General Blog




A Couple of Days in Central Otago


26-Nov-2017
Following an intensive few days before and attending the Central Otago Pinot Noir Ltd Spring Release Tasting (click here to see my report on five vineyard visits, and here for my notes on the introductory ‘Discovery Tasting’, and here for my thoughts on the 70 wines at the ‘New Release Tasting’), Sue and I decided to catch up with some of her suppliers, and visit some ‘old’ friends in the region. There was no pressure, and it was great to catch up for the news, but invariably we tasted some wines too. Here are some observations and impressions.

Brendan & Jessica Seal with Holly (8) and Charlotte (4)
URBN VINO and The Writer's Block

URBN VINO and The Writer’s Block
My partner Sue is pleased to have Brendan Seal’s wines in her portfolio. Brendan does it differently and to no-one else’s tune, and because of that, he has a strong following. Brendan makes small lots of unique wines, invariably one-off bottlings made from small parcels of fruit which he aims to represent provenance, while incorporating some of his own techniques he has learned, or given thought to. This modus operandi is untenable for producers who crave for consistency, but for Brendan and his clientele, it is extremely interesting and of course fun.

Brendan has been operating his Packspur Wine Studio out of the McAulay’s boutique winery premises over the last few years, but has decided to move, so he can dedicate more to his URBN VINO project, an urban winery making Central Otago Pinot Noir in a heritage building in Dunedin, where visitors can have an interactive experience with the winemaking process. Brendan began this venture with the 2016 vintage, investigating the logistics, and crowd-funding has now enabled him to take it to the next level of establishing a permanent presence in Dunedin. So Brendan and his family have re-located to Dunedin. There, he will make new vintages of his URBN VINO Pinot Noir, as well as The Writer’s Block wines. The site will also be for barrel-aging, whereas previous wines have been matured in Central Otago.

Sue and I visited Brendan and his family just before they were about to head down to Dunedin. We got a sneak preview of his new URBN VINO label, and deemed it to be very classy, referencing a Pinot Noir vine leaf and Dunedin city’s Octagon centre. The 2016 Urbn Vino Dunedin Central Otago was about to be revealed at a launch party at the start of December. I have reviewed the wine (click here to see my review), and there is also a ‘Reserve’ bottling, which I have tasted. It too looks very smart. www.urbnvino.nz www.thewritersblock.co.nz

Desert Heart Antipasto Platter

Desert Heart
It’s great to see the Desert Heart girls back in action. Denny Downie and Jane Gill sold their original vineyard site at the end of Felton Road in Bannockburn to Sam Neill, who is producing his Two Paddocks single vineyard ‘The Fusilier’ Pinot Noir from the fruit. It’s a high quality wine which no doubt owes much of its character to the way Denny and Jane set up and maintained the vineyard.

Denny and Jane purchased another block along the road, planted vines and have now opened a cellar door there based on two modified containers, one being the cellar door itself, the other the kitchen where they prepare delicious antipasto platters. From there, they are selling an eclectic range of wines, some of them being older vintages, made from fruit from the original home vineyard. These, are special and relatively limited in volume. These wines have the benefit of bottle maturation and are drinking very well. It’s a bit of a luxury nowadays to have wines available that have developed to show their full potential. As well as the older wines, there are new releases, which are wines made from fruit from friends and neighbours vineyards, this situation carrying on until at least their own fruit comes on stream, and maybe longer. Denny and Jane will soon build their new home on site. They are true lovers of the Bannockburn district.

Sue and I called in to enjoy a food platter just on lunchtime. It was relatively quiet, which was good, as it gave us a chance to have a decent catch-up, and for Sue to get a little business done with the girls, who are one of her suppliers. Then, just as we began to tuck into the platter, people started arriving. Within half an hour, the place was packed and humming, with locals and out-of-towners, a number of whom were part of organised tour parties. We shared our table with a couple of delightful, and very wine-knowledgeable ladies from Auckland to join in on the party atmosphere.

We can vouch for the food and the wine. We particularly enjoyed a Desert Heart ‘Enlightenment’ Bannockburn Central Otago Chardonnay 2011 for its layers of complex citrus and creamy-nutty flavours. Denny and Jane only had a few bottles left of this, so if you visit Desert Heart, it’ll be gone by now. But be assured, there will be something else equally good. It may be worthwhile asking for the Desert Heart ‘Paint it Black’ Bannockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009, a particularly complex wine which is rather special for the girls. www.desertheart.co.nz

At Misha's Vineyard Cellar Door

The 4 Barrels Wine Trail
Wine tourism has become one of the most popular pastimes for visitors and holidaymakers. Each winegrowing region has its unique attractions that make a visit special. Cycling is a popular way of getting about, especially if a moderate distance between wineries is involved. Sometimes, a car is necessary. However, there’s nothing like getting up-close to nature. I reckon that wherever vines are planted, it’s going to be a beautiful and picturesque place. So to me, there’s nothing like walking around and in vineyards.

Recently opened in Cromwell is the ‘4 Barrels Walking Wine Trail’. This is an 8 km trail that takes you to four wine producers, these being Misha’s Vineyard, Aurum, Scott Base and Wooing Tree. It’s a self-guided tour (maps are available) which will take 90 minutes walking time. On average, walkers spend about 30 minutes at each cellar door, so allow 3-4 hours, especially if you include lunch. The trail is free to walk, but no doubt most walkers will taste (tasting fees waived on wine purchases) and many purchase wines along the way!

The Wooing Tree

Each of the producers has its own personality and distinctive wines. Misha’s Vineyard just opened their cellar door on State Highway 8B last year, and it’s very stylish. Food platters are served there. I love the aromatic whites especially. Aurum, off SH6, has a distinctly French flair, winemaker Lucie Lawrence coming from France. She’s very innovative with her wines, experimenting with skin contact. Scott Base, up McNab Road, is part of the Allan Scott Family Winemakers business who are based in Marlborough. But it’s this special Central Otago place which has captured their hearts. Very fine bubbles, and a fabulous panoramic view can be obtained there. And Wooing Tree, off Shortcut Road, has the iconic near-100 y.o. pine tree landmark you can see. The cellar door serves excellent food there in addition to excellent wines. The ‘Blondie’ Blanc de Noir is very popular. Visit ‘’4 Barrels Cromwell’ on Facebook for more information.


Wet Jacket
Wet Jacket is the new Central Otago venture of Greg Hay who set up the business in 2015 following his departure from Peregrine Wines. Greg is one of the early vignerons of the region, originally establishing Chard Farm with his brother Rob. www.wetjacket.nz

Wet Jacket is based at the 150 y.o. Bendemeer Woolshed near Lake Hayes, just out of Queenstown, sharing the premises with Whitestone Cheese who have a cheese aging room there. It’s a natural fit. The name ‘Wet Jacket’ refers to Wet Jacket Arm, in Fiordland, named by Captain Cook for the soaked jackets of his crew when exploring the area. Greg spends much of his time in the region, and is intimate with Wet Jacket Arm as well as Breaksea and Dusky Sounds, where he hunts and forages, as well as being deeply involved in conservation efforts there.

Well-versed in the wine industry, Greg has made Wet Jacket a bit of an exclusivity. His limited production of 3,000 cases of wine come off four Cromwell Basin vineyard sites (and some Gewurztraminer from Alexandra) he has strong relationships with, and he has engaged good friend Pete Bartle of VinPro to make his wines. The wines are available for retail only from the cellar door at the Bendemeer Woolshed, or in a small number of selected restaurants in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown.

Greg Hay - Wet Jacket

Sue (who worked vintage for Greg about 15+ years ago) and I managed to catch up with Greg, who showed us around the cellar door, pointing out the different areas for entertaining visitors. Then cellar door host James Turpie took us through tasting a selection from the range of the Wet Jacket wines. Here are my brief impressions:

Sauvignon Blanc 2017: Fruit from ‘Domain Road’, 12.6% alc. and 3.15 g/L RS. This is in the cooler spectrum with cut-grass, herb, nettle and gooseberry aromas and flavours. Clean and crisp on palate. RRP $25.00

Pinot Gris 2016: 14.0% alc. and 5.6 g/L RS. This has aromas of stonefruits, exotic florals and minerals. Fine textures and crisp acidity, along with some noticeable alcoholic power and drive. RRP $27.00

Gewurztraminer 2017: Fruit from the ‘Immigrants’ and ‘Brennan’ vineyards, 13.5% alc. and 7.2 g/L RS. Very attractive nose with rose-petal florals and Turkish Delight, revealing honey and spice. Tight and fresh an palate with real linearity. RRP $27.00

Pinot Noir 2015: Fruit from Queensberry, fully destemmed, 13.3% alc., 12 months in 28% new French oak. Some garnet hues. Soft, full and savoury with undergrowth and game, plus cedary oak notes. This has a tight, fine core and fine structure. RRP $39.00
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