General Blog

A Ripper Day in the Wairarapa

By November 29, 2013No Comments
The Wairarapa is the playground for Wellingtonians, offering the joys of rural life for those taking the short trip over the Rimutakas from the city. The wine scene has developed enormously, even in just the last decade, and it is easy to spend several days immersed in visiting the wineries of Masterton and Gladstone as well as those of Martinborough and partaking of the hospitality, especially at vineyard eateries. A family gathering on the last weekend of spring gave a foretaste of what visitors to the region can experience in summer. Even though my family members have a wine and hospitality background, we chose to limit the number of places to call in on, to ensure we could properly soak up the atmosphere. The day was a classic ‘ripper in the Rapa’ with temperatures in the mid-20’s, and a cloudless sky.

Alexis Moore with an old vine in the Gladstone Vineyard ‘Home Block’

Gladstone Vineyard
Our morning destination was Gladstone Vineyard, the most-well-established winery operation in the Gladstone district. Owner Christine Kernohan was in Wellington, so our contacts were Catherine Hannagan, the administrator with a long background in the Wairarapa wine scene and Alexis Moore, who came from Seresin Estate in Marlborough taking the winemaker role to conduct the 2013 vintage at Gladstone Vineyard as her first there.

Following a coffee and a synopsis of the market with Catherine, Alexis took us for a walk around the 2.7 ha ‘Home Block’ vineyard. Flowering was in progress, and the plants ‘felt’ extremely happy. With plenty of growth in the vines, it is a busy time for vineyard manager Kyle Mason, a proponent of biological viticulture. Gladstone Vineyard has made the decision to take the ‘Home’ block to organic certification, no doubt with some encouragement from Alexis. It’s clear where they are heading…

A little look around the new winery buildings demonstrated how much Gladstone Vineyard has grown from the little space adjacent to the tasting room that was formerly used for winemaking. Then onto tasting a few bottles. First up was the pristine, dry and still youthfully tight Pinot Gris 2013. More Pinot Grigio-style at present, but this will develop more richness. A Riesling 2010 showed the complex toastiness with some bottle age. This had a firmness and strength of line. The Pinot Noir 2009 is one of the best recent releases of this variety, and has richness, ripeness and layers of savoury detail unfolding. It’s great to see these older library wines available at the cellar door. And as a finale, we had a preview of a Late Harvest Riesling 2013, as yet unlabelled, quite deliciously honied and near-unctuous with a decadent softness to the mouthfeel. Not much was made, so look out for it and snap it up when it is released. www.gladstonevineyard.co.nz

Shayne Hammond – Poppies Martinborough

Poppies Martinborough
A drive to Martinborough took us to our lunch venue, Poppies Martinborough. Shayne and Poppy Hammond have added to their skills by opening and operating their function venue on Puruatanga Road, just over the road from Dry River Wines where they were viticulturist and winemaker respectively for many years. While they’ve come adept (or should I say experts) in hospitality, they are still fully involved in vineyard and winery work making their own-label ‘Poppies of Martinborough’ wines which are available on site or through mail order. Poppy tells me the uptake of the wines at the tasting room, and for lunches and function has been phenomenal.

Poppy took us through the wines, which are made by her from small parcels of fruit from nearby vineyards that Shayne selects and manages. The Rose 2013 is a delightful ‘Provençale’ style, pale and delicate (like the winemaker!) The Sauvignon Blanc 2013 has strength and intensity with a cool and wild aspect (like the viticulturist!) The all-round favourite was the Pinot Gris 2013, off-dry, with a subtly rich pear and honeysuckle flavour. The Late-Harvest Riesling 2013 takes the richness up a level, and is even more seductive. And the Pinot Noir 2012 has boldness of flavour with a supple accessibility.

We chose the Pinot Gris to accompany our vineyard platters, which have a bit of a reputation around town as being rather good, and which we can endorse as such as well. It’s country-style, slightly rustic, but quality fare from local produce, and there’s something for everyone on them. They are good value and hit the spot after a session of wine tasting. Afterwards, you can take turns at playing racing drivers in the red beast vintage formula-one car outside. www.poppiesmartinborough.co.nz

Racy lady in a racy car – Poppies Martinborough

Ata Rangi
One of the must-visits in the Wairarapa is Ata Rangi in Martinborough, which counts as one of this country’s best wine producers. The range of wines is outstanding and is the result of a great deal of hard and caring work of owners Clive Paton, Phyll Pattie and Ali Paton from the early days in the mid 1980s. Old vines are a valuable resource which contributes to the quality. But also fastidious attention by Gerry Rotman in the vineyard and Helen Masters in the winery plays its part. Tasting through the wines is always a treat.

On our visit, it was a double treat, as it was Helen that gave us some of her valuable time pouring and talking about the wines. I think the current range is particularly good. Maybe it was the sun and the outdoor setting, but the ‘Summer’ Rosé 2013 and Sauvignon Blanc 2013 tasted especially well, the rosé red fruits very aromatic and the sweetness of the flavours in the Sauvignon Blanc luscious and mouthwatering. On this showing, the ‘Lismore’ Pinot Gris 2013 was very refined and still tight, promising much in the next few years. This is a class-act. The two Chardonnays from 2012 are also sensational, the ‘Petrie’ more up-front with plenty of stonefruit and gun-flint complexity in the very trendy contemporary style, and the ‘Craighall’ more in the stonefruit, nutty-oaky style, but with immense drive, cut and power. The latter wine is magnificent. Then the Pinot Noir 2011, which just gets better every time I see it. The fruit richness grows, even in the glass, and the suppleness is simply beautiful.

Helen went beyond the call of duty and showed us several samples of 2013 Pinot Noir from barrel to show what is in store. We were surprised by the diversity among the different samples, and we could see how each component had its part to play in the final blend. The over-riding impression of these samples was the quality of the 2013 vintage. The ripeness of fruit is there, without going too far, and there is freshness from excellent acidity, along with plenty of body. The Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2013 should be a stunner. www.atarangi.co.nz

Helen Masters – Ata Rangi winemaker

On the Way Out
A quick call into the shops preceded our journey back home. Some of the party went to ‘Thrive’ to purchase some original fashion or ‘Thunderpants’, while others called into the ‘Martinborough Wine Centre’ to see Amanda and Simon, who stock arguably the best selection of Wairarapa wine in the world. If we were to stay in town for the evening, we would have headed around the corner to have Wendy serve us a wine or two at ‘Micro Wine Bar’


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