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…
Cast your minds back to the start of the year. Yes, I know it’s difficult and some of us can’t remember what happened yesterday but you may recall a premium winemaking group lauching: The Specialist Winegrowers of New Zealand.
Sauvignon Blanc accounts for 80% of the wine that leaves Kiwi ports yet the Specialists didn’t have a Savvy in their portfolio, claiming there were few producers who specialised solely in the variety.
It’s also a price-sensitive variety, as Chris Canning of The Hay Paddock, told me in an article for decanter.com ‘Sauvignon Blanc is such a cut-throat market.’
‘There was a little prejudice toward the variety. We want to decouple ourselves from the New Zealand wine brand image that is slanted toward Sauvignon Blanc,’ he said back in January.
However, the group’s tune has changed – they have just announced Marlborough’s Fairbourne Estate will be the sixth member of the Specialists, dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc.
According to the press release, Fairbourne has been on the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc scene since the early 1990’s. Embarrassingly, I have never visited them, tried their wines and heard very little about them, so I can’t tell you whether they are any good! I will endeavour to change that.
Fairbourne joins Waiheke-based The Hay Paddock and Destiny Bay; fizz producers No.1 Family Estate; Gewurztraminer specialists Vinoptima and, Wooing Tree from Central Otago.
I’ve been asking myself whether Hawke’s Bay should be concentrating on Syrah or Bordeaux blends for a few months now â€“ and it seems the same question is floating around on Waiheke Island.
Bordeaux blends initially put the island on the map but Syrah is now creeping up behind it and making a big splash.
Syrah is my favourite grape variety so I’ll admit I could be a bit biased but in my opinion, the Syrahs from Waiheke better reflect their sense of place than Cabernet blends. Feel free to disagree but that’s the way I see it.
The Bordeaux blends are very good, often elegant (although some aren’t so good: I don’t think Cabernet and American oak go together) with black ripe fruits, firm tannic structure and medium to high alcohol.
There are green capsicum (even brussel sprout) notes found in many Cabernets here alongside a ripeness of fruit and tannin that you don’t find in Bordeaux. The green aromas are not unpleasant at all (hey, it’s Cabernet’s varietal character) but in a cooler year, ripening can be an issue. Neil Culley, founder of Cable Bay says, â€œThe Cabernet sites need to be warm right to the end of the season so they need to be in the middle of the island or sheltered sites.â€ Cool sea breezes scupper Cabernet’s chances of ripening and some sites are certainly not suited to it.
But the Syrah screams class in a glass. It’s unique and performs consistently year to year. Yes, it’s a vigorous little bugger but on a low vigour site and with careful management, boy is it characterful.
Daniel Schuster (no relation of Michael), a flying wine consultant with Stag’s Leap and Chateau Palmer on his CV, says, â€œThere are Bordeaux varieties here and it is obvious they are working. But the Syrah is the closest I have seen to classic Rhone. They have Syrah that doesn’t taste like marmalade, full of American oak.â€ Which Syrah producing region are you referring to, I wonder Danny?!!
The Syrahs here are full of blackberry, violets, floral notes and, although many try to deny their wines are peppery, they are. Get over it â€“ some of us kinda like it.
If I were a producer on Waiheke, I’d be planting Syrah and I think this should be the Island’s flagship. Duncan McTavish, winemaker at Man O’War, the island’s largest producer, says, â€œI don’t think we necessarily need a flagship. The two can co-exist. We built our reputation on Bordeaux blends. Syrah is the new kid on the block and it has made a big statement early on. But we can’t focus on one to the detriment of the other.â€
Summer is drawing to a close in Auckland. The chilly mornings are making it increasingly difficult to haul myself out of bed to do an hour’s MW study before starting work. But at least we’ve had a decent summer â€“ which is more than you can say in England most years.
Waiheke Island is just 35 minutes by ferry from Auckland CBD and temperatures are two degrees C warmer on average than the nearby city. The occasional downpours we’ve had in Auckland have failed to reach Waiheke’s shores. It is experiencing the worst drought on record, which go back 50 years.
The vines seemed to be holding up remarkably well considering no-one on the island irrigates their vines (or so they claim â€“ if anyone does irrigate, they were hiding it well). Most of the vineyards sit on clay-based soils which are renowned for water retention (Bordeaux’s right bank based on clay usually does well in dry years while the left bank based on gravels does well in wet years). In the words of David Evans, owner of Passage Rock â€œClay soils hold on to the water quite tightly then release it slowly.â€
Hawke’s Bay producers would probably like to donate some of their water with rainy day after rainy day. While there are often parallels drawn between the two regions which make Bordeaux blends and Syrah, Nick Jones of Mudbrick says, â€œWaiheke is a different world to Hawkes Bay. We seem to do well in even years and they get good results in odd years.â€ It’s not particularly scientific but it does have some legs.
Producers are optimistic about this year’s harvest. Of course, they’re going to tell a journalist that but looking at the vines and tasting some of the grapes, there’s no reason to believe otherwise. There were a few stressed parcels but if they’re picked relatively soon, they should be ok. The Cabernet Sauvignon was still green as hell and eye-wateringly sour but that’s to be expected of a late ripener and they won’t be harvested for at least another three weeks while the Viognier was sweet and tasty and was fermenting late last week. Neill Culley, founder and winemaker at Cable Bay was pressing his Viognier when I showed up and he is looking to make a wild yeast, barrel-fermented Reserve Viognier for the first time this year (you heard it here first) but it all depends on what goes on in the cask in the coming months.
The producer is more focused on Syrah today but does make a dense Merlot as well as several Bordeaux blends. â€œBordeaux varieties are great in a great year but the Syrah performs much better. Itâ€™s more consistent and more exciting.â€ During the rainy and cold 2001 and 2003 vintages, Cabernet Sauvignon was â€œhorribleâ€ yet Evans claims he has not had a bad year with Syrah.
After tasting the wines, the Syrahs are the star of the Passage Rock show with attractive violets, blackberries and cherries on the â€™08, a fleshy palate and chunky ripe tannins. At $30 a bottle, it represents pretty good value for money compared to some of the other producers on the island.
In the next few blogs, Iâ€™ll be looking at whether Waiheke Island does Syrah or Bordeaux blends better, a problem called Brett, the worst drought since records began and, Blackpoolâ€¦
How wineries can rub a journalist up the wrong way in three easy steps:
1. On arrival, don’t tell them you are too busy to host them for the dinner as arranged, leaving them with no time to arrange anything else. “There’s a restaurant at the hotel,” I am informed. They have clearly never eaten there.
2. Do have the technical sheets ready in case your visitor wants to know the finer details. Don’t suggest they can go on the winery website after the visit.
3. Do take the ten minutes to drive your visitor back to their accommodation as pre-arranged. Don’t suggest they could walk (â€œalthough it might be a bit farâ€ particularly with an overnight bag) then call them a taxi, leaving them to cover the fare.
That is not what I call good press relations. Yes, it is currently harvest time at Stonyridge, but just because you make a ultra-premium $220 wine and there are some Malbec grapes cold-soaking does not mean you should treat any visitor this way.
I am certainly not a prima donna but I have never felt so unwelcome on a winery visit. It really makes me wonder how the public get treated when they visit the cellar door.
Thank goodness the other producers on Waiheke island were more hospitable.