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A Visit to Nautilus Estate – The Vineyards

By March 3, 2014No Comments
A visit to Nautilus Estate on Rapaura Road in Marlborough turned out to be a lot more exciting than anticipated. Chief winemaker Clive Jones was to show a selection of current release wines and take us for a tour of some of the vineyards. However, fruit was coming in and he was overseeing the beginnings of vintage 2014, with his crew sorting and destemming bins of Pinot Noir fruit sourced from a contract grower in the Southern Hills. www.nautilusestate.com

Claudia Yanez pouring Nautilus ‘Cuvee’ Methode Rose 2011

We watched the first processing of this year’s harvest at Nautilus with a glass of Nautilus ‘Cuvee Marlborough’ Methode Traditionnelle 2011 poured by cellar door manager Claudia Yanez in hand. This wine is the first rose under the Nautilus label, released to coincide with the celebration of the Royal N.Z. Ballet’s 60 years, which Nautilus supports. Disgorged in September 2013, this is beautiful pale pink, and has the deep core and richness on nose and palate, plus the body that 100% Pinot Noir provides. There’s richness, countered by dry complexity, from the 2 years on lees. Delectable drinking and a rarity with just 200 or so cases made, so well worth visiting the cellar door for. Sue couldn’t help herself, and leaped to the sorting table to assist. In the meantime, Clive devised a plan for viticulturist Mike Collins to take us on a tour to look at some of the Nautilus Estate vineyards, to keep us out of harm’s way, no doubt!

Sue Davies – at the sorting table with Pinot Noir

Mike Collins – Viticulturist
Mike Collins is the consummate professional, taking great pride in his work, loving to see the results of his labour in the growing quality of the Nautilus Estate wines. His realistic and pragmatic approach sees him understanding the methods used by his peers and competitors, and while not agreeing with some of the practices, doesn’t denigrate their way of operating. He retains an open mind to the more esoteric ways, and will be keen to examine anything that will improve on what he is already doing. Organics is certainly practiced and welcomed, and aspects of biodynamics seen as beneficial, though he sees himself not adopting the philosophical and spiritual side. As always, the final wines, where they stand and what they are to deliver is taken into account, as are the costs and effort required to get there. There’s no room for inefficiency or wastage.

Coming from a New Zealand sommelier background that took him to Australia and wine retailing, Mike eventually worked in various wine regions around that country, before returning to New Zealand. After working in Hawke’s Bay for the likes of Pask and Blake Family Vineyards, he arrived at Nautilus in 2006, bringing with him a wealth of experience and a fresh outlook to Marlborough. Clearly, his work has provided results. He’s particularly pleased with the advances seen in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at Nautilus Estate, these two wines proving to be stars on the show circuit and with consumers.

Visiting Vineyards
Nautilus Estate has 72 ha over six different sites, these vineyards meeting about 60% of the company’s requirements, the rest obtained from contracted growers. Around 1,400 tonnes are processed, making Nautilus a small producer compared to the likes of Oyster Bay and Villa Maria, who manage around 20,000 tonnes plus. The Nautilus label is premium, with Opawa and Twin Islands beneath that. For the Nautilus label, estate fruit makes up around 85% of the supply.

For Mike, it’s all about harvesting the sunlight via the best canopy management to ripe the fruit as efficiently and healthily as possible, without vine stress, at the correct yields and costs, to make wines that over-deliver at each level. This requires selective management for each vineyard, block and row, to make the variety work best with the site and soils. He’s not averse to having a mixture of spur and cane pruning in the same blocks and rows, if it is best.
The vineyards are listed alphabetically below. We visited four of the sites, not the Awatere or Kaituna vineyards, some we whizzed through, and I offer some impressions of them after their description:

Awatere Vineyard: 10 ha on the north bank of the Awatere River, first planted in 1992, to Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.

Clay Hills Vineyard: 5.5 ha on hillside in the Omaka Valley, planted to Pinot Noir between 1999 and 2004. Purchased by Nautilus in 2007. Established by vineyard developer guru Mike Eaton, the 6 blocks are sited furthest in from Brookby Road, and the setting is quite spectacular, each block at slightly different altitude and aspect, on clay-influenced soils. Planted primarily to clone 5, with 114, 115, 667 and 777, at approx. 3,000 vines per hectare, and developed to provide a major base component to the Nautilus Pinot Noir. Around 30 tonnes yielded, the vines cropped at <2 kg per vine. It was evident that Mike was very proud of the work and detail to get the fruit and vines in superb balance and health.
Kaituna Vineyard: 20 ha at Kaituna on the north bank of the Wairau River, near S.H. 6, planted in 2002 and 2003 to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Purchased by Nautilus in 2004.

Lanark Lane Vineyard: 12 ha of established Sauvignon Blanc, planted in 1998, in the Upper Wairau Valley, purchased by Nautilus in 2008. A flat site for providing fruit for the Opawa and Twin Islands labels. Scott Henry trellising, and designed to yield 250 tonnes, the canopy particularly extensive, but not hedge-like. Even aiming for secondary and third tier, this is tightly managed, and a credit to the viticulture.

Opawa Vineyard: 25 ha on Rapaura Road, planted between 2001 and 2003, to Sauvignon Blanc with 1.5 ha of Pinot Noir. Much riper Sauvignon Blanc characters here, with thiol expression. This is the vineyard around the winery.

Renwick Vineyard: 7 ha, the first Nautilus vineyard, purchased in 1992. Planted to Pinot Noir in 1997. Sauvignon Blanc, clone 15 Chardonnay in 1987, with Pinot Gris, Albarino and Gruner Veltliner; Gewurztraminer now replaced. Arguably the most interesting site in terms of varieties planted, and also having some of Nautilus’ oldest as well as youngest vines. The Chardonnay clone 15 and performing well despite its age and condition. It was fascinating tasting the Gruner Veltliner and Albarino, the latter yielding its first crop this year. The Nautilus team have learnt to work the skins in Gruner Veltliner for good depth of wine character, resulting in plenty of phenolic structure. The Gruner Veltliner and Albarino both thick-skinned, the latter with searing acidity.

Mike Collins – Nautilus Estate Viticulturist
At the ‘Clay Hills’ vineyard, Omaka Valley

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