From bud-burst to bottle - the exciting journey of our boutique wines
Our sustainable vineyard
Quality wines start in the vineyard. It was with that clear vision that Daniel and Ursula Schwarzenbach moved to the top of the South Island in 1998 and searched for land for almost two years, before purchasing their 20ha block in Tasman on the scenic Coastal Highway.
The gentle north-facing slope, the Moutere clay soils and the mild maritime climate were immediately appealing. In the winter of 2000 they grafted their own vines to plant the first 4ha of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir in the following winter. Over the years they added Riesling, Gewürztraminer and the Italian red variety Montepulciano into the mix.
Clones are different species of the same variety, each showing uniqueness without masking the varietal character – a bit like children in a family. Each clone adds another “colour” or shade to a wine, increasing complexity.
Because Blackenbrook has been a grape nursery for many years, they had the luxury of picking and choosing clones. “We have eight different clones of Pinot Noir which are fruit-sampled, picked and vinified separately.” After maturing, the blending components are lined up and – relying on his palate – Daniel searches for the best combination with optimum balance and harmony.
Healthy soil, strong vines and sustainability are the focus of their vineyard management. Daniel says close planting increases flavour concentration, particularly in Pinot Noir. “We have therefore chosen narrow plant spacings resulting in a plant density of up to 3800 vines per hectare.”
Blackenbrook uses vertical shoot positioning (VSP) and spur pruning. Aiming at maximum canopy height, they have placed the fruiting wire only 700mm above ground.
Daniel works hard to get the plants into balance. He encourages deep rooting by removing irrigation after the establishment phase. Trace elements are introduced through organic sea-weed fertilisers and weed sprays have been replaced by under-vine mowing. Daniel and his team carefully adjust the crop load according to soil and vigour of each individual block and reduce disease pressure through leaf removal around grape bunches. “Balanced vines will produce fruit that is chemically in balance facilitating all winemaking processes.”
Our gravity-fed and eco-friendly winery
Gentle processes were the guiding force when Daniel designed his gravity-fed winery. Nestled into the hillside in the middle of the vineyard, the winery is a direct reflection of everything Blackenbrook stands for – minimal interference with natural processes resulting in pure and genuine wines.
In creating the winery, Daniel de-constructed his winemaking.”It’s been about breaking down the process into components and choosing only the components that make sense and eliminating what’s unnecessary. “Because all our fruit is hand-picked and hand-selected we can miss out two steps – de-stemming and pumping the must. That means we minimise oxidation and can cut out one sulphur-addition.”
“I also wanted the winery to be easy to work in with ample light, excellent water pressure, over-specked power supply and a compact layout simplifying processes – a winery designed by a working winemaker.”
At just over 600 square metres, it’s a relatively small winery. The capacity is 150 tonnes of grapes but currently it’s processing around half that amount, leaving sufficient room for expansion. The building is 7 metres tall, but because it’s cut into the hillside it’s not imposing. With large archway doors,wooden overhang and chunky wooden window frames the tilt slab building has a European feel to it.
The construction process was overseen by Daniel. He knew what he wanted right down to the positions of every tap and socket. Environmental aspects and resource conservation were important which is why we use gravity rather than pumps for wine-transfers, installed excellent insulation to save on heating and cooling and use treated roof water for all cleaning.
Many parts of the winery are unique Daniel designs and have been custom-built. They include special tanks on rollers for chilling red grape juice and skins pre-fermentation, the easy-to-use barrel-topping system based on gravity, the innovative filtering method as well as drainage and settling systems that allow waste water to be taken to paddocks for irrigation.
Since the first vintage from this winery in 2006, the design and focus has all been about improving quality by another percent or two. The gentleness Daniel strives for comes from the minimal use of mechanical transfers. Whenever possible gravity is employed: the grapes are lifted up to the press by a forklift with rotating head rather than by an orga, the juice naturally drains from the press to the settling tanks and is moved only once more until the pre-bottling stage at the end of June.
Blackenbrook’s variable capacity tanks with air-tight lids together with the stringent quality control at picking mean Daniel is able to keep the young wines on gross lees for an extended time without risking reductive flavours. “The winemakers I talk to, they’re shocked by how long I leave them without sulphur addition. But the natural CO2 from the fermentation protects the wine and the extended lees contact adds flavour and creamyness.
“Most of our white varieties are completely unfined – no egg, no milk, no fish and therefore totally vegan-friendly. We don’t have to fine the wines, because there is no bitterness pick up and that’s all down to less pumping, processing and interference.”
As with everything at Blackenbrook’s, it’s an ongoing story. Daniel will always search for ways to push up the quality and simplify processes.
Want to know more about our winemaking?
Here are a few articles you may find interesting: