The 8 Vineyard - one winemaker’s dream
The 8 Vineyard at Frenchmans Hill Estate was named primarily after the eight varieties planted upon it. The figure 8 is also a continuum representing the continuous annual cycle of the vines…each full figure eight results in a fantastic vintage wine!! The vineyard is set up with the number 8 as it’s guide eg. 8 vines between each post, 8 rows under each net, 8 vats made from each vintage…..a little superstition from our winemaker whose key focus is TERROIR = vines + soil + climate + man.
THE SOIL - Key Element of Terroir
The 8 vineyard soil is dense Quartz / Kaolinite from the Jurassic era. Approximately 200 million years in the making we are essentially talking about a pile of highly weathered (rotten) rock covered in Aeolian (airbourne) clay with a very light layer of top soil on the steep slopes. The French say “plus pauvres le sol, plus grand le vin”…literally..the poorer the soil, the greater the wine, which validates our objectives for these slopes.
A significant stony ridge seam from the north cuts through the centre of The 8 Vineyard, resulting in the eastern section being full of stony gravels of varying sizes and naturally free draining. The western section is quartz mudstone with regular ferrous oxide deposits throughout. We ensure annual sweetening with fine hydrated lime so that these rocky, part clay, part sandy, rich mineral soils become increasingly favourable for deep vine root development and actively interact with the vines.
Sub soil drains were cut through the parcels just prior to planting as well as removal of any excessive top soil layer to reduce vine vigour and encourage growth and ripening consistency. Every year the un-irrigated vineyard floor has been deeply ripped to encourage the vines to plunge their roots 3-4 metres into this arid earth in search of minerals and moisture critical to the creation of true depth of flavour, character, concentration and balance within the wine grapes 3 key elements - the skin, the seeds, the pulp. During baking hot, long dry summers typical of Waiheke’s often extreme maritime climate this ‘anchoring’ of the vines to the site is critical to their performance and survival. A constant, mild vine stress is desirable, particularly as grape maturation begins in January / February of each growing cycle.
Encouragingly recent earthworks have shown fine vine roots to have reached the 3 + metre deep mark at 9 years of age.
THE 8 VINE VARIETIES - Planting a wine to express the site
Since 2004 New Zealand has seen the emergence of several “Class A” grape clones sourced from INRA (Institut Nationale de Recherche Agricole) in France. This has given a signaficantly increased quality potential to all vineyards planted post 2004, and is likely tolead to New Zealand producing alot more ultra premium style wines particularly where the correct grape varietal/clone selections are matched to favourable sites.
Our carefully selected variety / clones are as follows:
Cabernet Sauvignon clones: 15, 338, LC10…..depth, complexity, structure, power
Merlot clones: 181, 347…….weight, flavour, richness
Petit Verdot clone 400…….power, concentration, acidity, perfume
Cabernet Franc clones: 326, 327……elegance, complexity, power
Syrah clones: 470, 174, Grippat A, Grippat B, Chave, Hermitage….spice, depth, colour, power, balance
Tannat clone Haden………structure, power, scent
Viognier clone 642……colour, structure, perfume
Kolor clone mass select……colour, density, nuttiness
ROOT STOCKS - Riparia Gloire, 3309, 420A
VINE DENSITY / YIELDS - an uncompromising approach
The vine spacings are 1.8m rows x 1m vine spacings, giving a relatively high density planting of 5500 vines / hectare. The trellis system is vertical shoot position with a double Guyot “T” style pruning method. The fruiting wire is set close to the ground at 500mm to benefit from shelter and heat at this low height. This results in small vines with strong inter- vine competition. Each vine will therefore optimally ripen approximately 1 kg of wine grapes / vintage after green harvesting operations are completed early January. We generally remove up to 60% of the crop load during green harvesting operations in order to achieve our target yeilds of 3500-4000 litres per hectare matching the rigid allowable yeilds of France’s Grand Cru appellations. This equates to 1 bottle of wine per vine.
The SITE Aspect - Optimal Heat, Light and Sunshine
The entire vineyard faces directly north at an angle of 7 to 31 degrees. The 4.88 hectare site is encased by a southern ridge wrapping the south, and a protective northern land mass some four kilometres in length out to Thompsons Point. A 3.8 hectare tidal estuary directly below the vines reflects massive light onto the vines ideal for the enhanced development of red grape colour pigments. This mass of tepid water and warm mudflat also acts as a giant radiator of heat further creating a specific meso-climate for The 8 Vineyard. Each vineyard parcel benefits from established 8 metre shelter trees which protect from strong winds and trap heat ideal for developing dense and ripe phenolic structure during maturation. The vine altitudes are 7.5 metres at the bottom up to 38.8 metres. A low altitude, warm site.
The climate of Waiheke Island can only be described as a definitive maritime climate. Droughts, storms, cyclones and tropical mists are all visitors to Waiheke. A technically challenging climate for the winegrower but generally a very rewarding one for the astute and experienced technician of which there are many. The temperate climate offers a long steady grape maturation period that does vary hugely from site to site. The 8 vineyard climate can only be described as a highly luminous, warm meso climate with maximum temperatures often in the late 30’s celcius during key summer months of grape maturation.