28 February 2013

January in Other Vineyards

This post is way overdue, but in the interests of continuity, here it is...

Some of you who know M and I may not be surprised to hear that our trip to New Zealand took in many of the main wine regions ;)  We were keen to hunt out some of the great Pinot Noirs that we've heard so much about, as well as try to find Sauvignon Blanc beyond that commonly available in bulk in Australia (ie Is anyone making SB that is actually drinkable?!) and to discover what else is going on with wine there.  Having spent a few months in the vineyard here, I was also interested to see if I could start to understand the differences in viticulture methods and weather impacts.

We visited the following regions.  The thoughts on wines below are completely subjective and were not always fuelled by sobriety...!

Hawkes Bay
This region is on the East Coast of the North Island about half-way up the coast.  It's protected by mountains which keeps it quite dry, and is seemingly hot but actually still considered Cool Climate.  One of the famous sub-regions within it is the Gimlett Gravels area, which produces great reds and chardonnays in its poor quality soil.  The Stonecroft Syrah and the Trinity Hill Chardonnay were particularly enjoyed.

Martinborough
This small region based around the farming town of Martinborough about an hour north-east of Wellington is Pinot and Chardonnay heaven.   It sits on a completely flat plateau surrounded by low (by NZ standards) hills.  This region appears to have mainly smaller producers, although there are also some large companies, with the vineyards generally small and tightly grown.  Vines are closely planted with stones or white weedmat placed under them to radiate heat.  They are generally closely hedged and the majority of leaves are removed from around the developing fruit to let sunlight in.  Getting the fruit to ripen clearly involves work here!  Schubert Wines is run by a German family who decided to move to wherever in the world they could make the best Pinot possible, and they chose Martinborough (admitting they were relieved that Kazakstan doesn't produce great Pinot!).  The result is impressive.  Also really good was Palliser Estate Pinot and Chardonnay, and we tasted the first good Sauvugnon Blanc at Ata Rangi along with their Pinot and Chardonnay too.

Marlborough
The home of the (in)famous NZ Sauvignon Blanc.  I had no sense of just how huge this region is!  We stayed in a cottage on a hill overlooking a chunk of the region and it was SB vines as far as the eye could see, and that was only two of the largest companies!  

Marlborough is quite flat with its eastern-most wineries adjacent to the Pacific Ocean but with varying soil types across the region.  

It is said that wine drinkers either love of hate Sauvignon Blanc.  I definitely fit into the latter category, at least I did based on my experiences at Aussie summer gatherings where people bring along cheap bottles of the stuff, probably mainly due to the majority of cold bottles of white in your average bottle-shop fridge being NZ SB.  So we were determined to see if we could find any examples of it made into something palatable.  And I'm happy to say that we did.  Although the two main offerings that I really liked were made using quite different techniques to your usual ten-buck chuck.  

Cloudy Bay is probably the best-known Marlborough vineyard.  They do an average SB but also make a great partially oaked SB called Te Koko that is really good (yes I know I'm a wine snob, but I was surprised!!).  And then we discovered Clos Henri, a vineyard owned by French winemakers.  It may be cheating to say that this was the best NZ SB we tried because in reality they were using NZ SB grapes to make Sancerre style wine.  But wow, it was fantastic!  They are also making really good Pinot Noir, concentrating on just those two varieties, and making wines that reflect the differing terroir of the property - so there are two types of Pinot, both sophisticated, one grown on the hill and one on the flat, in differing soil types. 

Waipara
I have to admit that we only tried one Waipara vineyard, but it was great.  Waipara is about an hour north of Christchurch.  It's quite a small region.  We went to Black Estate purely because I'd happened to have a glass of their riesling in Melbourne the week before we went on holiday, and really enjoyed it, but were glad that we did.  It's a vineyard run by an extended family, the son-in-law of whom had happened to  have worked in a cafe around the corner from the City Garden some years ago.  They are making really great riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir.  They also have a fabulous new cellar door/cafe  designed by an architect in the family, were serving siphoned coffee and salted caramel macaroons and had a gorgeous German short haired pointer dog called Digby - what's not to love?!

Central Otago
This is the go-to region for amazing Pinot Noir in NZ.  To me it was just astounding that anyone had even tried to grow wine there, given that it sits in quite extreme country.  There are high, rocky mountains, glacial lakes and rivers and savage winds.  The region is quite spread out along either side of a lakeside valley, in little pockets where there is enough flattish space to plant vines, but apparently it is this marginalism that is producing amazing wine.  This is also where the picturesque Rippon Vineyard (the photo at the top of this post) is located, and where we had a fascinating discussion with one of the viticulturists about organic and biodynamic winemaking as well as enjoying their pinot noir and riesling.

So there you go, January in MANY other vineyards!

(In case anyone is starting to worry for my health at this point, I should point out that interspersed between the wineries was much walking/tramping, bike riding and kayaking, and I'm pretty sure there was at least one AFD in the month...  ;)

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