Ever thought what a photographer's dream those rows of red-leaved vines are in autumn? A photographer's dream, maybe, but a winegrower's nightmare, possibly, as it seems now that it is quite likely a virus that is causing the deep earthy red colour. Grapevines pests and viruses are not new and winegrowers are often replacing one or two diseased or damaged vines each year. But it seems that one certain type of virus, the leafroll type 3, has now become a bit of a problem in some of our vineyards, thanks partly to a mealy bug that is helping to spread the disease. So instead of just a vine there and a vine here having to be replaced, entire vineyards are at risk, especially those planted with red wine grape varieties - Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France and Syrah. There are a wide range of effects including reduced yields, low quality and hard to ripen fruit, and decline and death of the vines.
We used to think that phylloxera was a problem but the way to combat that vineyard louse was to plant of certain types of rootstock. Winegrowers who don't use phylloxera-resistant rootstock know that they'll probably have to replant their vineyards sometime in the future. But those that planted on phylloxera-resistant vines didn't factor leafroll into the equation. Sure you can buy vines that are free of leaf roll virus when they're purchased, but the mealy bug isnít choosey as it travels along the wires from one vine to the next. Vineyard machinery can also help the mealybug travel across to other rows to start infecting previously virus-free plants.
It's devastating to hear that Gimblett Road in Hawkes Bay, the heart of red wine country, is one of the areas under attack and the virus doesnít care where it strikes as it spreads through multi award winning vineyards - vineyards that have been garnering complexity with age.
CJ Pask, one of the first producers to plant in Gimblett Road, has some of the vineyards that are affected. Vineyard manager Bruce Smith said in a newspaper article last week, "It's a bit like cancer". They've had to pull out some blocks that were 25 years old and then lose 3 to 4 years of production while the replacement vines get established.
This week's Wine of the Week could have been made from some of those vines if they weren't infected when the grapes were picked in 2004.
It's the CJ Pask Gimblett Road Cabernet Merlot Malbec 2004. Deep crimson red with concentrated, rich plummy fruit and creamy oak on the nose, itís even bigger and more concentrated in the palate with finely structured velvety tannins, blackberry and black cherry fruit, a touch of liquorice and a spicy oak finish. Rich and powerful and deliciously drinkable with a touch of chocolate as it lingers, it's been matured in French and American oak which adds vanillin sweetness as well as complexity.
Made from a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 15% Malbec, it carries 14% alcohol by volume, is sealed with a screwcap and is a very affordable $22.95 at its recommended retail price.
It should be widely available but of course, if you canít find it, then dial up the CJ Pask Winery website, and order online from there.
© Sue Courtney
9 July 2006