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Newsletter - Summer 2008

Burgundy exchange 2007

In August 2007 I took part in a five week exchange program between the Central Otago and Burgundy wine regions. With only a few French language lessons under my belt I was in for a challenging experience.

The long journey to the opposite side of the world for a trip of a life time started on the 17th of August when I arrived in the city of Beaune and was met by Florence, a teacher from the local vine and wine learning facility - the CFFPA.

I was dropped off at Comte Armand, a domain in the small village of Pommard, and introduced to wine maker, viticultralist and marketer Benjamin Leroux. Ben gave me the grand tour of the 14th century building which was home to the winery and my living quarters for the next five weeks. Benjamin has a good understanding of the Central Otago region, having visited the area and worked in other wine regions in New Zealand. He was particularly interested in the extremities of climate and potential already shown by young vines.

The Comte Armand vineyard was about 11 hectares with vine age ranging from 20 to 70 years, with typical Burgundy-styled trellising, low fruiting wires and narrow rows (12000 vines a hectare). It's something to see people picking "knee-high to a grasshopper". They made typical Burgundy-styled wines, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

I spent most of my stay based in the winery, a change from central Otago where I have concentrated on producing the fruit. Working long hours and managing with several language barriers was a huge learning curve but invaluable hands-on experience. I took away a range of new ideas to put in practice at Three Miners.

Although hard work the visit was hugely enjoyable. The French do like to have fun when they work - the picking was different with wine at 10am, beers between breaks - it made for an exciting harvest every day (the 20 kegs of beer drunk over the harvest smashed the previous record of 14).

I was fortunate to taste some exceptional wines and meet families who have been winemakers for generations. There was a very high level of interest in Central Otago and i'm sure a few will turn up in Earnscleugh Valley wanting to try out the vineyard experience at Three Miners.

Pommard was a huge experience and gave me fresh insights and enthusiasm for the industry and our wines.

Au revoir, Jeff Snape
Assistant Viticulturalist
Three Miners Vineyard

A 29 degree celsius temperature change in twelve hours!
by Jeff Price

In the last few days we have been reminded that Earnscelugh Valley has NZ's most extreme climate. Saturday October 27th was a scary example – a magnificent sunny day with a temperature of 25 degrees C, but a southerly change saw the temperature plummet to minus 4 that night!

Hard frosts during Spring can be particularly damaging as the young buds and shoots are very vulnerable and a hard frost can wipe out the crop. To protect the vines we have a sophisticated overhead sprinkler system with two high volume pumps and an emergency standby pump – drawing water from our 3 miliion gallon "pond". On a busy "frost fighting" night we spray over 1.5 million gallons of water on the vines.

It might be useful if I explain how water, and icicles help protect the new buds, shoots and vines survive the intense cold. As the night temp drops to zero, water starts to freeze and begins to form ice, covering the shoots The shoots can only be damaged once the temperature reaches between minus 1 and minus 1.5 degrees. The temperature inside the icicles remains at zero. With the water continually running and forming ice on the shoots, this process is called latent heat.

The extreme climate is wonderful for producing great wines – especially Pinot Noir – but protecting the vines during Spring and Autumn can be challenging.

I should add that while we can use a lot of water during frost fighting, we try and be as efficient and ecofriendly as possible. The water is gravity fed to our "pond" from the Earnscleugh Irrigation Scheme. The water races were built in the 1930's which are fed by the Fraser River. After frost fighting the water drains through our alluvial soils and makes it's way back through the old gold mining tailings and back into the Clutha River catchment. We are only 300 metres from the banks of the Clutha. We have also installed a super efficient John Deere pump to minimize our fuel consumption. Fortunately we only need to be frost fighting about 7-10 nights a year.

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89 McPherson Road · RD1 · Alexandra
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