These are my notes (and images) from visits to producers in New Zealand's Waipara Valley at the end of 2012. Tomorrow I report on two producers further north and west in the area officially known as North Canterbury. The wines for each producer are listed in the order tasted.
Owner and vigneron Guy Porter came back to New Zealand in 2002, to his family origins in Canterbury. Having studied hotel and catering and worked in wine retail in the UK, he wanted to do something more practical so he set off to Mosswood in Western Australia to do a winter's pruning. He ended up studying winemaking at Roseworthy and working as a contract winemaker in WA. He and his family bought what is now known as the Home Block in 2002, a river terrace to the south of the Waipara (see map) characterised by free-draining Glasnevin gravel. One hectare of this site is planted with a field blend of Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Muscat Ottonell which goes into the Home Block white. Their second vineyard, Block Eight, bought in 2004, is composed of stony clay over sandstone, which ripens the fruit earlier and gives richer wines.
Porter has two labels: the higher level Bellbird Spring and lower-priced The Pruner's Reward, the latter sometimes made from bought-in fruit (or bought-in wine for the reds). Bellbird Spring he describes as 'more artisan and more traditional' than many NZ wines but also focusing on 'bright fruit'. He's looking for palate weight and persistence, he says.
The vineyards are farmed organically, which means he needs to do a lot of leaf plucking to keep the fruit healthy. This also means it is warmer in the fruit zone, reducing the methoxypyrazines (the compound that contributes mainly capsicum flavours) in the fruit. Porter uses a water-flipper system (see the photo in my introductory article) - part of the irrigation set up - for frost protection, and irrigation needs are assessed using soil-moisture probes. All their own fruit is hand harvested.
His first vintage, 2008, was made in another winery, which is still used for some of his wines but he now also has his own small winery, built in the last couple of years, and he is gradually moving his production across. Winemaking is straightforward: he oxidises the juice, adding no SO2 at the crusher, taking it from a holding tank at 25 ºC through the chiller to bring the juice temperature down to 10 ºC, thus stopping yeast activity for long enough to allow 15 hours' settling, though he also uses enzymes to encourage settling. Whites are whole-bunch pressed and reds hand plunged. Fermentation happens of its own accord and he prefers older oak.
Bottling is done at Pegasus Bay. All Bellbird Spring wines are bottled under cork, to 'allow the wine to age in a certain way' but also because this is apparently preferred at the restaurants where their wine is sold. The wines are available in the UK via Winetraders.
Guy's parents live on the Home Block and produce olive oil and his sister Alex runs the office. Like many of those I visited, a staunchly family affair.
Mostly estate fruit. Second label. Tank fermented neutral EC118. Waipara Valley effect – fruit with ripe mid palate. Reductive winemaking.13.5%
Ripe fruit aromas – citrus and a touch of apricot, green fig not grassy. Quite sweet-tasting on the palate but it is off dry, with RS around 4 g/l. Fresh acidity and intense fruit flavours. Intense and lush, powerful fruit. (JH)
Clay on sandstone, east-facing. Never more than 5 tonnes/ha (35 hl/ha; 8 tonnes/ha on the home block). This vintage is riper and more alcoholic than their norm (13.5%). Hand-picked, whole bunch in basket press (so not much solids), no SO2, settled for 14 hours, juice fairly clear so goes to older barrels (mostly six years plus). Indigenous yeasts, topped and left over winter. Tends not to go to dryness until the spring. RS 3.92 g/l.14.5%
Very ripe fruit on the nose, very vibrant. Then really crisp and tight and intense on the palate. Tastes pretty dry though there's a fullness on the palate from all that ripe fruit and from the use of old oak. Rich and long and pretty powerful. (JH)
NZ, £19.95 Laytons 17
Home block and block eight. There was a limited range of clones available when he planted in 2002 and there's half a dozen in the 0.7 ha. Clone 7a (from South Africa) was the one he liked – small bunches. So Block 8 Pinot Gris is all that clone. Until 10 years ago, all the clones available were large-berried ones from Geisenheim. He believes that explains why so many NZ PGs are floral/fat. He grows PG the way he grows Pinot Noir. No tartaric additions. Trying to keep sugar low enough. Wines designed for food because they have fullness and grip and cope with fat in food. RS 4.54 g/l, pH 3.6-3.8. Mostly old barrels.14%
Ripe and spicy on the nose. Very rich and rounded and full in the mouth. So much more PG character than in most NZ PGs. Rich and dense but not heavy. Balanced acidity. Very very long. Complex already and finishes with a classic savoury (Alsace-like) spice. Great fruit density and a fine grip. Certainly one of the best PGs I have tasted in New Zealand. Bit of heat on the finish. (JH)
1 ha planted with Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat Ottonel (there was no Petits Grains in NZ at the time) and Gewurztraminer, all co-fermented. About 70% Pinot Gris. Acidity from the Riesling. RS 25 g/l.12.5%
Complex, intense and honeyed aromatic nose. Honeyed apricots. Grapey on the palate. The Gewurz has become more subdued with time in the bottle but there is still a floral and spicy component on the mid palate. Again very full and dense and rich. Some spice. (JH)
Selection from Block Eight. Hotter site that dries out early. A bit like a Vendange Tardive but also a barrel selection through the winter. 80-100 cases a year – he makes this for himself and not every year. RS 40 g/l.13%
Spicy and a touch savoury but not very expressive at the moment. Tastes drier than the numbers suggest. Stone fruit peachiness but the ripeness and spice dominate. Again it is very powerful, honeyed already. Really mouthfilling. Rich but balanced. (JH)
Made from machine-picked fruit. Guy Porter explains that prior to 2008, he was selling fruit but the market has been a roller coaster in recent years: 2008 financial crisis and people stopped spending and there was an oversupply. Uncertainty in export markets. Loss of market for fruit. Circumstances pushed them to launch sooner than they wished.
Mid to light ruby. Sweet fruit and showing some maturity. Light truffle note. Hint of toffee sweetness. Silky and plenty of sweet fruit. Simpler than most of the range but some nice savoury spice on the finish. (JH)
Bottled late 2012. Fruit comes from three vineyards all on Glasnevin gravel soils – he bought the finished wine from three different companies and blended it, aiming to make a wine true to the soil type. A bit more new oak – shaved Mercurey barrels. More international Pinot style. 2011 includes some of his own fruit, mainly from Georges Rd.14.5%
Ripe fruit character. A little bit stewed. Lots of spice on the finish. Sells well in NZ and Canada, apparently, whereas the Block Eight sells better in the UK. (JH)
pH higher – and colour less bright - than in many Pinots because he makes no tartaric additions. Machine harvested by a machine with destemmer. And petioles removed. Straight into 1.5-tonne open plastic fermenters. Selected yeast D254.
Palish garnet. Quite firm tannins. Lacks freshness – just slightly stewed fruit character. Seems to have aged quite quickly. Leaner and less sweet than the Bellbird Spring. More tannin (eight weeks on skins after ferment but light hand-plunging) than acidity for the structure. Slightly sour finish though that increases the freshness. Drinking early so useful for restaurants. Long but, to my mind, not showing Waipara Pinot in the best light. (JH)
Like so many in Waipara, this is a family business. The original Black Estate, in Omihi, a little further north of Waipara than Mountford and Greystone (as shown on this map), was planted by Russell Black in 1993/94, working with pioneering viticulturist and Pinot Noir proponent Danny Schuster*. Rod Naish and his family bought 8 ha of the estate in 2007 and they have since planted nearly 4 more. Naish's son in law, Nicolas Brown, is the winemaker.
Brown needed little persuasion to show me the beautiful sunny vineyards rather than the winery, which is housed in a very attractive new building, resembling a long, elegant black shed, designed by Rod's architect nephew Richard Naish, which is also home to Nicolas Brown, his wife Penelope Naish (general manager of the estate) and their small children, plus a modern, welcoming cellar door and 'eatery' (excellent local produce including great cheese) with lovely views.
Their soils are mainly dark clay loam over tight, dense clay with limestone underneath, with more active limestone in some vineyards than in others but any one vineyard has a high degree of variation within it. They are well drained and require no irrigation; much of the older vineyard is on own roots (and other growers are not allowed to drive through). Brown believes that the clay gives aroma and suppleness to their wines, limestone giving structure and minerality.
The older vineyards are half Pinot Noir and half Chardonnay. The new vines are again Pinot Noir (2 ha) and Chardonnay (1 ha) but also Chenin Blanc (1/2 ha) and Cabernet Franc (1/3 ha). The last seems to perform well on the vineyard in front of the winery, where there is a good deal of iron in the soil and the water. All the vineyards have been farmed organically for the last three years (BioGro certified 2012) and the wines are bottled under screwcap with no additions except for SO2 at bottling. All wines are fermented with ambient yeasts.
In the cold snap in the spring of 2012, they had to hire a helicopter to combat the threat of frost damage (NZ$700 per hour, during which time it can cover 6 ha), but helicopters, like windmills, are effective only if it is a radiation frost, creating an inversion layer. Brown told me that Brancott estate have 3 helicopters of their own and a 'helicopter budget'.
*Almost everywhere I went, Daniel Schuster's name cropped up. Described by Michael Cooper in his Wine Atlas of New Zealand as 'a guru of the Canterbury wine scene', his St Helena Pinot Noir 1982 was only the second ever NZ Pinot to win a gold medal in an international wine competition. Over the years he consulted for producers as prestigious as Ornellaia in Bolgheri and Napa's Stag's Leap. The fact that in 1986 he chose to plant his own vineyards in Omihi, north-east of Waipara, was a significant endorsement for this small but promising wine region.
Cool spring and beautiful summer. Rain came at the end of February to destress the vines. Some rain at harvest so very careful picking and sorting.13%
Bright lively mid crimson. Delicate red fruit and slightly earthy. Then juicy and so fresh and youthful. Subtle but really well sustained. Juicy and persistent. Sold out. (JH)
Vines have had three years' organic management. Longer ferment and maceration. Foot-trodden for extraction. Cool summer but seeds now maturing at lower temperatures so good ripeness of seeds. Extraction earlier in the ferment because the fruit was quite tannic. 12 months on lees and no racking. Three to four litres of lees per 228-litre barrel. 12% new wood. 8% whole cluster. They use tight-grained wood because clay soils give the wine broad tannins and the wood focuses it and doesn't add fragrance. Unfined and unfiltered (previously some egg white).
Bright lively crimson. Smells sweeter and riper than the 2008, lots of red fruit. Darker fruit on the palate, spice and hint of liquorice (iron in the soil)? Present but supple tannins. Real subtlety. Juicy and fresh and expressing fruit not winemaking. Spicy length. They want people 'to taste Black Estate, not enzymes or oak'. Savoury at the very end. (JH)
Purchased fruit from back of Spye vineyard with sandstone and crushed limestone. Omihi Series = the soil type. From 2011 the wine will be called Spye. Similar winemaking but 18% new oak. Up to 32 ºC ferment.
Very slightly paler than the Black Estate straight Pinot. More floral and red fruits. Delicately aromatic. Sweet but not overly sweet. Lighter structure, gentler tannins, touch of stems but then a richness and depth. Persistent even though a little lighter. Very fine tannins and more mineral. (JH)
From 4 ha of Mendoza clone on own roots. Five-hour whole-bunch press, straight to barrel, no settling, 500-litre puncheons and 228-litre barriques.14.2%
Really intense citrus but with a mealy overlay. Some very ripe grapefruit too. A touch smoky (reduction?). On the palate, rich but dry textured and a light grip. Creamy rather than oaky on the palate. Site and clone give this phenolic texture, apparently. Lovely texture and freshness. Depth of fruit. Very long. (JH)
100% barrel fermented and matured. 100% malo in spring. Filtered, unlike the 2010, because it had some RS (2.5%). Bottled late July 2012, released November.13.8%
Much more mineral on the nose than the 2010 but still very fine citrus. More spicy and savoury on the palate. Salty finish. (JH)
From the Spye vineyard. Hand-picked and whole-bunch pressed to tank. Yeast isolated from the Spye vineyard. Once the apiculate yeast has died, propagates the replicate and then uses that as a starter (Mike Wirsing's technique at Pyramid Valley). RS 9 g/l.13.5%
Lime and peach on the nose but not OTT. Off dry but finishes dry tasting. Moderate concentration. Mineral on the finish. Subtle. (JH)
RS 16 g/l, TA 8.2 g/l. Better canopy management to get better phenolic ripeness earlier. The amount of residual sugar in the Riesling depends on the vintage but he prefers to see a drier style that highlights the minerality.11%
More citrus here than on the 2010. Quite lean and dry tasting and some grip to add to the freshness. Tight and dry and mineral on the finish. Sophisticated. (JH)
CLOS ST WILLIAM
If ever there was a labour of love, this is it. Kim and Fiona Nankivell both have full-time jobs - software engineering and real estate respectively - but their 30-year dream of making their own wine, inspired particularly by Alsace and Burgundy - has not released them from its clutches. They explained that the vineyard and wine are named in memory of their son William, who died from cancer at the age of four while they were on a tour of Europe with their young children.
In 2005 they planted their 5-ha vineyard in the Waipara Valley on the road out to the Weka Pass, Kim pounding every one of the massive support posts into the deep glacial and alluvial gravel soils by hand. They do most of the vineyard work themselves but have a contracter to spray and help with pruning. Plantings are relatively dense for New Zealand - 1.8 m x 1 m - and although the vineyard is flat, 2012 was the first year they had been affected by frost because the land is 'early lambing country' and warms up quite early in the season. At the time I visited in November, it was hard to tell how much damage had been done.
2009, their first vintage, was a good one and they produced 700 cases. 2011 and 2012 were more difficult and lower yielding - in 2012, for example, they harvested just 1 tonne of Riesling instead of 8 tonnes. 2010 was a heartbreak year: for practical reasons they had to entrust the winemaking to a contract winemaker and their small and precious harvest of fruit was neglected and pretty much ruined.
My heart went out to the Nankivells. It was clear just how difficult it was for them to make their dream a reality, to make time to do all the work in the vineyard, let alone try to market the wine, but the progress in the wines themselves was encouraging despite what Kim describes as a bit of struggle to assert his views on wine style over those of the winemakers he depends on.
I have recently found out that they have put the vineyard on the market. In the meantime, it is contracted to a local grower, who is farming it organically for Black Estate (see above). Kim wrote: 'Ideally, we don't want to exit the industry and can afford to continue as we were, but it doesn't make sense from a financial perspective (or sanity perspective either!). So we are looking at our options and would consider selling or taking on equity investment.'
RS 12.5 g/l. Tank fermented. Foot trodden and so quite highly extracted and seems to be ageing quickly, owner Kim Nankivell says.12.5%
Hint of spice on the nose but not very expressive. Bright and crisp and lemony. Sugar and acidity well balanced. Good length, straightforward. (JH)
18 g/l. Much more aromatic than the 2009. Definitely Alsace spice rather than Mosel purity. More weighty and dense than the 2009 – surprising given the vintages. Tastes almost as if it had a touch of Pinot Gris in it. (JH)11%
Old barrels. Cloudy. Still fermenting. Very sweet and honeyed and viscous in this raw state. Intense pear and apricot fruit and fine counterbalancing acidity. Long and luscious. (JH)
RS 12 g/l. Barrel fermented in old barrels. Pale gold. Oily/spicy Alsace nose but also showing a woody (not oaky) nose of maturity. Lots of spiced pear on the palate, rich and generous and on the sweeter side but just about balanced. Tangy finish and good length. Lots of flavour now but not a long life ahead. (JH)13.5%
RS 12 g/l. Fine pear and quince aromas and Pinot Gris's mineral spiciness. Tastes drier than the 2009 and is less rich on the palate and slightly flat on the mid palate. Could do with a touch more acidity. 2009 seems crisper even though it is also richer. Still persistent. (JH)13.5%
RS 12 g/l. Bright pear fruit. Attractive sour pear freshness and firm dry texture. Tastes off dry rather than sweet with the tannins adding freshness. Quite light in the middle but good length. (JH)13.5%
Kirk Bray is very much a one-man band. Needs must when you leave behind chartered accountancy in Hong Kong (which 'didn't agree with him') and start spending money on a vineyard and making wine. In between those two points, he did a postgraduate diploma in viticulture and winemaking at Lincoln University and gained practical experience at Sonoma Cutrer in California and worked for two years with Rainer Lingenfelder in the Pfalz.
In 2003 he and his wife Alison bought their land in Waipara. Even with limited resources he has managed to plant 8 ha on two terraces above the Waipara River, mainly on Canterbury gravels, ie free-draining gravel and loess, over very rocky subsoil, on Georges Road south west of Waipara, where several other producers are located. Riesling is his first passion (4 ha), along with Pinot Gris (2 ha) and Syrah (2 ha). Spacing is 2 m x 1.5 m and some at 2 m x 1 m. If he had had the money, he would have done all the planting at that closer spacing. He never harvests more than 2 kg per plant but he restricts the Syrah, which he describes as a weed (ie extremely vigorous), to one bunch per shoot. (Full details of rootstocks and clones, and much more, are given on the Georges Road website.) Frost is rarely a problem at this end of the valley, Bray says.
At the moment he vinifies his wines in Christchurch but he would obviously love to have his own winery. Total production is currently 1,000 x 6-bottle cases of each variety and he buys in the Pinot fruit. He had planned to plant it himself but the results at other vineyards on similar soils discouraged him and instead he planted more Riesling, which, he lamented 'is not the consumer's first choice'. He already exports to Denmark, Singapore and Australia and is disheartened by the fact that 90% of wines in NZ supermarkets are sold for less than NZ$15 and/or on special offer.
Unusually among the producers I visited, he uses Diam technical closures, believeing that the use of screwcaps is the 'blind following the blind' and that wines under screwcap are 'delayed in their development'. He is a firm follower of Lingenfelder's methods: juice oxidation (no gas protection prior to fermentation); all whites are whole-bunch pressed, not too cool (15-18 ºC) and left on gross lees for as long as possible. He is not aiming for a simple 'fresh and fruity' style.
2010 was his first vintage under his own label.
2011 was a great year: very low yield but high acid. Whole bunch, briefly settled to keep some solids. All barrel fermented with natural yeast. (No inoculation for his own wines.) Malo prevented using SO2.13.8%
Very delicate nose – light note of pear but also stony. Appealing creamy texture and a very very light grip. Dry tasting although there's 9 g/l residual sugar – the fermentation stopped naturally – and fresh. Tighter and with more energy than most Pinot Gris tasted so far, even in Waipara. (JH)
Planted 2006. 2010 cooler and wetter than 2011. Riesling tends to get to 20 Brix in the vineyard and just sit there, says owner/winemaker Kirk Bray. He would prefer a dry style but you have to follow the vintage. RS 23 g/l.11.3%
Like the Pinot Gris, delicate on the nose. Refined citrus, some lime and light orange blossom. Really zesty and pure and a very light grip increasing the freshness and length. Juicy and really clean. 'People love it but they won't buy it. Very disheartening', says Bray. Refined fresh acidity. Long. (JH)
100% Syrah. Deep pinky orange. Barrel fermented after two hours on skins. Intensely red fruit on the nose. Slight dusty note. Very dry (RS 3 g/l), intense with a peach-kernel finish. Not commercially styled and all the better for that. (JH)
Decanted. Gwyn Williams is the vineyard owner. Clones 115, 777 and 5. 10-year-old vines. Low trained and relatively densely planted and he also supplies fruit to Crater Rim. On clay and limestone. Destemmed but not crushed into 1.5 tonne open-top fermenters. Not much punching down but longer on skins post ferment - 30+ days. A year in barrel. 20% new.13.9%
Ripe and perfumed small-berried fruit aroma. Dry and lithe, quite firm, chalky tannins. Early picked. More austere than some but long. Alcohol shows a little. Restrained and no excess sweetness. More European than New World. Just needs a touch more flesh. Lovely fresh finish. (JH)
Own fruit. 7,000 Syrah vines. 8-tonne limit for that block. He picks when the berries have a slight dimple. Mostly aged in two- to three-year-old oak. Made in small open-top fermenters. Gentle extraction. Long maceration.13.9%
Mid crimson. Plenty of fine pepper on the nose – black and white – and delicate dark fruit. Peppery on the palate. Again in a relatively restrained style. Very fresh and dry and peppery. Mouthwatering freshness and great restraint. Long too. Food wine. (JH)
Glasnevin is the local name for Canterbury gravels. Total production just six barrels. Made for another producer so he has no control on the vineyard. Whole bunches. Fermented in old oak. Lots of solids and straight to barrel.14.5%
Roses and orangey/mandarin flavour. Salty, mineral finish. Dense. RS 23 g/l but tastes drier. Spicy on the palate. Holds together really well on the finish. Dry aftertaste and a slight grip. (JH)
Named after the grey limestone rich in marine fossils that is so prevalent on the Teviotdale Hills just north east of the town of Waipara, Greystone was set up 10 years ago by brothers Peter and Bruce Thomas. They have nearly 40 ha of vineyard, planted between 2003 and 2005 at altitudes of 60-150 m above sea level on the mainly west-facing slopes of the hills that provide shelter from the easterly winds off the sea.
Pinot Noir dominates (60%) but they also have a wide range of white varieties including Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, plus a little bit of Syrah (in 2012 this last was not picked until mid May). Their vineyards at the base of the hills need water sprinklers - running from the irrigation system - for frost protection. Apparently, there is a good supply of artesian water but you do have to have a licence to draw on it, and they also need irrigation for the vines at the top of the slope. Viticulturist Nick Gill (on the left in the photo), originally from Australia, confirmed what others had intimated - that the frosts are getting more frequent.
In 2011 they bought the neighbouring Muddy Water estate (planted 1993-2005) but the wines are still sold under that name, which is the literal translation of Waipara. The winemaker for all the wines is Dom Maxwell (right), who started in the Greystone vineyards fresh out of college and by 2011 had already won New Zealand's Winestate Winemaker of the Year.
A young company with a young team, they all seem to love the outdoors (the leisure pursuits of those assembled in nearby Amberley at the tasting dinner included skiing, snowboarding, fishing, tramping and hunting, not to mention herb gardening and cheese-making), which is just as well when you have to get up in the middle of the night to respond to the frost alarm. Their enthusiasm for this particular patch of the Earth shines through the wines. As one of the team said during the course of our tasting, you wouldn't come to this part of New Zealand to make wine if you were risk averse.
They have four blocks of Riesling on clay and limestone, the former produced more rounded and spicy wines, the latter giving finer acidity. Gravel seems to highlight the citrus. This wine is 75% from limestone soils, all hand-picked.11.5%
Medium-dry, Kabinett style – RS 30 g/l. Very pure limey citrus and some minerality, well balanced, poised, even though it was a hot year. (JH)
Barrel fermented, just under 50% malo. Grown mainly on limestone on a steep north-facing slope, planted 2005. Mendoza clone and low yields. All hand-picked.14.4%
Intense without being especially rich. Subtle creamy citrus with a hint of apricot. Tight, dry and pure yet still full flavoured and a lightly mealy texture. (JH)
Single block on limestone slopes – a fairly exposed site. At least five different clones. 30% whole bunch.
Ripe red fruit, dense and ripe but not overly sweet. Rich, fresh and rounded with a spicy finish. There's some grip but no hardness to the tannins, just well structured. Fresh finish and should age well. (JH)
Low-yielding vintage with some losses to frost. 30% new oak. Spiced and smoky. Ripe and dark-fruited with a herbal, garrigue-like note (probably from some whole bunch). More red-fruited on the palate, firm with a leaning towards Pommard style. (JH)14.5%
Starfish and shellfish fossils in the vineyard. Fully botrytised fruit – 2010 was their first vintage for a true botrytised Riesling. Intense apricot aroma. Luscious, generous and still fresh. (JH)7%
I'm not sure if it was the mature gardens or the number of wines or the very popular restaurant, but everything about Pegasus Bay speaks of a well-established and prosperous business but still one that is founded on the strength of a family's hard work and commitment over many years, beginning with the pioneering persistence of neurologist Ivan Donaldson, who planted his first vines in the Waipara Valley in 1986, after variously (un)successful hobby-scale experiments at their home in Christchurch prior to that. In the 1970s it was very difficult to get planting material and his first planting of 'Merlot' vines turned out to be Chenin Blanc.
He learnt a great deal from these experiments but realised he was much more likely to succeed in the Waipara Valley than around Christchurch itself. The clay-limestone Teviotdale Hills that protect the vineyards from the easterly breezes ensure that these north-facing vineyards are about 2 ºC warmer than the Canterbury Plains, the biggest area of flat land in the whole of New Zealand. In his search for the right vineyard sites, he used to drive around secretly at night, digging holes in the soil by the light of a headlamp.
Ivan, who continues to oversee the vineyards and the overall wine styles, drove me round the vineyards at dusk on the day I arrived, carefully avoiding the wind machines. (You can just make one out in the photo below. During operation, each one rotates every four minutes, thereby protecting an area of up to 5 ha, dragging the air down from about 100 feet. The frost risk also prompts them to use some herbicide around the vines to keep the ground bare.) He explained how he had worked at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London before taking up the post of consultant neurologist in Christchurch in the mid 70s. The first book to provoke his enduring love for wine was Hugh Johnson's Wine.
As darkness fell at around 8.45 pm, it became noticeably cooler, highlighting the strong diurnal temperature variation which is typical of this area - in addition to a very long growing season, with fruit often hanging on the vine 6 weeks longer than the average growing season in Europe. They even get two crops of figs a year.
They now have 40 ha of Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. The vines are planted on gravelly, north-facing terraces down to the river, with only very shallow top soil.
The beautiful landscaped gardens are the fiefdom of Ivan's wife Christine, and their eldest son Matt Donaldson is winemaker, a role which he shared for many years with Lynnette Hudson until she left Pegasus Bay at the end of 2012 to work as a consultant, but who was my excellent guide through the wines when I was there in November, patiently explaining such topics as aldehyde bridging*. I did not meet the other family members but another son, Edward, runs the restaurant and marketing and son Paul is the administrator.
In addition to Pegasus Bay, an important part of their business is the Main Divide brand - wines made from younger vines and bought-in fruit, mostly from Waipara but also from other regions such as Marlborough. (Main Divide is the local name for the Southern Alps, the backbone of New Zealand's South Island.)
Pegasus Bay label wines are all made from their own fruit. Reserve wines all have operatic names - very small volumes (eg just 1,500 litres of Prima Donna compared with 18,000 litres of the Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 2011) and made in some years only and stylistically different from the main range - selected parcels of older vines on own roots - and consistently from the same parcels.
All their wines are bottled under screwcap because of the lack of consistency with cork, both in terms of TCA and oxidation. According to Hudson, most New Zealand restaurants refuse to take wines without screwcap except from a few producers such as Fromm or Larry McKenna.
All the red wines are fermented with ambient yeast, and long post-fermentation vatting of up to three weeks is encouraged. From 2012, they have made some reds with whole bunches (more details in the tasting notes below).
*'Some wines, especially Pinot Noir, benefit from over-wintering without SO2 so that aldehydes develop which bond with tannins and anthocyanins, fixing the colour and tannins. I know that in Bordeaux MLF is typically immediately after alcoholic fermentation, but not so in Burgundy [in addition to overseas experience in Oregon and Romania, Lynnette worked harvests with Christophe Roumier, Nicolas Potel and Pascal Marchand]. My experience at Pegasus Bay with Pinot Noir was that if wines went through MLF in the spring (overwintered with no SO2), then the wines had deeper colour, were more robust with bigger tannins, losing primary upfront fruitiness for becoming more structured with greater ageing potential. This does depend on the wine, however, and if a Pinot is particularly tannic, then an early MLF is a good idea as it makes the wine more fruity and less tannic, although more simple and primary in fruit flavours. Typically at Pegasus Bay we let most Pinots go through MLF naturally in the spring and any aldehydes giving porty flavours are cleaned up by the action of the malo bacteria.
'Nicolas Rossignol, Volnay, has experimented with this and I remember tasting with him where he used broken glass stems in many of his barrels over winter to encourage aldehyde production, his aim being to increase colour and tannin polymerisation.'
Good vintage across the board. Good summer, even flowering and set. Good but not excessive yield. Some thinning at veraison. Autumn early with cool night and warm days in February. Aged in used barrels.14%
Bright ruby. Gentle red fruit, juicy and bright with just a hint of spice. Fine tannins and nicely structured. (JH)
Vines on own roots – mainly Wadenswil clone AM 10/5 – makes a massive difference to Pinot, says winemaker Lynnette Hudson, giving more structured wines. 10/5 is good on its own roots. Lots of small separate batches - up to 60 - because parcels are so varied.13.5%
Deeper ruby than the Main Divide Pinot. Very fragrant. Bright cherry but also some spice and savoury. Much firmer and denser than most Pinots from vines on gravel in this region. Firm grip, hint of oak spice and firm but fine texture. Very fresh finish. (JH)
This wine has on average 35% new oak. Unlike 2009, 2010 produced a small crop. Cool overcast summer but very dry then sun in February. Lovely long autumn – generally very settled March to May.13.5%
Much darker colour than the 2009 and dark fruit. Firm and savoury and deeper than the 2009 but still fine grained. Dry firm finish. Very fresh on the end. (JH)
Bright crimson. Really bright cherry fruit – aromatic and fresh. Lovely old-vine concentration, finely structured, dry sandy tannins. Very long and elegant even in youth. Fine layer of oak spice. (JH)13.5%
Clone AM 10/5 onto Merlot roots. Mostly from a parcel on Scott Henry training. Some whole bunches in this vintage.14%
Again, darker and spicier and less openly aromatic than the straight Pinot, especially now in youth. Has red fruit on the mid palate. Savoury oak spice. Dense but very fine tannins. Lots of spice. Tight and mineral on the finish. Very firm. (JH)
From the Clayvin vineyard in the Southern Valleys. Clay and no limestone. Slopes. They bought fruit from Marlborough because it was more easily available and more consistent. But getting easier to buy good fruit in Waipara.
Bright crimson. Bright lifted red cherry. Clay slopes have given really good structure. Fine dry (clay) tannins. Some whole bunches. Paper-fine sandy tannins. Very long and lots of subtle grip. (JH)
Dark red cherry. Slightly dusty, mineral note. Austerity in the structure but scented on the palate. So fine and dry and lithe but dry too. Long. (JH)
Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon. Meaty - and a touch of brett? Dry, and dry on the finish. (JH)
Malbec, Merlot and some Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Bright, lightly herbal cassis fruit. Juicy and sweet and creamy. Lots of milk chocolate. Thick and gently textured. (JH)
Intense grapefruit freshness. Almost a touch of orange. Ripe and juicy and fresh. Mineral aftertaste. (JH)13.5%
Founder Ivan Donaldson planted these vines because he liked Bordeaux whites. Natural ferment. Semillon is barrel fermented but in old barrels. No malo and on lees for eight to 10 months.
Ripe grapefruit and citrusy but complex and dry. Lanolin edge. Savoury, slightly mealy, dry and a light grip. Ageing beautifully with the structure gained through lees ageing. More texture than simple fruit. Really fresh. Semillon fills out the mid palate. Mineral finish. (JH)
Smells more Sauvignon-dominated than the 2007 but then it is a good deal younger and the Semillon needs time to build its character. Ripe vintage so picked early – very racy. Ripe and a touch of reduction – 'beneficial sulphides'. Dry and fine and fresh and a lovely balance with a dry fine grain texture. Very juicy perhaps and less elegant than the 2007, for now at least. (JH)
Ripe and limey. Really intense with the zest of mandarin plus a note of apricot. Touch of TDN aroma (kerosene-like) but attractive with that. Rich and full in the mouth. RS 9 g/l and lovely balance. Very fine and rich but so fresh and mineral too. Fruit picked late. Some botrytis. Definite mandarin character. (JH)14%
Some skin contact. Six days' settling so it has more texture. Leaf pluck is late February – the sun intensifies the phenolics.14%
Orange and mandarin and such fresh citrus. Pure and limey and intense. Concentrated and yet lithe and lively. Great depth of fruit and still has a mineral finish. Not unlike the German Grosses Gewächs style and with the density of a Wachau Smaragd but a slight grain adds freshness. (JH)
Lively and lemony. On gravel soils. Picked a little earlier than the Pegasus Bay Riesling. Peach. Touch of ginger and white blossom. Fresh and bright and energetic. Medium dry. (JH)
Not a lot of botrytis in this vintage. Cool summer, long dry autumn. Low crops and more desiccation. Ivan Sutherland grew Riesling in Canterbury as early as the 1970s. Long hang time essential. RS 25 g/l.12.5%
Tastes quite sweet. Slight oily note. Very rich and long. Some boiled-sweet effect (mawkish aftertaste). Slight grip. Almost a honey and lemon finish. Salivating acidity. (JH)
All Mendoza clone. Viticulturist Danny Shuster lived with Ivan and Chris for six months and he sourced the cuttings. Hand-picked and crushed on the way to the press with the stalks on so you keep the acidity and get high solids to build structure. Ambient yeast, fermented in puncheons (25% new), malo in spring is partial. Bâtonnage only to help if ferment is slow. 12 months in puncheon and then in tank on fine lees for three months to integrate the oak.
Lovely smoky citrus. Creamy and mealy and rich and some char and toast. Savoury, fresh and lovely. (JH)
Older vines. Two to three puncheons in total. More mineral and less obviously ripe on the nose than the straight Chardonnay. Tighter and refined with lots of fine texture and so much on the palate. Spreads in the mouth, long and the oak just swallowed up. Still has citrus and apricot ripeness but all tucked in and corseted. Fine sour freshness. (JH)
Bought-in fruit from vines planted 1983 (by John McCaskey ex Glenmar). Fermented in old puncheons, full solids, ambient yeast. RS 16 g/l.14%
Intense rose-petal aroma. Powerful, textured and rich but zero bitterness. Savoury on the palate. (JH)
Mainly in steel after a few hours in the press. 'Pinot Gris has no flavour unless you hang it out and get it ripe', reckons winemaker Lynnette Hudson.
Spicy and savoury on the nose. Then much richer and a slight note of apricot/orange on palate. Intense and spicy and long. (JH)
Best parcel from the same fruit source as for the Main Divide, with more botrytis. Ferment stopped earlier, leaving 40 g/l RS.14%
Intense oily spice on the nose. Luscious, full bodied and tastes drier than it is. Sweetish on the mid palate though and powerfully concentrated without fat or flab. Mouthfilling and just fresh enough to balance. (JH)
Select bunches with 30% botrytis or desiccation. Inoculated with commercial yeast. Slight smoky note. Very ripe citrus, orange floral and mandarin peel. Highly aromatic but you can tell even before it is in your mouth that it is concentrated. Slight smoky oiliness. Intense orange and so sweet but finish draws out long and elegant. Luscious but tightly focused. Grapefruit character at the end makes it fresh overall. (JH)10%
TONGUE IN GROOVE
This is a brand new Waipara label, launched in 2012 and set up by a group of six old friends who knew each other when they were students at Roseworthy (now part of Adelaide University). They had always wanted to do something together and were goaded into action by the Christchurch earthquake of 2011 and the energy they felt came out the rubble. The winemaker is Lynnette Hudson, formerly of Pegasus Bay (see above) and their spokesperson is Angela Clifford (who had a key role in both New Zealand's Summer of Riesling and Pinot Noir NZ 2013). The quirky Tongue in Groove website is a model of fun but rather self-conscious obfuscation, giving away very little about the wines or those behind them, though Clifford says the anonymity is no longer necessary and the website will be updated. Lynnette is also New Zeland's representative on the board of the International Riesling Foundation.
The team's home base is a 16-acre organic property in the Waipara Valley called The Food Farm but the fruit may well come from different vineyards in different vintages. So far they have produced a Rielsing and a Pinot Noir. Clifford says 'We are fortunate enough to have access to some wonderful grapes. There will be two 2012 Tongue in Groove Pinot Noirs, one from the clay slopes of the Cabal Vineyard in the Waipara Valley and the other from Clayvin - a truly great New Zealand Pinot Noir vineyard in Marlborough. But wherever the fruit is sourced, Tongue in Groove will always be based in the Waipara Valley/North Canterbury.'
Richly aromatic: bright citrus with a touch of apricot and a light note of jasmine but there's a mineral and lightly oily side to it as well. Off dry, mouth-filling and concentrated but very fresh and lively. Not unlike a really good Alsace Riesling but with a little more fruit ripeness – certainly not one-dimensional or overly sweet like some NZ Rieslings. There is already just the merest hint of development on the nose, which is why I have not given it a particularly long drinking window but I would be happy to be proved overly cautious, and the acidity should prolong its life. Tasting this a few days after opening, that oily/mineral note has turned into something slightly smoky and the mineral complexity is intensified. Masses of pleasure. (JH)13%
Whacky label and extremely smart (black) screwcap that looks very much like a cork covered by a capsule. Made by a group of old friends who were students together at Roseworthy.14%
Dark but bright garnet. Red fruit aromas that are not particularly sweet, and that restraint comes through on the palate too. Refined and with a more savoury character than most NZ Pinots, wonderfully unsmothered by oak. Just a slight warmth on the finish which shows because the wine is otherwise elegant. Tastes of small-berry forest fruits, the tannins fine but nicely framing the juicy fruit. Long and satisfying even with that lightness of touch. Hard to know how it will age as this is, I think, the first vintage. (JH)