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posted April 2011
Daenna Van Mulligen
Gibbston Valley, the Kawarau River
Gorge, Chard Farm vineyards in the backdrop
A direct flight from Vancouver on Air
New Zealand 083 had me on the ground in Auckland an hour earlier than expected,
just before the sun arose at the end of summer.
Summer in New Zealand that is.
Well rested and eager to begin my journey I was able to hop on an earlier flight
to my first destination, Queenstown, despite the controlled chaos after the
earthquake just days earlier.
It was a beautiful morning flight, two hours of snow tipped mountains and Tasman
Sea, before the geography began to change and the mountains became treeless
hillsides. The plane swooped low between hills and followed a lake until landing
in Queenstown on the South Island in Otago.
Queenstown was an unexpected delight, a small but bustling resort town on the
edge of lake Wakatipu, a skinny lake that twists and turns more than 80
kilometers between Central Otago's mountains.
Like many places and many names in New Zealand (Aotearoa), Wakatipu is a Maori
name. The Maori are said to have arrived from eastern Polynesia hundreds of
years prior to European settlers and formed their own culture and tribes. Kiwi's
commonly use Maori names and words, interspersed with Kiwi English.
By afternoon on that first full day in New Zealand I had managed to settle in at
Novotel Lakeside, wander around Queenstown's quaint streets and alleys and
even pick up my an AllBlacks t-shirt in
anticipation of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Central Otago Wine
Central Otago was a mystery to me (like it
is to many others) - a developing region on the South Island of New Zealand,
poised at around 45║S and linked to a town of vacationers, trampers and skiers.
Of course, as Central Otago becomes more internationally recognized and develops
a food and wine culture that includes winery bistros and vineyard
accommodations, wine tourism will also increase. And Queenstown's tourism
marketing board is well aware of that.
And with the quality of its Pinot Noir - a style that is all its own - the
worlds most southerly winemaking region is undoubtedly making waves that will
reach wine lovers around the globe.
But, unlike say Marlborough, Central Otago is harder to understand. It is
comprised of several regions that fall into valleys beyond Queenstown. Driving
here confuses your sense of direction as the roads wind through mountains and
hillsides and follow lakes the Kawarau River. It is a dry region of
semi-continental influences with large diurnal shifts (daytime/nightime
temperature fluctuations) which is very good for viticulture. But frost can be
an issue here as can lack of water.
Most of the Central Otago winegrowing region falls into the Cromwell Basin,
sourrounding Lake Dunstan, northeast of Queenstown.
The Cromwell Basin includes: Bannockburn, Lowburn, Pisa and Bendigo.
Just outside of Queenstown to the east, the narrow Gibbston Valley vineyards are
perhaps the most dramatic as they rise from above the Kawarau river in steep
patches. Due to its altitude and southerly location this is the coolest
sub-region in Central Otago.
Lesser known Clyde and Alexandra are east and slightly south of Queenstown and
much farther north and east - named for the town and lake which anchors it, is
Central Otago built up due to gold mining in the 1860s that brought settlers
from all over the world. One of those miners, a Frenchman named John Desire
Feraud who came from a winemaking family, planted the first vines in the area in
1864. In the 1980s Pinot Noir started to show promise and the thinking was that
the area could become the Champagne of the Southern Hemisphere. Unfortunately
Chardonnay did not do quite as well, but Pinot Gris did. In 1987 the first
commercial wines of Central Otago were produced - its history is still young but
showing not only promise but results.
Those who make wine in Central Otago feel strongly that like Oregon and
Burgundy, this place is made for Pinot Noir. Low rainfall dissuades disease,
long growing seasons, broad day to night diurnal shifts (although not extreme),
naturally low yields, soils that have not been damaged by previous crops and
chemicals and vineyards typically not conducive to machine harvesting are some
of the qualities that makes this region so special.
I guess what I would want you to take away from this is - Oregon is closer,
Burgundy may be more established and revered, but do not overlook the power and
the unique charm of the Central Otago Pinot Noirs. Despite the obvious vintage
variations, I found these wines, across the board, to be of more consistent
quality and bound with a sense of place than the very region they strive to
Rising quickly up and away from the lake and downtown Queenstown, driving east I
had my first glimpse of the stunning Karawau River gorge (just one of the
stunning backdrops used in the Lord of the Rings movies) and those recognizable
rows of wine-grape producing vines of the high Gibbston Valley.
Proceeding through Gibbston, my first stop was in the Cromwell Basin at a
contract crush where Jacques and Swava Pociecha's
Gibbston Highgate wines are made.
Contract crush operations are a brilliant way for small producers to make wine
without the incredible start up cost of opening a winery. A contract crush is a
working winery that is shared by a number of individual producers and may have
several winemakers as chosen by each producer.
Jacques and Swava (right)
planted Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in 1994 and sold their grapes
in the early days. Jacques believes that the high
terraces (380-420m) in Gibbston Valley,
where his vineyard sits, is perfect for vines and the terroir allows for
producing chemical free grapes. Here, it is slightly wetter than other locations
in Central Otago and due to higher elevation (therefore cooler temperatures) the
grapes have a longer ripening time. And certainly, in the remainder of my
travels over the following three weeks I noticed that the Gibbston Valley grapes
were farther behind other regions.
Like more than 90% of New Zealand winegrowers Gibbston Highgate vineyards are
maintained with sustainable practices as outlined by Sustainable Winegrowing NZ
Gibbston Highgate Soultaker Pinot Noir, 2009 - loaded with spicy red
fruits and berries and savoury notes with forest floor and mouthwatering acidity
in the mouth.
The 2008 was more feminine, quite delicate
with floral hints of raspberry and blueberry, a silky
and long sweet tannins.
The 2007 is a meaty almost brawny Pinot Noir with earthy spiciness,
red fruit and firm tannins.
Gibbston Highgate Dreammaker Pinot Gris, 2010 - lovely fruit-cup aromas
(notably pear) honey and flowers. Lovely acidity, a kiss of sweetness, fresh and
fruity but still chic with a hint of spice.
(right: Pinot Gris grapes at Gibbston Highgate)
Gibbston Highgate Heartbreaker Chardonnay, 2008 - Impressive. Mineral,
pear and apple, and brown butter aromas. Creamy textured and nicely weighted in
the mouth with lively acidity and hidden power. Similar flavours of brown butter
and white fruit, citrus and spice. Elegant.
stop you before you made the same mistake I did - assuming Chard was a shortened
version of Chardonnay and therefore calling it "Shard" Farm. But it is
pronounced Chard, like the leafy vegetable (also known as Swiss Chard,
Silverbeet or a multitude of other names) pronounced with a hard "ch".
But the name comes from the the Chard family farm by way the Chard Road was
built, in the 1860s. Chard Road was built for wagon traffic between Cromwell and
Queenstown in the 1860s and it hovers narrowly between a rock wall
face and a plunging drop to the river below.
This beautiful location, high above the Kawarau gorge is hemmed in by a
mountainous backdrop. The Chard Road drive along the gorge (past the worlds
first and most famous, 1988 established, AJ Hackett Bungee jump from the Kawarau
bridge) is still very rustic, but arriving at the Chard Farm vineyard and winery
is worth it.
Winemaker for Chard Farm, John Wallace (right),
says he is fortunate to make Pinot Noir where he does, that the terroir gives
them an, "abundance of fruit, sweet ripe tannins and nice minerality". The older
vines, he says, "produce spicy and mineral driven wines with concentration and
silky tannins" that are, "svelte on the palate". He also highly recommends
pairing rabbit with Pinot Noir.
Owner Robert Hay, who studied winemaking in Germany in the early 80s and planted
the first of his vines later that decade, says it was not until, "1995-1996 that
the region really took off".
The Chard Farm labels are all estate
grown fruit but a second label called Rabbit Ridge does source fruit from
elsewhere in Central Otago.
Rabbit Ranch Pinot Gris, 2010 - fresh, clean aromas - orchard fruit and
honey with floral notes. The palate offers guava and a hint of spice,
mouth-watering citrus and a long honey/vanilla finish.
Rabbit Ranch Pinot Noir, 2008 is a very approachable and tasty Pinot Noir
- cherries and summer berries, sweet spice and toast. Nice balance and sweet
Chard Farm Mata-au Pinot Noir, 2009 is just as winemaker John Wallace
describes - plenty of juicy red fruit, spice and mineral but also with notes of
bacon and some beet greens. Elegant, with a silky texture and a bright, lively
is the impressive structure, cleverly built just 10 minutes outside of
Queenstown at Hayes Lake that offers a simply fantastic cellar door and
bistro dining experience. I
highly recommend you visit if you get to Queenstown, leave yourself in the hands
of the chef in the "Trust the Chef" menu.
If the soaring ceilings and antique, reclaimed bridge pillars and massive
fireplace don't convince you, perhaps a seat on the patio by the pond with a
majestic Otago view.
I sat down with Amisfield winemaker Stephanie Lambert
(lower right) and her
assistant winemaker Sam Hambour on my last evening in Central Otago. Stephanie
explained that the vines were planted in 1988, the first wines were released was
in 2002, the Lowburn winery in the Cromwell Basin where the vineyards are
located, was built in 2007.
Amisfield has 78 hectares of estate fruit, 45 of those
are Piot Noir, 18 hectares are Pinot Gris and the
remainder is comprised of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling
and Chenin Blanc - they make still and sparkling
Amisfield is owned by John Darby, Thomas Tusher and George Kerr and was formerly
known as Lake Hayes Vineyard.
Like more than 90% of New Zealand wine growers, Amisfield is a member of
Sustainable New Zealand (SWNZ)
and has created their own wetlands where water waste is environmentally treated
and ends up in a pond behind the winery to be used again.
This provides a home for frogs as the wild flower and grass bug banks do to
promote good insects.
Amisfield Sauvignon Blanc 2010 -
fresh aromas of guava and pretty spring blossoms, with peach and mineral
notes. The palate is zesty and fresh with very
appealing peach and citrus flavours and has an
almost oily texture - very nice.
Amisfield Sauvignon Blanc Fume, 2008 - this was a nice experiment for
Stephanie, but only 10 barrels of this wine were made. I really liked the spicy,
creamy toasty-ness of this wine supported by lovely elderflower notes. The
palate is creamy too with excellent balance and roundness. Harvested the latest
of the Sauvignon Blanc, underwent 100% malolactic and spent 18 months in 80% new
Amisfield Pinot Gris, 2009 - Again, nice freshness on this wine - aromas
of honey and pears, a hint of stone
and sweet spice that translates onto the palate.
Loads of bright acidity and a long finish.
Amisfield Pinot Noir 2009 is still quite youthful - aromas of red fruits
and sweet spice, violets and cedar. A lovely weight on the palate with nice
fruit and freshness and coffee flavours lingering on the finish with round ripe
Amisfield 'Rocky Knoll' Pinot Noir, 2006 - Very open with generous fruit
on the nose, cherries, berries, vanilla, sweet spice and violets. The palate is
generous too with sweet ripe fruit and a supple texture. It has a substantial
finish with ripe tannins. Delicious.
Spent 15 months in 44% new tight-grained French oak barrels.
dinner at Amisfield: grilled tomato eggplant
cheese salad, polenta, grilled haloumi & olives, crostini
means water in Maori and "tiri" means rough or turbulent.
This boutique winery is owned by Auklanders Alister Ward and Paula Ramage who
established it in 1998.
Both Ward and Ramage grew up in Central Otago, so owning their own vineyard in
their South Island home was a dream come true. I didn't get a chance to see
Paula on this trip but I did get to meet her briefly when she attended the
Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival in 2010 where she told me she
completely disagreed with a brief review I had made, of her Pinot Noir.
I was charmed by the old Presbyterian church that had been moved onto
Waitiri Creek's estate
Shanagolden block in 2000. Searching for an old
to transform into a restaurant and tasting
room is one thing, scraping the wood walls back
to their original luster is something else.
Something, winery manager Jason Moss tells me Paula spent a significant amount
of time doing.
Here you can sit down and have a lovely, simple meal and enjoy the wine while
the sun shines through those classic church windows.
After lunch you can wander down toward the river and have a walk along the
Gibbston River Trail.
the road just 1.5 kilometers from this main Chardonnay planted Shenagolden Block
is the Matagouri block that is planted with Pinot Noir and a small amount of
Gewurztraminer. The Riesling, Pinot Gris and some Pinot Noir Waitiri Creek makes
does come from the Cromwell Basin.
Waitiri Creek 'Stella' Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 This single vineyard wine
was named for Paula's Niece, Stella. Upfront elderflower, guava and
passion-fruit with snappy grass and herbal notes. It has a lovely weight
and texture with tangy , zesty flavours and a mouth-watering finish.
Waitiri Creek Pinot Gris, 2009 quite fruit-cup on the nose with notable
pear and honey and grapefruit
citrus notes. Very attractive weight with a crisp dry
palate and long clean finish.
'Harriet' Pinot Noir RosÚ, 2010 - cranberry coloured with aromas of
strawberry marshmallows and peach jelly. Drier in the mouth than the nose leads
you to believe with plenty of lively acidity to balance.
Waitiri Creek 'Drummer' Pinot Noir, 2009 - This is a very savoury,
masculine leaning Pinot Noir with earthy, spiced, smoked bacon and black cherry.
The palate follows suit with spiced savoury and black cherry flavours. There is
a significant amount of spice and smooth fine tannins.
Waitiri Creek Reserve Pinot Noir, Bannockburn, 2009
Sweet dark cherries, toasted spice, roasted coffee
and a core of smoked bacon and earth. The palate is supple, smooth and quite
mouth-filling with bright fruit, brown spices and and espresso finish. Nice
Looking out across Lake Dunstan, the Pisa Range in the
background in the Cromwell Basin
for the largest quartz vein in New Zealand, which runs below the primary
Quartz Reef vineyard, this
now bio-dynamic (although technically still in transition) Bendigo property
produces fantastic traditional method sparkling wines from Chardonnay and Pinot
Noir as well as still Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.
Sadly, I missed meeting one of Central Otago's pioneers, owner of Quartz Reef,
Rudi Bauer. by a day upon arrival in New Zealand. Bauer is well respected not
only in Central Otago and New Zealand but around the world.
But Rudi's assistant winemaker Sam Jary (right)
was a wonderful replacement to take me through the vineyard and to visit the
"nerve center" aka the shed where the biodynamic preparations are made.
(lower right three pictures)
Biodynamic agriculture is a completely separate topic
goes beyond organics), of which I am no
specialist in, but I love the workings of it. It involves
some simple (and not so simple) methods of enriching the soil to benefit the
plant, in non-invasive, chemical -free ways by using plants, cow pat, teas, moon
and cosmic cycles to give balance to all living things.
The man who developed these methods (and religion of sorts) was Dr. Rudolph
Steiner, a German scientist and philosopher who believed a farm should be
self-sustaining, self-contained and self-reliant. It promotes a strong ethical
link to the guardianship of the land.
Jary, who has only been in New Zealand for a few
years also worked in Burgundy. He has learned a
lot working with Rudi and credits him (along with
pioneers, Allan Brady of Gibbston Valley Estate,
Rolf and Lois Mills of Rippon and others) in pushing
to make sure Pinot Noir became synonymous with Central Otago.
Much of that success comes from the ability, Jary says, "to all work together".
Jary also told me there is some Gruner Veltliner on the property (a nod to
Rudi's heritage), a variety I saw popping up here and there in different
Bendigo is very different from Gibbston Valley. It is hotter here, you can feel
it, it's more arid. As I stood on a hillside high above the vineyards looking at
the Southern Alps the valley opened up in front of me
unlike the narrower Gibbston - here in the Cromwell
Basin I was looking at the engine room of Central
Jary explains that the Pinot Noirs here are
different too, he threw out words like, "elegance", "power", "masculine" but
also notes that you really have to watch the tannins in Otago.. That was
something I was already starting to realize - the structure of the Central Otago
Pinot Noirs and their impressive, albeit sometimes daunting tannins.
Quartz Reef Method Traditionelle NV - made mostly of Pinot Noir with 24%
Chardonnay this Canadian available sparkling impressed me with its pretty
aromatics - citrus, honey, spring blossoms and stone fruit. It is creamy but
very juicy on the palate with pristine fruit flavours and slightly leesy weight.
Quartz Reef Method Traditionelle RosÚ, NV this was the first vintage this
wine has been made - 89% Pinot Noir and 11% Chardonnay comprise this wine - it
has fine floral notes layered with cherry and strawberry and stone fruit. Lovely
creamy weight, a mouth-filling mousse carries flavours of citrus across the
finish. A lovely colour with nice richness.
Quartz Reef Method Traditionelle, 2006 This wine was aged on its lees and
shows in its complexity and weight. Toasted brioche, macadamia nuts and cookie
dough with a lovely smooth and creamy palate. Really a gorgeous wine,
well-balanced and complex without
Quartz Reef Pinot Gris, 2008 - bright orchard fruits - apple, pear and
citrus with floral notes and honey plus a whiff of smoky minerality. There is
rounded fruit on the palate and a hint of something slightly savoury but with
plenty of mineral and citrus lingering. Again, lovely complexity and elegance
here. The 2009 smells earthier (similar to a Pinot Noir) with rich pear,
guava and honey aromas. Rounded palate with some spice and citrus peel flavours
it starts with the impression of delicateness but has some impressive hidden
power. Less richness in the mouth than the 2008 but some fantastic acidity. The
youthful and very vibrant 2010 offers similar guava and pear with honey
blossoms leans into mouth-watering acidity on the palate. The palate is very
soft and smooth but has plenty of fruit and it finishes powerfully.
Quartz Reef Pinot Noir Central Otago, 2006 - Here, lovely black cherry
and sweet spiced lead the charge followed by leather and some earthy notes. The
palate is smooth and has a clove and exotic spice flavours mingling with mocha.
The tannins are still firm but nicely integrated.
Quartz Reef Bendigo Pinot Noir, 2007 Somewhat closed on the nose when I
tasted it, there was however some tobacco, sweet and sour cherry and spice
aromas and some oak showing through. Nice complexity on the palate - certainly a
more austere palate but it is elegant and silky with smooth tannins just the
same. The 2008 version is firm - earthy and spicy on the nose with very
integrated aromas - forest floor, spice and cherry. Powerful in the mouth - very
masculine - the core is supple and smooth but is still surrounded by chalky,
Carrick was my first winery restaurant experience in New Zealand and an
impressive experience it was. In fact it was the first winery restaurant built
in the Cromwell Basin back in 2002.
The entire property is lovely, trees and sweeping views of Bannockburn and lake
Dunstan and the scent of lavender made me think of being in Provence while
dining on the patio.
(right: Steve Green & winemaker Jane Docherty)
is owned by Steve & Barbara Green who established the vineyards in 1994 as part
of the second wave of wineries that followed in the footsteps of the 1984
launches of Rippon, Chard Farm and Gibbston Valley.
Green is the president of the Central Otago Winegrowers Association, and is also
Chairman of the New Zealand Winegrowers Association and is as much a proponent
of New Zealand wine as he is of his own region.
Winemaker Jane Docherty joined Carrick in 2008 after being the assistant
winemaker at nearby Felton Road and prior to that Mt. Difficulty. Carrick
produces pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc and as
of 2011 they are certified organic and do utilize some biodynamic preparations.
The vines were planted by the Green's in 1994 with a follow up planting in 1997.
Docherty says that the now 17 year old Pinot Noir
vines produce grapes, "that offer more
in the final wine. She also adds that Bannockburn is the, "hottest place in the
Cromwell Basin" and the Pinot Noirs here offer, "dark fruit, spice and plenty of
tannin, but fine tannin".
Carrick Pinot Gris, 2010 - Loads of tropical notes of guava and bright
citrus, creamy pear and mineral with caramel hints. The palate offers
mouth-watering acidity softened by a creamy texture and zesty citrus flavours.
There is some oak trailing on the finish with leesy notes.
Carrick Riesling, 2009 Very mineral on the nose,
lemon-drops and petrol with undertones of honey
and stone fruits. The palate has plenty
of racy acidity and a lovely weight - a surprising 25 grams per liter of sugar
is nicely hidden.
Carick Riesling, 2010 offers pretty aromas of lime zest, peach,
apricot and guava. The palate is very lemon/lime focused but the acidity is
snappy and very tangy - beautiful balance, a really fantastic wine.
Carrick Chardonnay, 2009 to avoid overkill on this Chard
Docherty used 10% barrel fermentation and then aging in only 12% new French oak.
Expect toast, browned butter and brown spices, rich pear, melon and apple
aromas. Citrus dominates the palate followed by a clean, toasted spice finish.
Carrick Pinot Noir, 2009. Jane Docherty says that 2009 was a difficult
growing year due to cold and wind, in fact she dropped half her crop. On the
nose this wine displays smoke and juicy cherries, wild herbs and bacon fat with
toasted spice. It is supple and very silky on the palate with fine but firm
tannins - nice elegance.
Carrick: Eggplant tian, grilled haloumi, summer
gazpacho/parmesan crisp, bread & three dips
Mt Difficulty in the background
is a great name for a wine label, a name that pays homage to the Mountain that
forms the backdrop of this winery, cellar door and restaurant.
Located in the southern sub-region of Bannockburn,
Mt. Difficulty vineyards are
protected from the cool winds blowing from Wakatipu and Gibbston Valley by their
namesake. Like other parts of Otago, diurnal shifts from day to night provide
the very cool nights and hot days that grapes love.
Winemaker Matt Dicey (below right)
says, "We are in the heart of the desert, the driest part of New Zealand.
Bannockburn is the hottest place in Cromwell, this", he said, pointing to the
land we stood on, "is the hottest location in Bannockburn".
Matt Dicey is a fourth generation vigneron, his father came to New Zealand with
the family from South Africa in the 1970s, and with a group of partners
planted Mt. Difficulty vines in 1992. Their first vintage
1998 and Matt, who has a Masters Degree in
Oenology and Viticulture, has been involved since the beginning.
Mt. Difficulty "Dry" Riesling, 2010 - as the label says, this tangy wine
offers bright lively aromas of stonefruit, lime, honey and chamomile flowers.
The palate is zesty and lip-smacking with plenty of citrus peel and mineral
Mt. Difficulty "Medium" Riesling, 2010 - musky ripe
fruits, apricots and guava, marmalade and honey.
The palate has a great dose of snappy acidity to
balance the sweetness. Fantastic wine with a
well balanced 35 gr/L sugar.
Mt. Difficulty Sauvignon Blanc 2010 - a very aromatic
Sauvignon Blanc offering passion-fruit, guava, grass
clippings and capsicum. Tangy and crisp white and
green fruit on the palate, very nice concentration
and a long lemony finish.
Several months of weekly lees stirring in tank.
Mt. Difficulty Chardonnay, 2009 on first approach -
brown butter and brown spices followed by fresh
white fruit and citrus. Underneath, sweeter riper
fruit and floral notes start to come to the surface.
The palate follows suit - light toast and brown
spices with plenty of bright acidity and white
grapefruit flavours lingering on the finish.
11 months in 15-20% new oak barrels with lees.
Difficulty 'Roaring Meg' Pinot Noir, 2009
Named for some serious and treacherous rapid along the Kawarau Gorge, the
Roaring Meg Pinot Noir is in a word approachable - but also delicious. The Mt.
Difficulty entry level Pinot comes from contracted grapes sourced throughout the
Cromwell Basin. On the nose, sweet cherry lollies, licorice, thyme and lavender
with mint and peppery undertones. The palate is silky and fresh with fine cedary
tannins - very compelling.
Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noir, Bannockburn, 2009 Smooth aromas - dark
cherries, pretty floral notes, wild herbs and savoury undertones. In the mouth,
expect more cherry with brown spice, tobacco and a long, roasted espresso
finish. Powdery tannins linger.
Mt Difficulty 'Packspur' Pinot Noir, 2009 part of a new series called the
"Grower's Series" . The Packspur is a leased vineyard that sits 360 meters above
sea level. Fragrant ripe cherries and floral notes undertones of herbs, forest
floor and spice. There is silky sweet fruit on the palate - this is a more
delicate wine, feminine with juicy red berries and warm spice.
Mt. Difficulty 'Long Gully' Pinot Noir, 2008 compared to the 'Packspur'
this single vineyard Pinot Noir is more masculine in style. Richer, darker
cherry and briary berries with a core of earth, roasted coffee and vanilla. The
palate offers tightly wound berry and cherry flavours lashed with roasted and
standing on a windy hillside above Felton Road's 'Block 3"
(right) in The Elms
vineyard with owner Nigel Greening. I am watching him point out across the
valley and at his vineyards, talking at a speed in which I barely keep up with -
perhaps it also has to do with his English/Kiwi accent.
Nigel Greening is a passionate and lively character, maker of the most respected
Pinot Noirs in Central Otago. Nigel made sure to point out the indigenous wild
tussock grasses (seen all over down here), the only thing in history, ever to
have been grown on his land prior to these vines. And, that besides the Maori
people, until the 1860s gold rush no one had stepped foot on most of this land.
Within minutes I was beginning to sense that Nigel does not do things in half
Road is certified Demeter Biodynamic
(see explanation under Quartz Reef) and they
grow enough food to feed everyone who works there. The gardens are impressive
and bring in a variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the season. Chickens
roam freely and provide eggs, two beautiful Scottish Highland cows named Okie &
Dokie (lower right)
stood watching us warily and I knew there were goats off grazing somewhere.
Stewart Elms located the spot where we stood, at the end of Felton Road, in the
extreme south of the Cromwell Basin and began planting vines in 1982. From
1992-94 The Elms Blocks 1-9 were planted and the remaining 10-13 were planted in
2001. Each Block offers something different, but for Pinot Noir,
Block 3 we are looking at seems to offer more
finesse and elegance than the others and some
blocks are more conducive to Chardonnay and Riesling.
Cornish Point is just that, a point of land that juts out into Lake Dunstan, an
old mining settlement surrounded by water on three sides. Here the 25 Blocks of
Cornish Point vineyard are comprised of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The Calvert vineyard is located only a kilometer away from The Elms, on Felton
Pinot Noir and Riesling are planted on these
slopingnorth facing blocks.
Slightly lower in elevation than
The Elms the Calvert tend to ripen earlier.
(Felton Road right)
Felton Road winemaker Blair Walter joined us for
what turned out to be once in a lifetime vertical tasting of Felton Road 'Block
3' Pinot Noirs under the watchful eye of a winery feline named - Jancis.
Felton Road Pinot Noir, Bannockburn, 2009 - touted at their 'village
wine' this charming wine has pristine cherry, berry and violet notes, mineral,
earth and delicate spice. There is generous sweet red
cherry flavours, loads of bright acidity and
and roasted coffee lingering on the finish.
There are obvious fine, but firm tannins here and it is still tightly wound but
the fruit really shines.
Felton Road Cornish Point Pinot Noir, 2009 There is more depth here right
away than the Bannockburn "village wine", there is plenty of sweet ripe dark
fruit on the nose but there is an sweet earthiness that
binds it. Fine grained and silky in the mouth with
expressive fruit and long sweet tannins on a
tightly-wound finish. Nice elegance here and generous fruit.
Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir, 2009 - Integrated aromas, fruit, spice,
herbs and some floral and mineral notes but this wine was not giving it up for
me on the nose. The palate entry is smooth and tightly bound with extremely
fresh fruit and fine grained but firm, dry tannins.
The 2008 was also shy on the nose but I detected
cherries and sweet spice, cedary notes
coffee/toffee hints. Softer than the 2009 it has the old world integration of
flavours but also offers vibrant fruit and bright acidity. A structured wine
that needs time.
The 2007 seems very mineral-driven with cherries and sweet red berry
aromas. Change from the younger vintages seems more obvious here - minerally and
earthy in the mouth with cocoa and roasted coffee flavours lingering.
The 2006 is even earthier - the baby fat is gone in this wine. There are
plenty of herbal notes and smoked bacon, with cocoa and roasted espresso. The
palate though offers fresh, juicy red fruit on the entry but that
gives way to savoury flavours. The texture is silky but
the wine is giving some attitude and there are some
awkward tannins at this stage of its evolution.
That same regional cocoa/coffee flavour lingers on the finish.
The 2004 was starting to show secondary aromas that some with age and the
change from the 06 is obvious in the abundance of savoury, garrigue
and cigar notes. The palate is juicy, but not youthful
with some very nice complexity. The tannins here
are still long, smooth and firm.
The 2002 was a treat - savoury notes, bacon fat and
cherries, a bit sauvage on the nose but
has a lovely silky texture, gorgeous integrated flavours, a satisfying weight
and long sweet tannins.
The 2000 is a unique character - savoury herbs and peanut butter with
some salinity. The balance on the palate is very nice but it seemed austere and
a bit weedy.
Felton Road Block 2 Chardonnay, 2009 offers beautiful brown spice and
toast, plenty of fresh citrus and some light floral on the nose. The palate is
slick and rounded and pristine with a mouth-watering finish. Nice complexity and
Felton Road Chardonnay, 2008 was lovely - very fragrant ripe fruit and
floral notes with light toasted spice. There is a delicateness on the palate
compared to the Block 2 2009 but it is brimming with sweet citrus - grapefruit
and tangerine, a hint of toast and caramel lingers on the finish. Delicious.
Felton Road Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, 2001 was made from the commonly
found Mendoza clone (the Mendoza clone is commonly planted in New Zealand its
berries tend toward non-uniform chicks and hens). The nose offers gorgeous
nutty praline and honey that is echoed on the palate. The caramelized notes in
the mouth lead to sweet spice and tangy citrus flavours. Extremely fresh but
also extremely elegant. This was Felton Road's first Chardonnay vintage under
screw-cap and the vintage was their largest ever.
Comments from wine producers in Central Otago
"The wine is the wine, it represents the place." ~ Nigel Greening, Felton Road
"You can never make wine better than your site will give you." ~ Nigel Greening,
In reference to wine and vineyards. "Be a spectator not a dictator. We are along
for the ride, not to change it." ~ NIgel Greening, Felton Road
grown on schist in Otago gives the Pinot obvious, "dark roasted char aromas and
roasted coffee flavours on the finish". ~ Jane Docherty, Carrick
Pinot Noir from the Cromwell Basin offers, "dark fruit, spice and plenty of
tannin, but fine tannin". ~ Jane Docherty, Carrick
Bendigo and the Cromwell Basin "Pinot Noirs here are different too", "elegance",
"power", "masculine" but also notes that you really, "have to watch the tannins
in Otago". ~ Sam Jary, Quartz Reef
In Gibbston Valley, "abundance of fruit,
sweet ripe tannins and nice minerality". The older vines, "produce spicy and
mineral driven wines
silky tannins" that are, "svelte on the palate".
Recommends pairing rabbit with Pinot Noir. ~ John Wallace, Chard Farm
It is a region that, "is not conducive to high yields therefore there is a focus
on quality, six tonnes per hectare is typical". "Quality over quantity, as the
climate dictates - it is a natural phenomenon". ~ Steve Green, Carrick
An Intro to New Zealand
Marlborough - the Savviest Place on Earth
Wairapa/Canterbury - Christchurch's wine
Wairarapa (Martinborough) - a little known gem
Hawkes Bay - bold reds and elegant whites from Hill, Range & Gravels
Auckland & Waiheke Island
- where history is made
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