Wine and weather, combination

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Charlie Hill at his vineyard on Laings Road off SH1.

By Mick Jensen

Mother nature plays a big part in Charlie Hill’s boutique wine growing business on the edge of Ashburton.

He and wife Esma bought the established vineyard in January 2007 and have enjoyed the challenges of growing grapes.

The vineyard was established in 1999 and now consists of 4000 Pinot Gris and 3500 Pinot Noir vines. The Hills planted 1800 Riesling plants in 2008.

The CharRees label name is derived from family christian names and grapes are hand harvested each year by the extended Hill family and also fund-raising community groups.

The fruit from the current vines springing up will form the 2017 vintage.

The wine growing process was a combination of the effort put by the grower and the hand dealt by mother nature, said Mr Hill.

Vines were pruned by hand by a contractor in August, bud burst was in October and November was the month for thinning and rubbing.

Disease was kept at bay with sulphur, copper and liquid seaweed, but ultimately there was no protection against frost, which had totally wiped out his 2009 vintage, he said.

Vines grew and flowered typically til late December, a critical time for the weather gods to play their part, said Charlie.

“Warm days and gentle breezes are the perfect conditions for the grapes to flourish. Grapes ripen from mid February, when we put netting over them to protect them from birds.

“We have 10,000 vines planted over 4.6ha on the property and with three metres between vines, we have a wider canopy to encourage the likes of photosynthesis.”

The earliest fruit in the vineyard had been picked over Anzac weekend and the latest, the riesling grapes, had been picked over Queens Birthday in the past.

“I like them all – I’m a bit one eyed in that respect. We’ve had some good vintages – 2010 was good and we won three bronze medals for our 2013 vintage.”

CharRees will host its first big open day this Sunday (November 20), where the Hills aim to raise their vineyard’s profile and will share their vision, their wine and their enthusiasm.

The open day includes entertainment, food and craft stalls and runs from 1pm until 6pm.