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General Blog

Claire Mulholland of Burn Cottage in Wellington

It’s always delightful to catch up with Claire Mulholland, general manager and winemaker at the high-flying Burn Cottage Vineyard in Central Otago. I’ve known her for nearly 20 years from when she took over the reins at Martinborough Vineyard from Larry McKenna. Claire was in Wellington for trade and media visits, and I happened to catch her on the evening before the day her work began. Claire gave me a brief update as to the happenings, and I had a taste of some Pinot Noir wines she brought along.

Claire Mulholland - Burn Cottage Vineyard

The 2018 Vintage
Burn Cottage, is set for some interesting developments in the coming years. Earlier this year, it was announced that the company had bought an established 5.8 ha vineyard on Felton Road in Bannockburn to supplement its 11 ha holdings in Lowburn. Previously known as ‘The Sluicings’ vineyard, it was planted in 1999 to Pinot Noir clones 5, 6, 115 and 777. 2018 was the Burn Cottage crew’s first vintage with the vines from the site, which they conducted over three pickings. It is still a bit early to say how the fruit and wine truly looks, but I managed to prise out of Claire that she thought she could see the fruit from this site showing what is expected of Bannockburn, being darker and showing good depth and complexity, this also a result of low-cropped, older vines. At present, the fruit from this site is destined to go into the ‘Moonlight Race’ wine, but Claire acknowledges the potential for a single site wine, once they have a better understanding of the fruit.

The home Lowburn site experienced an excellent vintage in 2018. The concerns from the initial, earlier hot ripening period at the start of the year were alleviated by cooler weather and some welcome rain. The result was a very good vintage of ripe fruit, with slightly lower acids. Generally, the Central Otago vignoble has reported slightly higher yields than predicted, but at Burn Cottage, yields were a little less than expected. As is typical, the fruit style is centred on the red berry fruit spectrum, though some blocks and clones give darker (or possibly) cooler fruit. Floral perfumes are an important component of the fruit and resultant wine style.

Keen enthusiasts are aware that Burn Cottage and Valli Vineyards have exchanged fruit since 2014, the Burn Cottage team making a ‘Valli Vineyard Gibbston’ Pinot Noir, and the Valli crew making a ‘Burn Cottage Vineyard’ Lowburn wine. Since this exchange programme has started, the Gibbston growing region has experienced very good vintages, though frost was a problem one year. Claire reports that in 2018, it was another benevolent vintage, resulting in slightly smaller berries (which means greater concentration). So this is the fifth year this fascinating experiment is being run. From what I’ve tasted, both winemaking teams were cautious in their approach, the Burn Cottage version of the Gibbston wine relatively restrained, though distinctive; and the Valli Vineyard version of the Lowburn wine not quite as ‘forceful’ as the rest of the wines in that stable. With each passing vintage, I think we’ll see greater confidence for each winemaking team make more of their mark on the wines.

Tasting Some Wines
Claire brought with her a box full of different Burn Cottage wines, including multiple vintages of the white, the ‘Moonlight Race’ Pinot Noir and a bevy of varied Burn Cottage Pinot Noirs. In trying not to take up too much time, I chose the Burn Cottage Pinot Noirs to taste for an impression. My notes follow. As they are impressions, rather than full reviews, I scored the wines provisionally, so they are not added to my database. However, I trust you’ll find them of interest.

Burn Cottage ‘Valli Vineyard’ Gibbston Central Otago Pinot Noir 2014
Deep ruby-red colour with some garnet. The bouquet is firm and intense, still very fresh in expression, very Gibbston with fresh and dark herbal nuances, certainly on the cooler edge, but with sufficient ripeness. Any whole bunch character quite integrated now. On palate bright and lively, yet rich and luscious, the Pinot Noir fruit with dark and red berries, a hint of herb, maybe stalk freshness. The tannins are fine and provide a good line, with crisp acidity lending vitality. Certainly a Gibbston expression here. (19.0-/20)

Burn Cottage ‘Valli Vineyard’ Gibbston Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015
Very dark ruby-red colour with slight purple hues. The nose is very fresh, still quite primary with bright and perfumed dark-red berry fruits and dark florals. Some classical Gibbston herbal notes, along with noticeable whole bunch stalk aromatics. On palate a strong and complete wine, rich, ripe, rounded and plush in expression, but still with that herbal-stalk edge to remind one of its Gibbston origins. This takes it up a level over the 2014, which is certainly not lacking. It has legs to develop and will age well. (19.5/20)

Burn Cottage ‘Burn Cottage Vineyard’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012
Moderately deep, garnet-hued light-red colour, still with fresh tints. This has a soft, but fine and densely packed nose with fresh dark-red berry fruits, some dark herbs and fragrant red floral notes. This is quite together and integrated, a little restrained and elegant in expression, Still taut on palate and positively elegant, the fruit is somewhat shy, but reveals attractive red berry fruits with red florals and interwoven fine herbal suggestions. The tannin extraction is very fine and balanced, and this has a harmony to its presentation. Shows the slightly cooler year beautifully. (18.5/20)

Burn Cottage ‘Burn Cottage Vineyard’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015
Light ruby-red colour with slight purple hues, some youth here. The nose is very tightly concentrated with firm and intense, youthfully fresh fruit aromas of aromatic red berry fruit, unfolding a complex amalgam of fragrant dark-red florals and dark herbs, and a little complexing whole bunch stalkiness. This is positive with a core, but retains a degree of finesse. Quite plush with fine-grained structure, subtle acidity, with an underlying power. A gorgeous and serious, classically-styled wine that will develop very well. (19.5/20)

Burn Cottage ‘Burn Cottage Vineyard’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016
Even ruby-red colour. On the nose soft and beautifully expressed with finesse and detail, with red berry fruit aromas and an array of red floral detail. The aromatics are seamless and show no sign of the warmer vintage (over 2015). On palate this has finely ripened fruit with red, rather than dark-red or black-berried fruits, but darker fruits emerge. This is all about perfume and elegance with seamless flowing textures. This is plush and fruity in youth, and undeniably pretty. Very fine-grained tannin extraction completes the wine. A beautiful wine. (19.5-/20)
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