Marlborough’s vinous past has been reconstructed by the Cowley family with the establishment of their Auntsfield vineyard. The southern hills of the Wairau Valley where Graeme and Linda Cowley planted their vines was also the site where David Herd, Marlborough’s first winemaker planted his vines in 1873. Researching the site, people and happenings of the period, the Cowleys unravelled much of the remarkable story of the first Marlborough wines, and discovered and restored the derelict cellar on the property. Held within the cellar is a small bottle containing 1905 vintage wine reputedly made by Herd. The Cowleys have also planted 400 Muscat a Petits Grains vines on Herd’s original 0.25 ha plot to re-create a wine, fortified in style, similar what he may have made. Visiting Auntsfield to see these artefacts and restoration projects is a must.
The modern day Auntsfield operation is also a must visit. Run by sons Ben, the viticulturist and Luc, the winemaker, the wines from the 65 ha plantings are growing in stature. Around 90% of the vineyard area is devoted to Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, with Chardonnay making up the remainder. The vines are planted on the hillsides as well as the flatter land, with varying proportions of greywacke and loess. Auntsfield is in the middle of a re-organisation of labels, with the ‘estate’ wines to be called ‘Single Vineyard’, then the more specific ‘Single Block’ tier, finishing with the flagship ‘Heritage’ Pinot Noir, a tribute to David Herd’s history.
Luc showed the current and new wines at the cellar door. A ‘Reserve’ Sauvignon Blanc 2009 had the style of the likes of Cloudy Bay ‘Te Koko’ and Dog Point ‘Section 94′ and was an impressive start. Recognising the beauty of pristine Marlborough Chardonnay expression, the ‘SV’ Chardonnay 2010 was tight and fruit expressive with sympathetic oaking. For those who want more, the ‘SB – Cob Cottage’ Chardonnay 2010 is a sensation with its intensity and fine complex winemaker input.
The current release Auntsfield Pinot Noir 2009 is ripe, rich and well-structured, an excellent wine for the vintage. The ‘SV’ Pinot Noir 2010 is a step up, being sweeter and more vibrant, as the 2010s seem to be across the board. Interestingly the ‘SB – Road Ridge’ Pinot Noir 2010 was very refined, silky-smooth with gorgeous, ethereal florals, an expression of wonderful delicacy and femininity, if I’m allowed to use such terms. The final two wines tasted were the ‘Heritage’ Pinot Noir 2009, a wine with enormous presence and fruit depth, and quite correctly pulled back on the extravagant oaking that is in the earlier releases. This is an impressive 2009 indeed. A preview of the ‘Heritage’ Pinot Noir 2010, a barrel sample, showed great concentration, fruit drive, and beautifully refined textures.