Following the '98 drought, a dry winter, an early spring and a continuing low rainfall, we feared yet another hard year for the vines. However, by the end of October a welcome downpour had eased the immediate situation, and most of the rest of the season experienced at least moderate precipitation. This, combined with a lack of our usual wind, was sufficient to allow the development of more normal vine canopies through the season. Cooler, moist conditions in November hampered flowering and resulted in the lowest crop level we have seen across most of the vineyards of Martinborough. Relatively heavy rain in early March might have given problems for the ripening crop in other years - by either dilution or disease - but the persisting very dry soils and our own, predominantly older, deep-rooted vines combined to avoid significant uptake of the moisture. Instead, it seemed to be largely absorbed by the existing moisture deficit at the upper levels of soil. Dry conditions in April and through winter means unirrigated vineyards in Martinborough will remain vulnerable to drought through the coming season.
1999 joins the previous year as one of the hottest on record with a total of around 1400 degree centigrade days. Nevertheless, the extremes of '98 were avoided - for example February '98 was hotter than the Barossa, but no month in '99 came near this.
Drought stress delayed ripening in 1998 to the timing of a 'normal' year, with harvest in April. In 1999 we were already picking in March and were faced with extraordinarily rapid ripening and compressed harvest dates with attendant refrigeration and winery difficulties.
The dominant factors setting the character of the '99 wines were the full canopies resulting in robust, forward flavours, and the low cropping levels promoting concentration and richness. These factors offset the effects of rapid ripening and hot vintage conditions which impact on cool-climate aromatic varieties in particular.