is of no use to a winemaker, and in the past was carted off to landfill.
But at Babich we’re exploring different ways to make good use of grape marc.
Some of it is provided to farmers as is, for use in stock feed. With recent droughts in New Zealand, farmers are forced to augment their animals’ primary diet of grass. Importantly, the marc reduces farmers’ reliance on palm kernel as an ingredient in stock food, which helps save the rain forest, which helps save the planet from the build-up of greenhouse gases. Neat, ay?
Some of the marc we provide to cropping farmers, who plough it into their fields to enrich the soil, to grow food for people.
Grape marc also offers the potential to be upcycled into more valuable products. Babich provides grape marc to two companies doing research in this area. One avenue is to refine the marc for a higher grade of stock feed, but there are also efforts to use grape marc as a major ingredient in pharmaceutical products. One of these is using the grape seeds for human dietary supplements.
We are watching these developments with great interest, as we just hate for anything to go to waste. Nature looks after us, and we like to return the favour.
We’re lucky in many ways. There’s the great terroir of Marlborough that give our wines their special character, and the excellent wild yeast we’re blessed with in our winery.
But it is also true that we work very hard to get the best results. Like golfer Gary Player said so memorably: “The harder I practice, the luckier I get.”
Babich has certainly had lots of practise making wine in New Zealand for over 100 years.
We believe in being as hands-off as possible in our winemaking to let nature express itself. But we have found that giving nature just the right little nudge at crucial junctures can really bring out the best in our wine. The right temperature, the right yeast, the right racking regime, the right blending… it all helps.
Since 2015, we’ve increasingly been using the wild yeast in our winery. To get the fermentation going, we simply make sure the juice is at the ideal temperature, and then we wait… This yeast has proven to be very good, bringing out great flavours in the wine.
But the wine you buy in the bottle does not just come from a single ferment. Now that they understand the flavour profile of every batch of wine, our winemakers are carefully blending them to create the best combination. And the best promises to be very good in 2021, with outstanding quality across the board.
So, perhaps the really lucky ones are the people who can buy Babich wine!
We love heat in the vineyard. But in the winery… not so much.
Cool temperatures are great to develop fruity flavours when you ferment a wine such as Sauvignon Blanc. That is why you’d often see on a tasting note that the wine was “cool fermented”. By keeping the ferment cool, we can control the metabolic rate of the yeast, thereby influencing how it converts sugar into alcohol and also what flavours are enhanced in the process.
Of course, keeping the wine cool after fermentation helps to lock in the flavours.
Because cooling is so important in winemaking, our Marlborough winery was especially designed with this in mind. Louvres open at night to allow cool air in, and are closed when day temperatures rise to keep the cool air inside. Having a smaller differential between the ambient temperature and the desired temperature of the wine means we need to use less energy.
There is one exception to this chilled-out approach: To start fermentation, we often need to warm up the juice a bit, so the yeast can get going.
Rather than spend a lot of energy to generate heat, we use technology to recover the latent heat released by our usual refrigeration processes, and use that for heating. In effect, the same energy that is already used for cooling some tanks is used to heat others! Pretty neat.
It’s time to give back. With another harvest safely in the winery, one can’t help but be in awe of the natural bounty we receive. So, in the slight lull before we need to get back into the vineyard for pruning, we’re devoting our energies to giving back to nature, by attending to the land around our vineyard blocks.
One of the places we can give nature a helping hand is in the streams bordering the vineyards. The aptly named Boundary Stream in Marlborough, for instance, can get a bit clogged up by gravel washing down from the high country in times of heavy rain. So, we go in there and scoop out enough of the gravel to allow the stream to flow through to the Wairau River unhindered.
Keeping the river to its natural channel and flowing deep enough not only protects our vineyard from potential flooding, but it also helps aquatic life to thrive. Fishes and frogs need to live too.
And what do we do with the gravel?
In true Babich fashion, we don’t want anything to go to waste. So, we use it to pave our vineyard roads!
We’ve all seen the video clips of someone celebrating their victory before they’ve crossed the finish line and then being pipped at the post. That won’t happen with Babich.
Even in a year when we know we’ve done everything as best we can – we’ve created the best possible conditions for our vines to produce excellent grapes and the vineyard is packed with the most luscious fruit – we keep going at it hard until every grape is in the winery. The last thing we want to do, is to undo a year’s hard work in the home stretch.
That’s why harvest is such an intense time for us. We need to get the fruit into the winery at just the right time, when they’re as ripe and flavourful and healthy as they can be. That might mean that we need to get heaps done in a short time frame. For our team, it means early starts and late finishes, day after day for about three weeks. Nature does not take weekends off.
When the last grapes were brought into our Marlborough winery, there were some tired minds and bodies, but also a great sense of satisfaction.
“We want to get the outstanding quality that is in the vineyard into the winery,” says winemaker Adam Hazeldine, “so that we can put it into the bottle for people to enjoy.”
With the last grapes of the 2021 harvest coming into the winery, comes the day of reckoning. We finally know exactly how big the harvest was and how much wine we will be able to make of each variety. Importantly, we also know how good the wine could be.
Cool weather over flowering in Marlborough meant fewer flowers, and therefore fewer bunches. For the first time in five vintages, we did not have to do any crop thinning this year. The effect was more marked in the red varieties, but the whites were affected too, with notably lower volumes of Sauvignon Blanc, for instance.
The good news is that the cropping levels we had across the board were close to the levels we like for our reserve level wines, which means that the 2021 vintage should over deliver in terms of quality, with really ripe, concentrated fruit. The downside is that there will be less of it, but wine lovers need not fear – there will still be 750ml in every bottle!
But the post-harvest reckoning is about more than just the wine itself. It is also about us. How well did we perform? What have we learnt? What can we do better in the coming year?
After more than 100 years of making wine in New Zealand, Babich has developed some high standards – sustainably getting the best quality out of our vineyards and into the bottle. Yet, every year we look at what we’ve done and challenge ourselves to find ways to fine-tune our performance even further. Because in the end, it all makes a difference in your glass.
Rain back in November 2020 is paying huge dividends in our Hawke’s Bay vineyards nearly four months later.
It was that rain that gave the vines the boost they needed to develop exceptionally full, high leaf canopies. Even after leaves were trimmed and cut to allow air and sun on the low-hanging fruit, there were heaps of leaves to capture the sun’s energy and drive the development of the grapes.
“It gave us a massive engine, the vineyard was purring like a V8 out there,” says viticulturist Tony Smith.
That meant an early start to harvest on 28 February, with Chardonnay for our Irongate wines being hand-picked ten days earlier than most years.
“Harvest has been getting earlier in recent years. We had an inkling at budburst that we might be ahead of schedule, and again at flowering. In recent weeks, we’ve seen great sugar accumulation in the grapes, and excellent flavour profiles.”
If all goes well, the Hawke’s Bay harvest might wrap up well before the end of March.
And the benefits of that November rain don’t end with this vintage. The canopies are still strong, which means that the leaves are still building carbohydrates and storing it in the trunk and roots.
“When winter comes, our vines won’t be going to sleep on an empty stomach,” says Tony. “That should set us up really well for vintage 2022.”
Challenges are nothing new to us – we’re always contending with the weather, and that can be a fickle beast! When Covid struck, it was as much of a shock to us as to anyone, but we recognised it as a challenge and rose to meet it head-on.
Apart from being affected in the same way as everyone else – lock-downs, social distancing, dealing with issues such as personal stress and commercial supply chain constraints – we have seen two rather unique effects on our industry.
One is that the seasonal flow of winemakers between the northern and southern hemisphere has stopped. It is tradition in the wine industry that our younger winemakers, especially, head north in our winter to work a vintage in Europe or North America, and for theirs to come down to us when we harvest. That enables winemakers to work through two vintages per year. This not only doubles their experience, but also leads to a healthy interchange of ideas.
We’re quite used to having French, Chinese, Italian, Argentinian, German, South African, Chilean, American, Canadian, Czech, Hungarian, Danish, and English wine enthusiasts working in Marlborough every vintage. This year, we haven’t been able to recruit abroad, but we do have a fair few other nationalities who are stuck in the country because of Covid. And, of course, and our veteran German winemaker, Jens Merkle!
The other effect of Covid is that the impact on the hospitality industry means that there is less demand for wine made specifically to be enjoyed on-premise. So, this vintage we’ll be making less of our wine aimed at restaurants. The good news is that we now have more grapes we can use to make the kind of wines you enjoy at home!
Grapes are like honoured guests in the winery. When the first lot arrive at our winery a few weeks from now, we want to be ready to give them the welcome they deserve.
We’ve made sure there is ample space for them, with all but a few of the winery tanks empty and getting scrubbed clean, so we’ll be ready to receive the bounty that will come pouring in. We’re checking every piece of equipment to make sure no electrical or mechanical hiccup prevents us from giving our precious grapes the royal treatment. Every hopper and crusher, every press, pump and pipe need to be spick and span.
And we’re making sure we have the right people to welcome the guests. We’ve brought extra staff on board for harvest, with older hands showing the newbies how things should be done.
We want everything to run smoothly – not just because it’s stressful enough when your year’s production arrives at your doorstep all at once, but because we want to be able to able to preserve every bit of quality we get from the vineyard. We want to be able to crush, ferment or cool the loads that come in at the most appropriate time, in the best way we can. Our winemakers want to treat every batch optimally to preserve its unique characteristics at every step of the journey from vine to wine.
Having the winery fully ready gives our winemakers the options they need, so they can ensure that you get the best wine in your glass.