There is no doubt that Alana Estate is situated on prime real estate. Established in 1993, the Alana Estate vineyards cover just over 17 ha planted to Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. Amidst top performing vineyards on the famed Martinborough Terrace, Alana Estate has had its share of successes with a number of top wines produced over the years. It’s just that the consistency is lacking. Many factors can be cited as causes, but it seems the circumstances may now be conducive for that consistency to come to the fore with the appointment in mid-2011 of Pete Wilkins as the CEO and viticulturist and Alex Craighead as winemaker at the start of 2012 just in time for harvest.
Pete Wilkins is best known in the district for his embracing of biological viticulture, his viticultural role at Martinborough Vineyards and the development of the Craggy Range vineyards in Te Muna Road. However, his experience is considerable with much of his skills honed working with Montana Wines and with Ivan Sutherland in Marlborough. The biggest single change Pete has made has been the reduction of yields from around a norm of 180 tonnes picked per annum to approximately 100 tonnes. His current vineyard focus is the conversion to certified organic status which should be completed by 2014.
Born in Sydney but raised in Christchurch, winemaker Alex Craighead learnt his trade in a number of countries overseas following his oenology and viticulture studies at Lincoln. He’s worked at some fairly large operations and put his knowledge into the ‘winery flow’ at Alana Estate, acknowledging the already well thought-out and relatively modern facilities he’s stepped into. The imminent arrival of a new bottling line is a signal of the greater control of the winemaking process that is Alex and Pete’s aim. Talking to Alex, he revealed an interest in natural wine, but with his first vintage, the 2012 at Alana, he took an ultra-conservative approach to get a base-line result before even considering pushing the boundaries.
From barrel, the Chardonnay 2012 is a restrained one in fruit expression, the wine showing good mouthfeel and presence. Alex sees the Martinborough fruit in a style different to say that of Hawke’s Bay, and I could see stonefruits rather than citrus. Alex will take care with the oak handling too. Three samples of Pinot Noir were sampled. Clone 5 with 50% whole bunch, very fine in texture, quite smooth, with attractive floral expression, a nod to the cooler and aromatic side, and the whole bunch savoury herb and perfume not too much. The 10/5 sample was fuller and more voluminous on bouquet, with read depth of fruit. Darker and with greater juiciness and riper characters. And a sample from a new barrel with a blend of clones, 5, 667, 777 and 114. A very harmonious mouthfeel, with spicy fruit, and mouthfilling breadth. Some good components were here.
In the tasting room adjacent the restaurant, we tasted the bottled wines – with new labels. Firstly Alex’s efforts. The Sauvignon Blanc 2012 with an 8% barrel-ferment portion. The nose with the classical, cooler nettle-like fruit, but well-textured and substantial on palate with the oak spicing adding positively. Alex worked hard at getting some fruit depth with the Riesling 2012, and he’s done a very good job. Clear-cut lemon and lime aromas and flavours with lovely soft and fine mouthfeel, the wine at 11.5% alc., the phenolics well-managed. Drier than the 14.4 g/L rs might suggest.
The 2011 wines were also textbook and delivered all that was expected. The Chardonnay 2011 did have the citrussy fruit flavours, more in line with that of Hawke’s Bay, and some oak interest, the wine crisp and racy on the palate. This is pleasing wine. The ‘Rapture’ Pinot Noir 2011 a lighter and more accessible style, very much as second-label wines are, but thoroughly serviceable and varietal. The Estate Pinot Noir 2011 a step up, as it should be, with sweeter fruit and more in the mouthfeel with good substance.
I got the impression that Pete and Alex were hankering to get onto the wines that were totally of their making, as they will clearly show the results of their efforts. The 2011s already have made a step forward, and indeed, it will be interesting if not exciting to see the progress with each successive vintage. With a promising 2013 in the wings, there may be a big leap. www.alana.co.nz