When we planted our first vines in 1973, the challenge was to select the best varieties for our extreme weather and soils. We chose grape varieties most suited to the region including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Riesling.
Shaky Bridge Wines are sourced from some of the oldest vines in Central Otago and from several different vineyard sites within the Alexandra Basin.
- Home Block - all five varieties we grow are planted here
- Hillview - an all Pinot Noir only block
- Pioneer - a large block across the road from the winery and our Pinot Gris source
- Shaky Bridge - by the Shaky Bridge itself, this is a small Pinot Noir only vineyard
- Terrace Vineyard - new to us in 2011, this is a 14ha vineyard planted in Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in Earnscleugh
- Our Growing Environment
Alexandra is a starkly beautiful and rugged landscape, with large schist outcrops covering the mountains and wild thyme blanketing the foothills. Over a period of nearly 40 years, we have tested and selected prime sites within the Alexandra Basin to plant our vineyards.
With north facing sites containing free draining, predominantly deep alluvial gravel soils, our vines develop deep root structures in search of water during the intense heat of a Central Otago summer. Central Otago is New Zealand's highest and the world's most southern wine growing region. The mean sunshine hours of the Alexandra sub-region are 2050 hours per annum providing 900-1200 'growing degree days', heaps of important sunshine to grow healthy vines and fully ripe grapes.
Rainfall of only 250-300mm (9.84-12 inches) per annum combined with our long dry autumns of warm days and cool nights, allows us to take advantage of 'hangtime' to slowly ripen our fruit. This creates intense flavor from superior quality grapes.
After numerous trials, our Pinot Noir clones include 5, 6, 115, 667 and 777. Clones are grafted onto selected rootstocks to encourage maximum ripeness including 101-14 and Schwarzman. Some of the original 30+ year old vines in the Home Block are still planted on original rootstock.
New Zealand enjoys international fame for its stunning, unspoiled landscapes. New Zealand's small population, isolated location and agriculture based economy have earned the country a 'clean, green' image. New Zealand grape growers and winemakers aim to keep it that way by protecting the environmental integrity of their wine production. To this end a pioneering set of industry standards have been developed by Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ).
Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand provides the framework for companies to continually work towards improving all aspects of their performance in terms of environmental, social and economic sustainability in both the vineyard and the winery. The introduction of a winery program in 2002 has been a significant development. Our winery and our vineyards are part of the SWNZ program.
General Vineyard Philosophy
Parcel selection allows our winemakers to create multi-dimensional wines of the highest quality. Expressing the flavours and distinctive character of this region is what we strive for. The philosophy is simply to let the land speak for itself. The goal is always to produce the highest quality wine that nature allows us to create, although we do have to take on nature from time-to-time in order to ensure what we do grow is the best it can be! We believe that treating our soils and vines with respect and care produces high quality grapes with which to make high quality wines.
Bud rubbing is carried out in the Spring to remove unwanted shoots from the base of the vine so that fruit grows higher up the vine where the most sunshine is. We carry out leaf removal/leaf plucking to improve airflow through the canopy and to provide better fruit exposure and reduce shading. We also remove any laterals at this time to reduce any second set fruit and to further open up the canopy. Straightening shoots helps optimize cane spacing and reduces crowding. We use bunch counts after fruit set and average bunch weights for each block to estimate harvest yields each year. We drop fruit, when necessary, in order to manage to our preferred yield quantities. Low yielding vines concentrate flavour to those berries we fully ripen, helping to make the style and quality of wine we strive for every vintage.
We use the latest viticulture techniques tailored for our unique region to produce our premium quality wines. This includes irrigation monitoring and scheduling, temperature sensors, canopy management and dedicated frost fighting systems. Many of the practices we use in the vineyard are 'hands on' with little mechanical involvement. Pruning and harvest are all carried out by hand.
Vertical Shoot Positioning (VSP) and Canopy Management
This long established system trains the fruiting shoots upward from the vine trunk. Trellis wires, creating a vine row that can look more like a landscape hedge than a vine, support the shoots and allow us to control the amount of direct sunlight through ! All our vines are hand pruned using cane or spur pruning.
During the extreme conditions of the dry summer months we employ trickle irrigation. Using the latest technology in soil moisture measurement and management, TDR probes are installed at various vineyard locations. These measure the soil moisture from the surface down to 1.2 metres allowing for precise and targeted irrigation. This also helps us to control vine vigour, the amount of green foliage the vine produces. We want our vines concentrating on their real job of making great grapes and not getting sidetracked with the green stuff.
Yield and Quality Management
We manage our Pinot Noir vines to achieve a yield of no more than 5 tonnes per hectare, just a couple of tons per acre! Owning our own vineyards and managing our source vineyards allows us total control over grape quality.
Frost is just one of the climatic influences we need to deal with in Central Otago each year. Frosts can devastate our vintage at the beginning of the vine growing cycle or just prior to harvest. We employ overhead impact sprinklers to help us keep the frosts at bay. As water is sprayed through the vineyard, cold temperatures freeze the water on the vine. The freezing process creates enough 'heat' to ensure the vine temperature does not go below zero degrees, creating an 'ice shell' of protection around the vine. Sounds weird, but it sure works! Our clonal selections, for example clones with later bud burst, combined with late pruning and inter-row management also help us avoid frost damage.