The Charm of Runway Terroir
Kiwi Master of Wine Sam Harrop has been enjoying a long OE in London but a winery with a disused airstrip has lured him back to his homeland.
Te Motu winery on Waiheke Island, a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland CBD, is also home to the island’s now-defunct airstrip. “There would be a flight from central Auckland that would land on the airstrip. People used to commute [to the city] on it when the waves were too big [for the ferry],” said owner and winemaker John Dunleavy.
However, rising fuel prices and the arrival of a fast ferry saw the seaplane’s last trip in 1989. The airstrip is still not planted to vines but it’s certainly being considered for the future.
The Dunleavy clan, one of New Zealand’s long-serving wine families, developed the estate in 1988, producing the first wine in 1993. After selling to Richina Pacific, the parent company of Chinese-owned firm MainZeal three years ago, the family and a group of investors bought back the property last year. Since then, Richina Pacific has been placed in provisional liquidation – clearly 2013 was a year to forget for the firm.
But Te Motu hopes its future is looking more rosy, bringing on Harrop as a consultant after a chance meeting. “I had my 40th birthday at the Shed [the winery restaurant] and was introduced to the owners,” he explained.
It’s a small venture at the moment with just 4 hectares planted on a 12-hectare property neighbouring Stonyridge, a winery with a a reputation for making very expensive Bordeaux blends and holding dance parties.
While there is unlikely to be any raves at Te Motu, the winery does have something in common with its neighbour: they both concentrate on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends. The Te Motu is cabernet-based and isn’t released for five years, a rather unusual strategy for any winery. After his birthday party, Harrop explained: “The first thing I said was we need another cuvee. The Te Motu is cabernet-based so why don’t we make a merlot-based wine that we can release earlier?” A wine named Kokoro is the result. The first vintage, 2012, is brightly-fruited and already approachable with a soft mid-palate and lick of vanilla oak.
The 2005 and 2006 vintages of Te Motu are surprisingly elegant, both showing fine mouthcoating tannins, a fine line of acidity and a savoury, almost Italian-like character of black cherry and violets. I had anticipated a bigger beast. “While this is a north facing slope, it’s the last to be picked on the island because it’s got a south-wester wind,” which cools the site explains Harrop. “Very rarely is the wine above 13.5%.”