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Central Otago Wine Company

By July 3, 2013No Comments
The Central Otago Wine Company was partly born out of tragedy. When winemaker Mike Wolter passed away in a winery accident in 1997, his wife Bridget joined together with Sam Neill and others to form a winemaking facility to continue Mike’s work. The winemaker overseeing the facility is Dean Shaw, who is one of Central Otago’s most experienced. Dean is arguably the man who has seen the widest variation of fruit and vintage conditions in the last decade and a half, and this is a most valuable resource in dealing with any approaching harvest.

COWCo client wines available for sale

The Central Otago wine scene has changed significantly over the past few years. Next door, VinPro, another contract winemaking facility has been set up, offering growers an alternative. There are others operating, such as Maude in Wanaka, Alexandra Vintners (click here to see my report on visiting) and a number of smaller ones. Business is tight, especially since the large 2008 harvest which saw many growers not turn their fruit to wine due to the tough market conditions that ensued. At present, Dean has around a dozen clients, of which three account for approx. 60% of the 380 tonnes processed. Two Paddocks heads the list, with Surveyor Thomson and Three Miners also in the big league. The grapes he processes come from throughout the region, and as far as the Waitaki Valley, the latter district a new experience for Dean!

Complex and Textural Wines
Dean Shaw has a reputation for flamboyance in his dress code and communication, and the wines he produces are somewhat different from the mainstream in that they have more complexities and textures in them. As a result, the wines are not readily recognised for their quality by a proportion of New Zealand wine consumers and even wine judges. From an international perspective and for drinkers who are familiar with classical European wines, Dean’s hand can result in some of the most interesting and indeed best from Central Otago, if not New Zealand.

This is not due to Dean’s input or interference, as he takes the path of minimal intervention. It’s essentially a matter of decision making and timing to take action – or not – as the case may be. As with all contract winemakers, Dean’s philosophy is one of delivering the best to his clients, with the responsibility of ensuring the best possible wine comes from the fruit brought to him, and that they are successful on the marketplace. Steve Green of Carrick reckons Dean Shaw is the winemaker who best captures and retains the character of the vineyard in the wines. Dean certainly has no ego as a winemaker and has no desire to “put his stamp” on the wines that come out of the Central Otago Wine Co., but his approach certainly lends the wines to take certain stylistic paths. The concept of a ‘cellar palate’ was raised, and his discussion showed his high awareness of how this can result.

Tasting a Selection of 2013 Whites and Reds
Dean took me through a selection of tanks and barrels to show his processes and how the 2013 vintage appeared. Dean prefers to let the wines find their natural balance and will only make adjustments as late as possible and only if necessary. The names of the producers have been omitted for client confidentiality, except for Two Paddocks. Here are my impressions:

The first sample was a Two Paddocks Alexandra Riesling, very aromatic with classical lime and lemon aromas and flavours, based on silky soft textures, the acidity quite soft also. Then a Cromwell Basin Riesling, softer and broader with distinctive sherbetty notes, along with ginger and spice. A third sample, a Two Paddocks ‘Redbank’ Riesling, very elegant and shy, great linearity, showing exotic characters to the fruit, and with mid-palate strength. This will be a useful blending component. Another Cromwell Basin Riesling, quite tutti-frutti, but also with reductive notes, dry, firm and tight, showing its low pH. Then a Waitaki Valley Riesling, with lifted aromatics, leaner, tight and with real raciness.

Dean Shaw with material for Two Paddocks ‘straw wine’

In the winery was a stack of bread trays each layered with bunches of botrytised Riesling grapes in various, but modest levels of mould infection and shrivel. Dean will attempt to make a Two Paddocks ‘straw wine’ from this fruit by dehydrating the fruit naturally over time. The 800 kg of grapes will probably yield around 60 litres of wine in the end. It is a play project for Dean for sure, as his eyes had a sparkle and the corners of his mouth were upturned forming a little smile as he talked about it.

First red was a Two Paddocks ‘Last Chance’ Pinot Noir with 20-30% whole bunch. Beautifully tight and perfumed, supple and very elegant, this will probably make 20% of the final wine. Then a component that will make up the larger part of the Two Paddocks ‘Last Chance’ Pinot Noir, with approx. 60% whole bunch, this being grunty in texture, but sweet and fleshy at the same time, the acidity lower than the previous sample. Two more samples of barrels destined for Two Paddocks ‘Last Chance’ Pinot Noir, both clone 6, one more toasty oaky than the other, but both with sweetness and generosity, as well as depth and noticeable acid cut.

These were followed by a Two Paddocks ‘Redbank’ Pinot Noir, from 13 y.o. vines, a little lighter and cooler, a slight sappiness hinted behind the minerally fruit and linear drive. Dean is carefully monitoring the wine, as it may soon make it into the top single vineyard level of quality. This was followed by a sample of Two Paddocks ‘First Paddock’ Pinot Noir. An intriguing combination of florals and herbs, with excellent textures and savoury notes, lifted by racy acidity. This is 35-50% whole bunch. Then finally a Cromwell Basin Pinot Noir from one of the big clients, a brooding style with richness and soft savoury flavours of dark plums and spices. This too had whole bunch complexities.

In a way the last two wines reflected the complex personality of Dean Shaw. There is a saying that wines can look like their maker. This is too simple an analogy.

Dean Shaw drawing 2013 Pinot Noir barrel samples


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