Waitaki Waves Goodbye To Key Producer
Thursday 18 April
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.
New Zealand Vanishes - EU Blamed
Tuesday 5 March
Date: 4 March 2025
New Zealand was yesterday hit by the world’s rising waters, submerging the country’s 4 million people and 31m sheep. What a baaaastard.
The world must bid a fond farewell to New Zealand lamb, the All Blacks and Marlborough sauvignon blanc.
It is a sad loss. But let’s face it, New Zealand was a nation at the end of the world. Next stop, penguins on the South Pole. And will we really miss Kiwi savvy? The Chileans will be pleased to see their major competition literally sink – or how about Argentine Torrontes, which has been really making headway in the Russian market since Putin banned vodka production in 2020.
While global warming experts are proclaiming this is the start of the end of the world as we know it, conspiracy theorists are claiming that is all part of the European Union’s grand plan to finally win market share back from new world producers and reduce the wine lake once and for all.
It has been reported that Frenchman Philippe Fillop, agricultural commissioner for the European Union, is envious of the success of New Zealand’s pinots and sauvignon blanc in his native country. The federation of militant wine producers have recently been throwing Kiwi lamb chops at their local mairies in disgust at soaring sales of Marlborough sauvignon blanc in Carrefour.
Reducing the world’s wine oversupply has been top of Fillop’s list since he took charge in 2015. At that time, he was certain that China, India and Brazil were going to come to the wine world’s rescue, by drinking more and more wine. Instead, the BRICs continue to sup beer and spirits, sticking two fingers up at wine.
So, thinking that no one would really notice if New Zealand fell off the bottom of the earth - it was almost dropping off anyway - did the EU call in the heavies?
If so, it’s a sign of things to come. The Kiwis produced just 1 percent of the world’s wine. Yesterday’s submersion has not made one iota of difference to the world’s oversupply - particularly since New Zealand recently sent its entire 2024 vintage to the U.K. in bulk for Tesco’s own label Saver Sav, keeping the shelves piled high.
It would have been more effective to get rid of the Austrians or Moldovans, which produce more wine than New Zealand ever did but landlocked countries are a tricky proposition to obliterate.
$168,000 wine gets snapped up
Tuesday 21 August
Going to show that people do have more money than sense, Australian wine firm Penfolds has announced it has sold all but one of the dozen A$168,000 glass ampoules it unveiled in June.
Containing 750ml of the 2004 Kalimna Black 42 cabernet sauvignon, which normally retails at $600-700, the wine comes packaged in a hand-blown glass ampoule which is suspended within a fancy Australian-wood cabinet.
The luxury product was launched in Moscow in June and raised a few eyebrows. Daylight robbery may also have been uttered sometime after receiving the press release. But Penfolds is having the last laugh, as people clearly do have money to burn. David Dearie, the chief executive of Treasury Wine Estates revealed that all but one of the ampoules had been sold at its annual results, Australia’s Herald Sun reported.
“If anyone is after one of these limited ampoules, you’ll have to move fast, because although launched only a month ago, we’ve sold all but one of these fantastic Penfolds sculptures,” said Dearie.
So, I’ve decided that I should probably source some wine, claim that it’s made in limited quantities and call it Moneyfolds. I’ll put it in a plywood cupboard and stick it up on ebay and see if I get any bids.
The Waitaki Valley and why Central Otago is “turning wines into cartoons”
Friday 3 August
This week the producers of the Waitaki Valley have been on the road, touting their wares.
Despite two of its producers receiving the accolade of New Zealand’s best Pinot Noir at the International Wine Challenge and best Pinot Noir at the Shanghai International Wine Challenge in the past month, most people look perplexed when you mention its name.
It’s in North Otago, in case you were wondering, 160km northeast of Central Otago’s Cromwell. Consultant Jeff Sinnott, winemaker for Shanghai trophy winner Ostler has spent the past 11 years in Central Otago and now having a foot in both camps made a useful comparison.
“Waitaki is slightly warmer than the Gibbston Valley [the coolest part of Central Otago’s subregions] but Waitaki has warmer temperatures in the late autumn which equals longer hang time allowing the tannins to ripen.”
In the warmer regions of Central Otago, such as Bannockburn and Alexandra, the long hang time isn’t usually possible as autumn frosts often dictate harvest decisions. “In Central Otago I don’t think I have ever made a completely tannin ripe wine and I have been making Central wines for 10 years. You are getting two brix a week from veraison to picking the fruit and so it is picked within five weeks [although that is about normal for Burgundy].”
“Then you are tempted to add water to get the alcohol down.” I think this temptation might become too much to bear for some!
Central Otago’s reds are generally sweetly fruited and fuller-bodied than the rest of the country’s Pinots. Final alcohols of 14 or 14.5 percent are quite normal. I mention that I’ve seen a growing tendency for a powerful, log-fire like oak-derived char to become an element of Central Otago’s wines – almost becoming a hallmark of the region.
“One of the most successful Pinot producers in Central Otago is also a barrel importer,” he answered.
“Central Otago is in danger of becoming a parody. It’s turning wines into cartoons and we are trying to make oil paintings here.”.
In the Waitaki, ripening is much slower – almost dangerously slow. The time between veraison and picking can be as much as 10 weeks! I imagine that the local producers must have very short fingernails.
“This is right on the edge of possibility,” adds Sinnott. “A lot of people will follow the line of least resistance but that isn’t available for Waitaki winemakers. I’d say in terms of difficulty, Central would be an 8 and the Waitaki would be a 9.5.”
You’re likely to see more vintage variation as a result. The 2010s are much warmer in profile, with sweeter fruit, lacking the tautness, elegance and minerality of the cooler years, like 2011.
Yields are low – in part due to hostile weather: rain, frost, wind and hungry birds make ripening rapes a risky business. Having experimented with yields as low as 2 tons to the hectare (around 14hl/ha), they’ve found that low yields doesn’t necessarily mean better fruit, as the abundant 1982 vintage in Bordeaux also demonstrated. “We are finding the sweet spot is 4t/ha and any lower you get strong tomato leaf-like character,” says Sinnott.
Black Stilt Pinot Noir 2011
Pure and elegant nose with fine pepper and black cherry fruit aromatics. Light bodied, fine grained, chalky-textured tannin - likely derived from limestone. Racy acidity leaves a clean palate. Not particularly complex but shows the Waitaki’s characteristics and cool climate Pinot Noir typicity. 17/20
Not so cheap but bloody delicious:
John Forrest Pinot Noir 2009
Pure, focused, with a plummy core of fruit overlaid with clove and cinnamon spice. It has fine grained tannins, a chalky texture on the finish with fine acidity and great linearity Complex and elegant. 18.5/20.
Otiake Gewurztraminer 2011
I don’t like Gewurz - it’s just that it’s usually over the top and a bit fat. But this is pure and tight without overt florals. Instead it shows fruit salad, lime, lemon and incredible freshness for a low acid variety. It’s dry and finishes clean. 18/20
Ostler Lakeside Vines Pinot Gris 2011
This is almost Alsatian in style with restrained savoury notes, spice and pear on the nose. It is medium in body, is richly fruited yet retains a tautness of structure. On the long finish there’s white flowers, bruised apple and lavender. Worthy of a 17.5/20 at the very least but shows potential to be as good as premium Alsatian Pinot Gris in the future with vine age.
Pasquale Riesling Shrivel 2011
I have partly fallen in love with this wine because of Pasquale’s owner Antonio, who told me that this was a good wine to have for a lovemaking session before breakfast Clean and pure with intense lemon, mandarin aromas. It is piquant, zesty and perfectly balanced despite 160g/l residual sugar - that’s probably thanks to a T/A of 9! Hearing that I was newly married, Antonio gave me a bottle to take home - I haven’t yet opened it.
All you need to know about new wine laws
Tuesday 3 July
There has been a steady stream of new rules on labelling wines since the Organization of Vine and Wine’s (OIV) annual get together in Turkey last month.
Both allergen labelling and rules on removing alcohol from wine have been introduced.
For those of you with sensitive stomachs, wine labels in Europe must now state whether wine contains traces of egg or milk, as I first reported on wine-searcher.com.
Eggs and milk products are used to fine wine and traces may remain in the final product. However, European wine producers were exempt from declaring their use until the European Commission announced in late May that new rules would come into effect on July 1, 2012. The legislation also applies to imported wines sold in Europe.
The Commission says the new ruling is about “better informing European consumers of potential allergic risks.”
If producers wish to market their wines in all 27 E.U. countries, they would theoretically have to provide labels in a minimum of 15 languages. This is not practical so a series of pictorial logos has been developed, featuring pictures of a milk carton and/or two eggs – as well as the symbol for sulphites – SO2.
There is one exception to the new rules. If egg or milk-based products have been used during production but cannot be detected by laboratory analysis, the affected wines do not have to carry allergen labeling.
Wines made in 2012 are exempt if they were labeled before June 30. All others from the 2012 vintage are subject to the new regulations, which were drawn up following recommendations from the European Food Safety Authority and the OIV.
New laws on reduced alcohol wines
For some time, there’s been debate on alcohol removal through technologies such as spinning cone and reverse osmosis. With a growing trend for lower alcohol and lighter style wines, the OIV couldn’t ignore the issue at its recent meeting in Turkey, as we reported on wine-searcher.com.
Correcting the alcohol content of a particular wine, which means to reduce ethanol to improve its balance, is now allowed with a maximum reduction of 20%. Products obtained through this practice must still conform to the definition of wine – so must be above 8.5% alcohol (wine like Moscato d’Asti at 5.5% and German wines naturally low in alcohol have special derogations).
If the alcohol content of the wine is reduced by more than 20%, it will fall under a dealcoholisation process, which means to remove part or almost all of the ethanol content in wine in order to develop low or reduced alcohol content products.
Here are the OIV’ new product definitions for such products:
• “Beverage obtained by partial dealcoholisation of wine” for products with an alcohol content from 0.5% to 8.5%
• “Beverage obtained by dealcoholisation of wine” for products with an alcohol content below 0.5%.
Those definitions aren’t particularly sexy nor do they roll off the tongue. Can you imagine turning up to a friend’s house and saying “I’ve brought a wine – no, sorry, it’s a beverage obtained by partial dealcoholisation of wine”? No, nor can I.
The OIV is currently working to develop definitions for products that do not fall under the aforementioned resolutions, more particularly wines that have gone through an alcohol reduction of more than 20% but do still respect the minimum alcohol level for wine.