The world’s vineyard has fallen by almost 6% in the first decade of the millennium, according to a new database of wine grapes and regions published by the University of Adelaide.
But in the face of the overwhelming decline, the number of hectares planted in the U.S. has risen by 30% between 2000 and 2010, 40% …
The Waitaki Valley aims to make its name as New Zealand’s 11th wine producing region.
Wine growers have been attracted here by its cool climate and outcrops of limestone.
At this early stage in its development, the region has already managed to impress with elegant, finely structured aromatic whites and pinot noir. And, it seems an ideal location to make traditional method sparkling wines in the future.
The Pasquale family was one of the first to take the plunge. Leaving northern Italy for New Zealand in 1997, academic Antonio Pasquale saw the potential of the Waitaki, and its offshoot – the almost unpronounceable Hakataramea Valley. “The cool climactic edge here, along with the limestone soils, is ideal for wines of crispness, concentration and lasting minerality,” predicted Pasquale. “Great wines can be made here.”
But it hasn’t been plain sailing. The climate is marginal, making grape growing a risky pursuit. Spring frosts are common; cool weather and winds can ruin flowering, slashing potential yields. In 2007, some producers didn’t set a berry while Central Otago, just 180km away had a small but high quality crop. In addition, Waitaki’s harvest period is the latest in the country: most regions have finished picking by the end of April but it can be as late as mid-May here. While that’s a big risk for growers, it also means that the wines can have incredible aromatics, firm acidity and moderate alcohol levels.
American-owned Craggy Range released some impressive crisp whites in 2008 and 2009 but soon called it a day in the Valley. It simply didn’t make economic sense to produce wine in the region.
And that’s one of the major reasons why one of the region’s pioneers, Antonio Pasquale, has also decided to throw in the towel after 14 years.
Pasquale has planted over 100,000 vines in the Valley and, in 2009, built and equipped the area’s first and only winery.
The winery’s aromatic whites were particularly exciting and its Marcel Deiss-esque blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer – Alma Mater – stood out as interesting and unique.
However, it’s not just the challenging climatic conditions that make life difficult for local wine producers to make money.
Kurow Winery’s general manager Renzo Miño says its location (in the village of Kurow a.k.a. Nowheresville) was also a factor. “Small wineries rely on having a good proportion of direct sales, and our location really is the middle of nowhere with limited passing traffic, despite the development of an attractive cellar door and café. The cost of growing and hand-harvesting our low-yielding vines is reflected in the high quality and cost of the wine in bottle. Our pinot noir vines, for example, have only 20 percent of the yield found in Marlborough, and hand-harvesting is dramatically more expensive than using machines. The third factor is the risk, mostly from weather, that can wipe out a harvest every four or five years.”
What happens to the region’s only winery is undecided. It may see the region revert from wine production back to a purely grape-growing area with its wines made elsewhere, admits Pasquale. Alternatively, local growers may take ownership of the winery themselves.
It’s a sad reality that this potentially exciting region may not get to fully realize its potential. Let’s hope those remaining – Ostler, Valli, Forrest and friends stick it out.
“Nelson consistently wins more awards than other wine region in New Zealand, per hectare of vines planted,” the region’s wine association announces on the first page of its glossy wine tasting journal.
The journal arrived on my doorstep with 15 aromatic whites from the region, and I was hoping these wines would impress. I have been to Nelson just once despite living in New Zealand for nearly three years, and on that occasion, I left feeling disappointed with the overall quality of the region’s wines with the exception of Neudorf’s top wines and Seifried’s sweet Riesling. So, when this case arrived, branded as the “First XV” in a nod to the country’s passion for rugby, it was the perfect opportunity to give Nelson a second try.
Nelson sits in the northwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s just 90 minutes’ drive west of Marlborough, the country’s major wine-exporting region, which is now synonymous with zingy Sauvignon Blanc. Most Nelson wineries sit fewer than 6 kilometres from the coast, creating a temperate climate and the area also boasts the country’s most sunshine hours.
Unfortunately, the Nelson First XV were not nearly successful as the country’s rugby team, the All Blacks. Certainly, there were no world beating wines here – no Dan Carters kicking a goal or Richie McCaws leading the line-up. I couldn’t find any cause for excitement from the selection, which included a Gruner Veltliner, several Rieslings, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminers.
In fairness, they are pure, fresh and have moderate alcohol levels but so do many other aromatic whites in New Zealand and the rest of the world. There’s no sense of the unique somewhereness that every wine lover searches for.
I enjoyed the 2011 Kahurangi Estate Dry Riesling, which had fine acidity, taut structure, and a raspberry coulis and white peach character while the 2009 Waimea Classic Riesling was similarly taut and linear with just 12% alcohol, and piercing lime, lemon and white peach characters, giving both a 17 out of 20 – so, a low silver in the medal stakes.
The selection of Pinot Gris were easygoing and balanced but had nothing to offer that I couldn’t find elsewhere while the Gewurztraminers were simple, lacking concentration, and on a number of occasions were unbalanced – managing phenolics and residual sugar are two elements that need attention. There were also pear drop and boiled sweet aromas in too many wines. This is a tell-tale sign of cool fermentation, and can be found in whites across the world. These characteristics say more about the winemaking than the region, and I’d like to see producers moving away from these low temperatures.
I shared the samples with my colleagues, which include a Geisenheim-trained, ex-Frescobaldi viticulturist, a French winemaker that has worked under the Lurtons and Michel Rolland in Bordeaux, and several sommeliers. Their verdict? Similarly underwhelmed.
“There’s nothing you can eat with these wines. There’s too much flavour, too much sugar,” said one.
“I’m not excited,” said another. Indeed the wow factor was lacking in the wines, in sharp contrast to the region’s scenery. Nelson is a beautiful region sitting at the top of New Zealand’s South Island and attracts plenty of tourists heading to the region to walk or kayak the Abel Tasman or kick back in this artsy community.
Most wineries in Nelson are small and sell all their production to a loyal local customer base and passing tourist trade. However, if they have ambitions to be as highly esteemed as the country’s rugby team on an international scale, there is still work to be done.
Riesling is tattooed down my right calf. Well, to be more accurate, it says iesling. The R has rubbed off in the past 24 hours, so clearly it isn’t permanent. Which will please my mother.
I hadn’t even had a drink when I agreed to get Riesling stamped on my leg on Saturday night by a virtual stranger. His name is Paul Greico. And he’s the bearded force behind the ‘Summer of Riesling’ concept that is now going global.
It all started in his New York wine bar, Terroir, in 2008. “I thought if I’m ever going to get my customers to drink Riesling, I can’t give them a choice so my wine list started out with 30 Rieslings and nothing else. So, you were either going to drink Riesling or walk out the door and we did have people walking out the door.”
As both a Riesling and a Tottenham Hotspurs fan, Greico appears to like the unlikely. “It’s my challenge to fight the good fight for the underdog,” he says.
Greico is clearly passionate about this grape variety, and apologises that his language might get a little colourful as he drinks more Riesling and becomes more animated: “After 7 o’clock I swear a lot,” he warns.
In the US, the Summer of Riesling concept has spread widely with 220 restaurants around the US participating in summer 2011. They each poured three Rieslings during the 94 days of summer.
Now it has moved to New Zealand and Australia but there is no specific aim and is anti-marketing. “This is a sommelier driven gig. It is not professional. This is a groundswell of activity and wherever it goes it fucking goes.”[Time check – 9.30pm]
“We are trying to take it to Canada and the EU.”
The International Riesling Scale has been introduced for producers to indicate how dry or sweet their product is, but sweetness remains one of the stumbling blocks for consumers.
“We have to talk about the S word when we talk about Riesling, and it scares the crap out of people.”
Instead, in the words of Beavis and Butthead, says Greico, we should be talking about whether Riesling is cool or it sucks.
It better be cool or I’ve gone and got a really lame tattoo on my calf. Now that would suck.
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.
New research suggests the wine industry needs to address concerns about the quality and taste of lower alcohol wines if it is to attract more consumers to the category.
According to the study, commissioned by the UK’s Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), consumers are reticent about buying low alcohol wines, and I can’t say I blame them. The majority of low alcohol wines, German Rieslings excluded, are lacklustre. The consumer wine media has bagged most of them so it’s not surprising drinkers aren’t keen to try them.
The key findings were: 55% of red wine drinkers (51% of white wine drinkers) said they had concerns about the taste of lower alcohol wines while 41% of red wine drinkers (36% of white wine drinkers) had concerns about the product quality of lower alcohol wines
Jeremy Beadles, WSTA chief executive, says “While there’s plenty of evidence to suggest consumers are interested in lower alcohol drinks these findings suggest there’s work to do to convince drinkers about the taste and quality of products coming onto the market.”
I have not yet found one exciting wine that has been through an alcohol reduction process such as spinning cone or reverse osmosis and, winemakers need to address this problem. I suggest you either drink one glass fewer or drink Moscato d’Asti, German Riesling, Hunter Valley Semillon or Vinho Verde if you want to reduce your alcohol consumption.
Unfortunately, these wines are deeply unfashionable, and not particularly easy to understand for the average wine drinker. Residual sugar (Asti, German Riesling) or searing acid (Hunter Valley) makes most gluggers turn their nose up at them. But until the standard of the ‘low alcohol’ products coming on to the market improves, that’s the best low alcohol solution.
The findings emerge from the YouGov Omnibus Panel (August 2011) and are based on a sample of 1,693 British adult drinkers.
Waipara winery Muddy Water has been sold for an undisclosed sum to fellow Waipara producer Greystone.
Jane East, co-owner of Muddy Water told rebeccagibb.com: “The reality is that our children do not want to go into the wine business so we didn’t have a line of succession.”
Greystone was looking to build a winery and after initial talks with the Easts decided to make an offer.
Muddy Water is certified organic and Greystone’s Angela Clifford confirmed it would remain organic and separate to the non-organic Greystone brand.
It is unclear if there will be any job losses at this stage with overlaps between the two producers inevitable but East indicated “most of the staff will be staying on”.
It’s an interesting time to be expanding after the February 22 earthquake devastated Waipara’s main, and most profitable, market. Its loss of the Rugby World Cup games will also have a significant impact on winery visitor numbers.
Yet this is a positive move by Greystone in a difficult period. This acquisition could be a sign of things to come in the industry: are the banks now more willing to lend money to wineries to expand and go on the acquisition trail?
Phenolics in Riesling. Not something I’ve given a lot of thought…until now.
At Waipara’s In Praise of Riesling event earlier this week, you couldn’t avoid the issue.
Picking time is crucial to the mouthfeel and ripeness of phenolics (which are found predominantly in the skin, stems and seeds of the grape). The earlier you pick, the higher the acidity and lower the potential alcohol but the less ripe the phenolics. If you ferment the wine to dryness, those phenolics will stick out and give an almost chewy, astringent sensation, like an overstewed cup of tea. Not what you want from a supposedly delicate white.
Leave the grapes on the vine and you get much riper phenolics. Unfortunately many growers don’t have the luxury of leaving the grapes on the vine or they could lose their entire crop to autumn rains and fungal disease. However, you can also reduce the phenolic impression by leaving some residual sugar in the wine as well as reducing skin contact by hand harvesting and whole bunch pressing.
There were clearly wines at the tasting, particularly in the Riesling Challenge*, that had fermented the wine to dryness without the skins being ripe enough. At the next Riesling Challenge in 2012, participants hope the grapes will be picked later.
(*The Riesling challenge took 12 winemakers across New Zealand and provided them with the grapes from the same parcel, picked at the same time. Those who participated in the challenge only saw the fruit for the first time when it arrived at their wineries hence why some are not as successful as they might have been otherwise)
Waipara producers believe grapes produce a regional characteristic of orange zest and spice when they are allowed to hang for longer. For example, a local contract grower left some fruit out on his vines last year, and it was destined for the birds but Matt Donaldson of Pegasus Bay decided it would be better made into wine than as bird feed. The result? “It was so much better than the stuff we had picked a month earlier!”
Mike Weersing of Pyramid Valley, explained: “With Pinot Noir you can’t have more hang time because the acidity drops out and sugar rises but Riesling is a different grape. There is no compulsion to pick early.”
Phenolics are important to a wine’s drive. In an international line up against German and Austrian opponents, Grosset’s Watervale 2009 Dry Riesling (Clare Valley, Australia) looked a poor second in terms of structure. Nick Stock, an Australian wine writer, explained that most Clare Valley producers have to whole bunch press as the grape skins are often sunburnt and would impart unpleasant flavours to the wine. Thus, with no phenolics to drive it, the Grosset relies on acidity for structure.
New Zealand’s winemakers descend on Lord’s cricket ground to show their wares today. While their countrymen are getting trounced on the field by Pakistan, the wine industry is in slightly better health with 33% growth in sales in the past year (Nielsen, MAT to October 2010). The average bottle price has dipped below £6 but it still boasts the highest price per bottle out of any country in the world.
If you are heading off to the tasting today, have a plan of action or you’ll be wasting valuable time. You might already have cherry-picked the tables you’ll be visiting but if not, here’s a few producers you ought to visit.
Table 9: Elephant Hill, Hawke’s Bay
Under German ownership and with a restrained Old World character to the wines, be sure to have a taste of the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Syrah.
Table 10: Schubert, Martinborough
Er, another German owner. There seems to be a theme emerging here. Kai Schubert’s Sauvignon Blanc and Decanter trophy-winning Pinot Noirs will be available to taste. Worth the shuffle to the table, I promise.
Table 14: Felton Road, Central Otago
A British owner this time – Nigel Greening. In all honesty, Felton Road doesn’t need any introduction. Its wines are the bees knees and everybody knows it, particularly its Pinot Noirs – Cornish Point, Calvert Road, Block 5 and Block 3. Its Riesling with 45g/l residual sugar is also attractive. Get your elbows out and get your glass to the front of the queue.
Table 25: Framingham, Marlborough
Geordie winemaker Andrew Hedley will be in town to talk you through his delicious wines. It’s difficult to fault them. They’re all classy and restrained (strange, considering they’re made by someone from grotty Gateshead), particularly the Riesling and an interesting new addition to the range – a Montepulciano Rosato. If you’re bored of discussing residual sugar and tannin, talk cricket with Hedley – he was at the Gabba for the Ashes. Lucky sod.
Table 31: Man O’War, Waiheke
With Germans and Brits in the room, we shouldn’t really mention the war. Nevertheless, the Man O’War wines show Waiheke at its best. Just 40 minutes by ferry from Auckland central, my favourite wine of the moment from this vineyard is the 2010 Gravestone Sauvignon/Semillon blend although the Dreadnought Syrah receives the most rave reviews.
Table 32: Pegasus Bay, Waipara
Finally a Kiwi family running a Kiwi winery. Fellow MW student Lynnette Hudson and her party animal husband Matt Donaldson make the wine. If Matt is in town watch out for him and Matthew Jukes – they’ll likely be painting the town red and all hell will have broken loose! The Rieslings are the stars but its Sauvignon/Semillon blends also attract interest for their sulphidey style.
Ok, there are heaps of others I could recommend but I’d be here all day. Let me know how the wines perform – better than their cricket team, I hope…
Twitter has been a-flitter with the Air New Zealand Awards today. It’s been all go following the media release announcing there was a record 107 gold medals awarded this year.
The press got a glimpse of the new winners today at a gold medal tasting. There were plenty of worthy winners and some wines that were questionable but overall it was quite pleasant to go to a tasting where the wheat has been sorted from the chaff.
The worst part of the tasting was not the wine but one mature male journalist revealing his recent intimate operations to the New Zealand Winegrower staff. I almost choked on my Riesling.
Anyway, back to the wines. Why so many Pinot gold medal winners? Well, there were plenty of entries, which helped. However senior judge and winemaker at Coopers Creek, says, ‘It’s a product of two really good vintages in 2008 and 2009.’
One nice surprise was the Villa Maria Single Vineyard Keltern Chardonnay 2007 (NZ$36.99). It’s easy to become snobby about a successful, large company but they do do some things very well. It is elegant and tight on the finish, had a lovely creamy leesy texture, nutty notes and a fresh finish.
My standout wine of the day, despite talk of the gentleman’s operation mid slurp was the 2009 Greystone Riesling from Waipara. It’s a spatlese style with green apple, citrus and violet aromas. Fresh, mouthwatering and delicious. For those of you going to the Air NZ Awards (not I), get your penguin suit on and seek this gem out.