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Knox Clendenen: New Zealand Harvest

Knox Clendenen bends over to pick up a bin of freshly picked Chardonnay grapes while working Harvest in New Zealand.

A warm greeting to all you fellow wine connoisseurs. I was asked to give a “fun”, “heartwarming”, and “energetic” depiction of my recent harvest in Marlborough, New Zealand.  I have just returned from the 2024 vintage and am still recovering physically and mentally from all the pints of beer, lamb, and meat pies… oh, and the hard labor, too.

I worked with Novum Wines, a small, high-quality producer that incorporates a French-inspired style. It is owned by the lovely William and Rachel Jackson Hoare. Will did three vintages with Au Bon Climat in 1997, 1998, and 2001. During that time, he also taught me how to catch a ball. Rachel (Will’s better half) did a vintage at Comtes Lafon in 2003. Both have had extensive experience in the world of wine, ranging from Burgundy, California, and Oregon, to their current location in the lovely Marlborough, New Zealand region.  With two human compendiums of viticultural and vinicultural techniques right in front of me, my only wish was to retain even a sliver of information to guide me on my winemaking journey.

I got a lot more than a sliver. I was Will’s right-hand man throughout the entire vintage and learned several new techniques to utilize in the winery, and also in the vineyard. We monitored how the grapes were ripening, and when the time came, we picked the chardonnay, and then a couple of weeks later, we picked the pinot noir. We used a hydraulic basket press, which gently squeezed the whole clusters of chardonnay. The juice tasted fantastic and says a lot about how the wine turned out (insert winking face emoji). We also used the basket press once the pinot noir was done with primary fermentation. Though the basket press was excruciatingly slow, the pace allowed us to taste the wine coming out and decide when to stop the press so we wouldn’t get the seedy, less desirable flavors that come with pressing too hard. After that, we loaded up the stems and pumace to make compost for the vineyard. We collected droppings from the vineyard highland cows and added that to the compost as well. Being able to do everything from the farming practices to the actual winemaking has not only showed me a clearer picture of the whole process and the various routes you can follow, but it has also deepened my passion for winemaking. The dedication and commitment it takes to make a good wine, the sacrifices we as winemakers make physically, mentally, and socially are genuinely substantial. Those sacrifices can only be rewarded once you open that bottle and pour yourself a glass, and I’ll always drink to that. I raise a glass to all of you out there, cheers!

Sincerely,

Knox Clendenen