Posts in the Category: Central Otago

Camping Cuvees


New Zealand has held a Pinot workshop in the spa town of Hanmer for more than 20 years. Following Pinot 2010 in Wellington, Marlborough producers decided to set up their own workshop to get serious about this fickle grape.

While Hanmer has sumptuous hot pools, Marlborough producers hold their get-together at a school campground! Whoever thought it would be a good idea to hold wine tastings at a centre with an adventure playground was asking for trouble. I am reliably informed injuries have been sustained in the name of Marlborough Pinot Noir.

Ben Glover, winemaker at Wither Hills, says: “This is modelled on the Hanmer experience but we really need to encourage our own region to take Pinot seriously.”

Indeed, Marlborough Pinot Noir has an image as simple and juicy. Serious Pinot drinkers have looked to Martinborough or Central Otago for complex, structured Pinot Noir. But Marlborough producers aren’t content with the status quo.

Anna Flowerday, co-owner of Te Whare Ra, says: “Marlborough gets accused of being too fruity and not complex but that’s a vine age thing. Now we have really good clones and really good sites and that’s why I think Marlborough Pinot has improved.”

Certainly older vines and sites, particulary in the southern Wairau Valley such as Benmorvan and Clayvin vineyard, are showing promising results but this year’s campground convention concentrated on stems in Marlborough Pinot Noir.

Flowerday explains: “We have a whole day when people bring trial wines. This year everyone brought stem trials from the 2011 vintage. We did some really great flights with no stems, 20% stems vs 50%. We found some interesting stuff.”

“Some people swore blue murder that they would never used stems and now they are considering it,” she adds.  “Stems is more of a finesse thing giving wines an extra layer. You get secondary characteristics. The stems give the palate width and a floral perfumed character.”

Across the road at Wither Hills, Glover has also been experimenting with grape stems. He was cautious at first, worried that stems would bring green flavours and astringency. Today, the winery’s standard Pinot generally has 5-12% stems in the ferment.  He has also done barrel trials with up to 100% stems. “It was pretty cool. It really swung the pendulum, giving the wines white pepper, lifted notes…It kept the bright fruit at bay.”

While I personally love stems in my New Zealand Pinot Noir, providing structure and line to the soft fruit, it doesn’t always work. Let’s face it, no-one wants astringency in a Kiwi Pinot. Flowerday adds: “We need to do it very cautiously on younger vines because they don’t have the concentration of fruit.”

In addition to vine age, the weather also appears to play a part. “Lignification is seasonal; a Frenchman would say it’s terroir. Personally, I think longer hang time is conducive to lignification,” says Glover. He also notes that some blocks tend to lignify early while others don’t. Clay soils, in his opinion, inhibit lignification too.

With the 2012 harvest now in full swing, those “serious” Pinot producers will again be doing stem trials to take back to the 2013 edition of Marlborough’s campground convention. Let’s hope someone packs the first aid kit.

This blog has also been published on Pinot NZ 2013


Posted in - Blog Posts & Central Otago & Marlborough & New Zealand & Pinot Noir on April 23rd 2012 0 Comments

Eden Valley’s message on a bottle

Eden Valley Riesling producers have launched a proprietary bottle, embossed in the same vein as Chateauneuf du Pape. And the first vintage using this bottle – 2011 – is hitting shelves now.

The green flute has a symbol on the front representing the rolling hills of the Eden Valley and the region’s name is also embossed. It gives the region’s wines much better on-shelf presence and gives confused consumers a better idea what to expect if they’ve tried an Eden Valley Riesling before.

While it’s early days for the bottle, the region’s two biggest producers, Yalumba and Peter Lehmann, have not come on board for the first release.  The price per bottle – some quote 90 cents, others more, others less – is perhaps a little high, particularly in the current economic climate when producers are looking to cut costs. However, a special mould had to be created to produce the bottles hence the high cost. What’s more, the Eden Valley is not a mass producer so the economy of scale is certainly not there to bring costs down.

Yalumba’s Louisa Rose, explains their decision. “The issue for us is that it’s quite expensive and our brands are much bigger than most. It’s a commercial decision at the moment but I think it’s a great idea.”

And Ian Hongell, winemaker at Peter Lehmann, adds “We are not using the Eden Valley bottle because we have our own proprietary bottle.”

Yet, if the biggest producers came on board, they would have the economy of scale, and the project would have more clout.

One of the area’s most renowned producers, Henschke, has bottled its 2011 Julius Riesling in the proprietary bottle but Stephen Henschke admits, “Not enough are using it but I think more people will be influenced to start.”

I certainly hope more producers do come on board. It is a small region that is technically part of the Barossa zone and there is very little awareness of the area.

Thus far the Clare Valley has achieved a higher profile status for its Rieslings but with greater unity and widespread adoption of this bottle, there is an opportunity for the area to become known as the premium Australian Riesling region. It should take a leaf out of Central Otago’s book, which has become known as the leading new world Pinot Noir producer through its collaborative marketing efforts.

There is a real opportunity for the region: Eden Valley Rieslings offers fresh wines that are clean and modern, and would suit the current consumers’ appetite for vibrant, unoaked styles. With moderate alcohol levels (12-12.5%), lemon, lime and lavender aromatics, they would appeal to a wide audience.

Yet it is relatively unknown: as part of the Barossa, it often gets overshadowed by its bigger brother. The proprietary bottle is a good start to increase its recognition, but it shouldn’t stop there.

*Packaging manufacturer Amcor produces the proprietary bottles. I have contacted them, asking for details on production costs, price per bottle and units sold thus far but they have not responded to my calls.

Posted in - Australia & Blog Posts & Central Otago & New Zealand & Riesling & trends & wine on November 28th 2011 0 Comments

Welcoming newcomers

Playing classical music when you are number 31 in the queue to speak to an immigration officer does nothing for your stress levels.

It’s been five months since I applied for residency and they’ve just started processing it. I can’t imagine how hard it is for those whose first language isn’t English – yet that hasn’t deterred many from setting up homes and businesses here.

The wine industry has welcomed plenty of newcomers to New Zealand. The first vineyard in Marlborough was planted by a Scotsman and, most recently, Hawkes Bay’s Paritua Vineyard was purchased by a Milford-based Chinese investor, backed by shareholders in Shanghai, Beijing and Chicago.

China is getting a taste for fine red wine: five Bordeaux chateaux have been bought by Chinese firms in the past year.

Europeans and Americans have already made their mark on the country’s wine scene. Dalmatians were pioneers, particularly around Auckland, founding wineries such as Villa Maria, Nobilo and Kumeu River.

Today, Marlborough’s Fromm is Swiss-owned and nearby Clos Henri is very much a French venture. Austrians established Central Otago’s Quartz Reef and Nelson’s Seifried, the Schuberts said Auf Wiedersehen to Germany for a new life in Martinborough, and Americans are behind the artisanal Pyramid Valley and Craggy Range (mistakenly referred to as Shaggy Peak by a friend).

Attracted by New Zealand’s freedom from rigid wine-making laws, this melange of cultures makes the country’s wine scene richer and more exciting. Thank goodness they weren’t put off by the immigration department’s music.

2009 Petit Clos sauvignon blanc, by Clos Henri Marlborough ($19, Maison Vauron)
A gentle Marlborough savvy that doesn’t jump out of the glass and whack you around the chops. Elderflower, passionfruit and wet stone combine with a ripe, but not searing, acidity making you want another glass. And that’s not something you often get from $19 Marlborough wines. Allez les Francais!

2010 Schubert rosé, Martinborough ($25, Martinborough Wine Centre)
Made by German-born Kai Schubert, his latest rosé release is dry, poised and restrained. If you like a dollop of sugar in your rosé this ain’t for you, but it remains one of my favourite rosé in New Zealand.

2007 Fromm Vineyard pinot noir, Marlborough ($64, Glengarry, Fine Wine Delivery Co, Scenic Cellars)
This Swiss-owned producer really surprised me with its top pinot noir. Unadulterated and delicate, it reminded me of the top wines of Rippon Estate and Mt Maude. It’s kind of funky and has an offbeat smoky bacon and stilton nose, but that’s what rings my bell. Ding dong!

This article was originally published in the NZ Herald on Sunday 17 April 2011. To see the article on the NZ Herald site, click here

Posted in - Blog Posts & Central Otago & Marlborough & New Zealand & wine on April 18th 2011 0 Comments

Unfiltered Pinot Noir with Matt Thomson

Matt Thomson, globe trotting winemaker, joins me to discuss New Zealand wine, his love of kayaking and who he would go gay for. Plus a funny out-take at the end…

I heard the name Matt Thomson everywhere but he’s a difficult man to pin down, taking 170 flights a year.

Being a consultant winemaker in Marlborough, I was keen to pick his brain on its Pinot Noir, as I’ve been largely unimpressed with the region’s offerings thus far.

He is quick to defend Pinot Noir in Marlborough. “I find it really frustrating. If you look historically at what the region has won in terms of trophies for our Pinot Noirs, we have done better than other regions.”

But what about structure? Isn’t the region lacking a bit in its Pinots? “I think New Zealand Pinot Noir lacks structure,” he admits.

Perhaps it’s a soil thing, or maybe it’s vine age or climate…

Stem trials
Here’s where I get technical…Some winemakers are getting more structure by adding stems to the ferment. I like this. It adds a bit of chew and a linear finish, plus gives the wine more longevity. “As a component, get the level right and the wine sings,” says Thomson.

Not that everyone can do this successfully, however. Add too many stems, or if they aren’t ripe, you’ll get a green, sappy character in the wine. If you’ve ever chewed on a grape stem, you’ll know what I mean. It’s pretty unpleasant.

The problem is stems in Pinot Noir struggle to get ripe – what’s called lignification. By the time your stems lignify in Pinot, your fruit is overripe and knackered. Throughout New Zealand, there appears to be a struggle to get stems ripe. Some say it is a climate thing, others think it is clonal thing, while there’s the argument it could be a vine age thing. Which, leaves me very confused. But then again, there’s very rarely a definitive answer in the wine industry.

If anyone would like to offer their views, I’d be interested…

Posted in - Blog Posts & Central Otago & Marlborough & New Zealand & Pinot Noir & trends & wine on March 6th 2011 0 Comments

Wine industry supports earthquake appeal

The wine industry has started to rally to the aid of Christchurch following its second devastating earthquake on 22 February.

Central Otago’s Felton Road offered their entire UK stock – that’s 85 mixed cases – below retail cost with every penny going to the earthquake’s Red Cross appeal. Within two days, they have sold out and nearly $48,000 has been raised.

Nigel Greening, owner of Felton Road, says “We are exploring whether we can source some other wine to make a second offer today, but at the moment we have no more. Our thanks go to all and apologies to those who will miss out on the wine”.

Similarly Naked Wines in the UK (which, coincidentally I blogged about last week) has joined up with New Zealand Winegrowers, and the UK importers of Villa Maria and Wither Hills, to sell a ‘lucky dip’ case of New Zealand wine for £49.99. Naked says ‘We won’t make a bean out of this. EVERY penny you spend, minus the tax, will be donated.’

And for those of you in Surrey, Rupert Pritchett of Taurus Wines is planning a wine tasting in aid of Christchurch’s earthquake victims. Presumably he’ll be showing New Zealand wines, many of which I have helped select for the list, so it should be a pleasurable way to do your bit.

Let’s not forget the winemakers of Waipara and Canterbury too. Their major local market has crumbled and they will need your custom more than ever. Lynnette Hudson, winemaker at Pegasus Bay, says, “I can only speak for us because other wineries maybe different. However the reality for the region was that Christchurch was the major city of the South Island. It is an easy market to service because of proximity and loyalty by Canterbrians to local wineries. In our case we service this market directly hence reduced costs,”

If you are doing anything in New Zealand or the UK to help out Christchurch’s earthquake victims, please leave a comment to let others know.

Posted in - Blog Posts & Central Otago & New Zealand & Retail & wine on March 2nd 2011 0 Comments

£10m fund for promising winemakers

Calling all New Zealand and Australian winemakers that need a hand getting into the UK market.

Naked Wines wants to hear from any winemakers who have a great product but don’t have the funds to market it or winemakers who currently consult or make wine for wineries and want to start their own project.

This year, there’s a £10 million investment pot to support winemakers but they need to find you…

They’ve already helped Bill and Claudia Small, an Aussie couple making wines in NZ get their project off the ground. Naked have sold 47,000 bottles of their wine in the UK and the latest shipment sold out in just 48 hours. 

Since launch in December 2008, Naked has recruited over 100,000 customers, who between them invest over £1m each month towards funding winemakers.

So, what are you waiting for?

Go to Naked Wines to apply online.

Posted in - Australia & Blog Posts & Central Otago & Investment & Marlborough & Nelson & New Zealand & Retail & Sauvignon Blanc & Waitaki & wine & Yarra Valley on February 23rd 2011 0 Comments

Burgundy borders

The lines of Burgundy’s famed wine villages were drawn by a cartographer’s pen but do they accurately reflect a wine’s sense of place?

This question was asked at the Central Otago Pinot celebration and but we never quite managed to get a definitive answer out of the illustrious panellists Sylvain Pitiot, director of Clos du Tart in Morey St Denis, and Sophie Confuron of Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron.  Ultimately, you have to make up your own mind.

It queried our acceptance of the existing lines drawn in Burgundy, which separate Volnay from Pommard, for example, or Nuits-St-Georges from Vosne-Romanee. Meursault Chardonnay is defined as fuller and more buttery than next door Puligny-Montrachet yet some Pulignys taste more Meursault-like. Can we really pigeon hole the styles so simply?

Well, these broadly generalised styles by village do serve us well but should not be relied upon.

A tasting of three Cotes de Beaune wines and three Cote de Nuits wines, some in the heart of the appellations, and others on the fringes illustrated that the sweeping statements that Pommard is structured while Volnay is perfumed and silky does have legs but it also has to be pointed out that the vintage and the hand of the winemaker can dramatically affect the wine style.

In addition, we all knew what was in each glass. If it had been a blind tasting, would we have been claiming the Nuits-St-Georges was so classically styled?

If you really wanted to try and get to grips with the differences between appellations in Burgundy, it’s a good idea to get three wines from the same producer from three different appellations over a number of vintages. But then you’d also need deep pockets…

The delicious, and well selected, wines were:-

Domaine Comtes Armand, Volnay 1er Cru, Les Fremiets 2007
Floral with cherry, minerality.  Silky and supple, with moderate acidity and balanced alcohol. Fine grained tannins – almost imperceptible. Voluptuous, charming.

Domaine de Courcel, Pommard Premier Cru, Les Fremiers 2007
Made by a blood relation of Jacques Chirac, this was a firm, austere wine. Damson skin and black fruits, violets and warming clove/nutmeg type spice. Good mid palate weight. Structured fruit and stem tannins yet still incredibly fine and fresh acid. Alchohol perfectly integrated. Sinewy

Domaine de Montille, Pommard Premier Cru, Les Rugiens 2007
Described by Nick Mills of Rippon Estate as more silk scarves than wellies, this producer’s Pommard had plenty of weight and lots of new French oak spice. Muted cherry and subtle savoury character. None of that new world sweetness on the front palate, good mid palate concentration, finely woven tannins giving some structure – expected more ruggedness and a little more structure for a Pommard – is the fruit and oak perhaps masking the structure? Needs time.

Domaine Lechenaut, Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru, Les Pruliers 2007
A relatively deep Pinot with a lot of new French oak coming through on the nose. Fleshy yet delicate on mid palate. Dense and tight tannin structure, with fresh acidity and a linear finish.

Domaine Jean Jacques Confuron, NSG 1er Cru Aux Boudots 2007 (on the border with Vosane Romanee)
Perhaps the wine of the day for most delegates. Silky and elegant on the mid palate, with a tight linear structure, sinewy finish, and fresh acid.

Domaine Grivot, Vosne Romanee 1er Cru, Les Chaumes 2007 (right on the border with Nuits St Georges)
Generous and fleshy on entry compared to Nuits St Georges, the tannins are mouthcoating and ripe rather than tight and drawn out.


Posted in - Blog Posts & Burgundy & Central Otago & Pinot Noir & wine on January 30th 2011 0 Comments

Predictions for the Central Otago 2011 vintage

The 2011 vintage in Central Otago could be a whopper, which it needs like a hole in the head.

Near perfect weather at flowering, and recent rains boosting the berry size has created a bumper crop with up to 10 tonnes/70hl of Pinot Noir per ha and 14-15 tonnes/ha of Pinot Gris in some areas, including Bannockburn and the Pisa ranges. If all this fruit stayed on the vine, it would lead to an unwanted ocean of Central Otago wine.

Graeme Crosbie, owner of Domain Road in Bannockburn says “We need to be careful not to overcrop. 2008 was the year where we learned we shouldn’t do that.”

Every producer I have spoken to in the region is now in the process of cutting bunches off the vines to cut their Pinot Noir yields by as much as half to attain four to six tonne per hectare.

But what if they don’t give a damn about the oversupply? Could they leave the fruit on the vine and make loads of wine? Unlikely.

If they leave all this fruit on it simply won’t ripen, particularly with the season looking pretty cool. But it is inevitable grape growers looking to sell their grapes on the spot market will eke as much as they can out of the vines to make any money they can.

While the vast majority of producers are furiously crop thinning, biodynamic grower Nick Mills of Rippon Estate hasn’t had so much work to do. Why? “We don’t irrigate so the vines were stressed in spring time and that affected flowering was very good. We will do some crop thinning but simply to create better air flow rather than cutting yield.”

Remember, there’s still another eight weeks to go until harvest and anything could happen between now and then….

Posted in - Blog Posts & Central Otago & New Zealand & Pinot Grigio & Pinot Noir on January 28th 2011 0 Comments

Don’t rush terroir in Central Otago

It’s just over 20 years since the first Central Otago Pinot Noir was produced. Yet, we are already at the tenth annual Pinot celebration in the region. There has been such hype surrounding the region and so many comparisons to Burgundy that many wine lovers now want to start talking about discovering subregional differences. But isn’t it too much too soon for such a young winegrowing area?

Today, the region’s winemakers even admitted that terroir, a term that means a sense of place, does not yet truly exist in a region where most of the vines are under 10 years old. And it is a welcome relief to witness this acknowledgement.  Let’s face it, how many centuries has Burgundy or Bordeaux had to get things right? But we forget this too often.

At the opening seminar of the event, Rudi Bauer, founder and winemaker at Quartz Reef went as far to say, “Stuff terroir. Let’s try to look at a sense of belonging. It’s much closer to our hearts. We want to express ourselves.”

“And it’s alright to make mistakes,” he added.

Matt Dicey of Mt Difficulty agreed: “We are at the beginning of a journey that takes a long time. To use the term terroir implies a level of knowledge and I think we have a long way to go. Terroir is a future technology term.”

Many of the region’s vines are still putting their roots down and the incredibly poor soil is just starting to see some life. Bauer told delegates: “Our soils have never learned to express themselves.  But if anything grows guess who takes it? A rabbit. We have to build up organic matter. We are just learning how to build it up.”

Both Bauer and Dicey were backed up by the founding father of the region, the softly spoken Alan Brady. “We had no preconceptions when we started. We wil go on finding out over the next 300 or 500 years. We are all experiencing landmarks along the way. We experience disappointments and high points. We will go on doing that because that is what wine is about.”

Yet, many of us still seek to rush the development of Central Otago and many other New World regions in a game of catch up with the Old World. Isn’t it time we exercised some patience?

Posted in - Blog Posts & Central Otago & New Zealand & Pinot Noir on January 27th 2011 0 Comments

Pinot producers’ pedal power

As a region, Central Otago makes great wines and has already done a good job of pulling together to promote its wines worldwide. It’s also good at building relationships which is why I found myself back in Queenstown today going for a muddy mountain bike ride in the pouring rain with three winemakers.

It was not a perfect day for cycling – nor for cricket. New Zealand was supposed to be taking on Pakistan in Queenstown today but rain stopped play.  It didn’t stop the hardcore cycling winemakers. I was offered the choice of pulling out but that would have been too easy. If you let a bit of wet weather stop you cycling in England, you’d never sit on a saddle again. Funny then, that England invented the five day cricket game, a soggy Matt Dicey of Mt Difficulty responded.

Several falls (Dicey 1: Gibb 2), a bloody knee, and bruised hip later, three sodden, mud-stained winemakers were drinking tea and taking warm showers in my bathroom. The bathtub is now full of silt, grit and wet clothes and I’m sure the chamber maid will be cursing me tomorrow. But it’s been a good day for wine, relationship building and spectacular views from the saddle. And the Pinot celebration – which, is the reason for me being here – hasn’t even started yet.

I’ll be keeping you updated of all the goings-on from the seminars and after-school events on the blog and through twitter…

Posted in - Blog Posts & Central Otago & New Zealand & Pinot Noir & wine on January 26th 2011 0 Comments