At a time when the overseas demand for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – over half this country’s total wine output – is soaring, the 2021 vintage delivered an unexpectedly small crop. Villa Maria’s total grape harvest, for instance, fell by 26 per cent, compared to the previous year.
In Marlborough, which has 70 per cent of New Zealand’s vineyard area, the light crops were caused by a late spring frost on September 30, followed by cool weather during the vines’ flowering, from mid-November to early December. Winemaker Matt Thomson, of Blank Canvas, predicted the 2021 vintage would be an “industry-changing event”. With Sauvignon Blanc currently in short supply and high demand, “it is an opportunity for our industry to refocus on premium.” Villa Maria planned to raise its prices by 10-20 per cent.
On the quality front, expectations are high in Marlborough. Beth Forrest, general manager of Forrest Estate, described the company’s Sauvignon Blanc crop as “beautiful, with multi-layered flavour levels and amazing aromas…” Allan Scott winery praised its grape quality as “awesome”.
Every year produces a similar rush of enthusiastic comments – the winegrowers are keen to sell their wares – but small crops do usually yield wines with enhanced flavour intensity. However, due to the severe shortage of temporary workers from overseas, used for selective hand-picking of the grapes, greater use than normal was made of mechanical harvesters, which for some producers could have adversely affected quality.
In Hawke’s Bay, the country’s second-largest wine region, Haha reported that the 2021 growing season was “slightly warmer and drier than the long-term average. As a result of lower crops… the 2021 wines will have a slight edge over 2020.” Clearview Estate says its 2021 wines show “amazing concentration.”
Further south, Butterworth Estate in Martinborough said “quality is up across the board.” Black Estate, in Canterbury, reported “concentrated” grapes, with “lots of sugar ripeness.” In Central Otago, Misha’s Vineyard declared “fruit condition at harvest was very good, in fact probably some of the best we have seen, in terms of flavour.”