Most every year, we start harvest with Irongate Chardonnay. Not a glass of it (though that would be fitting!) but by harvesting it.
The reasons for this are threefold: geography, variety and quality.
The geography part has to do with Hawke’s Bay. Being generally warmer than Marlborough, where we have our other vineyards, the grapes tend to ripen earlier. The variety has to do with it being Chardonnay, which ripens more readily than our other varieties. The quality has to do with the crop load, in other words how much work we expect the vine to do.
To make sure we get the quality we want for Irongate Chardonnay, we make it easy on the vines. We see to it that each vine only has to ripen about half as many bunches per season, compared to their peers elsewhere. The downside of this, of course, is that we get to make less wine. On the other hand: the wine we do make is so special! With fewer grapes to ripen, the vines can put more flavour into every bunch.
We pick these bunches by hand. They are taken to the winery in the same trays that they were put into in the vineyard, because we want the grapes to get to the winery as intact as possible, with all the juice locked into the berries.
That gives our winemakers more options – we can either crush the grapes and allow some skin contact before pressing, or we can put the whole bunches straight into the presses. Whole-bunch pressing lets us extract the juice cleanly, giving us wine with exceptional finesse and perfume.
We can then build palate weight and texture in the wine by blending it with juice that had some skin contact, and by giving it time to mature in the barrel.
The result of all this – after about a year – is our renowned Babich Irongate Chardonnay. Always worth the wait.