Winter and pruning can be a delightful time - clear blue skies, calm weather, and the quiet of the vineyard broken only by birds and the gossip of your co-workers pruning neighbouring vines. Not so in 2002. This was one of our wettest winters for some time, and it was followed by a damp and windy spring which blew when it was not raining and frosted when it was doing neither of these. As in many other parts of New Zealand the frosts kept coming, and wrought devastation on the budding grape flowers. We flew helicopters during the frosts, pumping the warm upper layers of air towards the ground to protect the foliage. We flew helicopters so many times it was trying for everyone - for me, lacking sleep; for the similarly sleepless but patient locals; and, of course, for the bank manager. But at least the crop survived, and for this we must be thankful.
The winds continued through the spring alternating with rain and occasional very hot, clear days. When the winds abated, stalled growth took off yet again, and with adequate moisture life went on. For a very brief period during flowering we experienced wind speeds greater than I have ever known before - gusts probably in excess of 120mph. Around Martinborough trees were down and roofs lifted off, and yet the vines survived. Clearly there was some physical damage to growing tips and so on, but the vines put out laterals to replace them, showing that these are extraordinarily hardy plants.
There appeared to be enough warm weather during spring to ensure adequate cropping, although there was now the possibility that some of the more wind-sensitive varieties such as Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay might be affected. Overall, vintage came quite late - 10 days to two weeks behind our average. I find these cooler years the most interesting, generally resulting in wines with good structure and fruit expression. They also provide drawn out picking times that allow us to put the attention we want into the individual batches.
From mid-January a drought set in, and this persisted right through harvest. What was overall a dry year became one of the driest on record, but because it had initially dried out slowly, and the vines were able to adapt, our old vines fared surprisingly well. Bunches were very open and berry sizes smaller than average; and the later in the vintage the varietals were picked, the lighter the cropping appeared to become. Overall, the harvest ended up being very small but I am persuaded (on the statistics at least) that, for a number of these varietals, 2003 could be the finest Dry River vintage so far. Time will tell.