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Colombo and Harvest Estate – New Wave Martinborough

By October 31, 2015No Comments
There’s a renaissance occurring in Martinborough as a new wave of wine producers becomes established, releasing their wines. It’s actually a third wave, the pioneers arriving in the 1980s, then through the 1990s, the pioneers were joined by the second wave who wanted to be part of the dream. Nowadays, there is a bevy of young (and not so young) entrepreneurs who wish to take the pioneers’ dreams even further, incorporating the values already accepted, and expanding the boundaries. The new arrivals have in the majority of cases taken over existing operations and businesses, the original owners now advancing in age without a practical succession plan, or finding it difficult to be profitable.

It is easy to assume that these newcomers would not be welcomed by the established, but the opposite is the case, as the new blood has revitalised and rejuvenated the scene. Suddenly there is much greater diversity in the region, making it more interesting for visitors to come. And there is greater potential for growth, if not continuance. The newcomers are indeed welcomed, and most of the established producers are more than happy to give advice to help them grow.
I’ve been aware of many of the new winegrowing operations in Martinborough, but haven’t had the opportunity of visiting. So a trip over the Rimutakas was organised, so I could catch up with two who I had made contact with some time ago, these being Harvest Estate and Colombo Winegrowers.

Colombo Winegrowers
Baptist Sieber and Carolyn Irwin developed a passion for wine following a period working for Georg Fromm in Switzerland, and then in Marlborough. It was this experience that made him realise that true and honest hand-made wines could only be made by personal involvement and on a smaller scale. The land had to have the right feel, too. The dream to do so came with the opportunity of purchasing in December 2013 the 2 ha block of 16 y.o. Pinot Noir vines that was established by Gary Voss and Annette Atkins on Todds Road.

This became the home block for Baptist and Carolyn, and they have established a stylish cellar door and built a small winery next to their house. The cellar door serves as a function centre where dinners can be held and wine events conducted. The present format is a no-menu dinner where someone, not necessarily Baptist, cooks a meal to be served with the Colombo wines. So far, it has proven to be successful and popular.

The production of the Colombo wines is small and will remain so. It’s all part of the complete hands-on approach, where Baptist and Carolyn oversee and control as much of the process as possible. Their first harvest on site, in 2014 saw 6 tonnes of Pinot Noir from the home site processed, with 2.5 tonnes of clone 95 Chardonnay from the Escarpment Vineyard in Te Muna Road, 4 tonnes of Sauvignon Blanc from Palliser’s vineyards, and 4 tonnes of Syrah from the William Murdoch vineyard in Hawke’s Bay, run by friend Jenny Dobson. To make a rosé, they contract Pinot Noir fruit from a local site, so as to not use their precious resource of old vines from their home block. This amount of fruit will remain pretty much constant.

The home block is planted wholly to Pinot Noir, 50% Abel clone and 25% each clones 115 and 667. Baptist notes that the vines are dry farmed. Being on the Martinborough Terrace, their vineyard is surrounded by illustrious neighbours, with a Palliser vineyard on the other side of the road, the former Martinus vineyard, now used by Kusuda, the Dodd vineyard to the west, and Olly Masters’ vineyard to the south. Being on a high point of the terrace, they seem to escape frost.

Colombo Winegrowers – Todds Road immaculate Home Block

A Quickfire Tasting
Baptist took me through a selection of wines opened at the cellar door. A Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014, approx. 10% wild yeast barrel-fermented showed its 54% Awatere provenance with gooseberry, herbs and nettles. Soft drying textures showed the barrel work, but this is essentially fruit-driven. A Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Tank Sample, which will be 30% barrel-influenced was softer, broader, weightier and more concentrated, with the lees work noticeable.

I’ve tried the Te Muna Martinborough Chardonnay 2014 before, but this time more expressive of fruit and with clear barrel-ferment creaminess, especially on the nose. This is tight and restrained on the palate, and will develop well. A Rosé 2015, at 11.5% alc. and 5 g/L RS, brightly coloured with savoury strawberries and cream, and noticeable acid zing on the palate to be refreshing, but balanced by some phenolic textures to mellow it out. Then the ‘lighter’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2014, fruit from Moana Park, showing a touch of herbs and reduction on nose, but sweet, soft, light and peppery on palate, and quite up-front with modest tannins. Then finally the Martinborough Pinot Noir 2014, tried earlier, with elegant, spicy raspberry fruit and good firmness and racy acidity, the fine tannin line carry the wine positively. Here the oaking is a little more mellow than last showing.

To put us into a state of anticipation, Baptist finally mentioned another Martinborough Pinot Noir 2014 yet to be released. Called ‘Monty’ after his and Carolyn’s son this is 100% whole cluster and has plenty of new oak. Only 2 barrels were made. The passion behind Colombo is beginning to be manifest. www.colombo.co.nz

Baptist, Carolyn and Bruno – Colombo Winegrowers

Michael Gregg and Martha Loe – Harvest Estate

Harvest Estate
Central to the success of any wine venture is wine quality. How one gets there and what one does with it is another matter. Harvest Estate is about the finest possible wines that Michael Gregg can make from his three vineyards in Martinborough. Michael is the son of Gerry Gregg who was in charge of all of Montana’s wineries nationwide, so has a deep and thorough understanding of winegrowing and winemaking and the intricacies involved in mechanical, personal and market terms. He knew that he couldn’t make the quality of the wine he wanted in his home of Marlborough, but knew that it was possible in Martinborough where the smaller scale allowed detail and personal input. And Pinot Noir was the variety he wanted to make.

Michael and his partner Martha Loe, also from Marlborough, her family with a farming background, based south of the Awatere, came to Martinborough in search of a Pinot Noir vineyard, but fell in love with the ‘St Martin’ block on Huangarua Road, next to ‘Aylstone’. Measuring 0.81 ha, it had old vine clone 95 and Mendoza Chardonnay, the plants close to 20 y.o. This became their home base. They also acquire fruit from 5.26 ha on Omarere Road, formerly with Haythornthwaite, the Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir being 23 y.o.. And also from 5.67 ha on a Ponatahi Road site with Pinot Noir Sauvignon and Riesling, around 20 y.o. They are not averse to obtaining fruit from other sites if necessary. More on this later… This mature resource enables the crafting of individual, high quality wine of a suitable standard.

Michael Gregg – in the Harvest Estate Winery

The Brand and the Experience
Branding and experience ae the fundamentals to the Harvest Estate brand and wines. Michael is an admirer of the success of the brand of ‘Dry River’ and his efforts emulate how he believes this has occurred. The quality of the wine must be outstanding. But the way that the market experiences them is paramount. It’s a person to person and direct selling approach where Michael captures loyalty by showing the vineyards and wines himself, telling his story, and describing the wines. People become his clients by joining his ‘Harvest Club’ through which he offers his wines. Selling via the website is an extension of this method. Thus, by avoiding distributors, he maintains healthy margins and sufficient profits from his relatively small production. 90% of the Harvest Estate wine is sold by mail order.

Michael is ambitious with Harvest Estate, his 10 Year Plan is to be fully profitable, and his 20 Year Plan will see him sell the business to retire. By then, he would have had a great time, and be able to move on before the body physically gives way.

I asked Michael why he and Martha had a generic name for their business. He returned to his original tenet of ‘brand’ and ‘experience’ as a reply, and believes a generic brand will hold its own, against a geographical or proprietary name, especially if the quality of the wine is high enough. Also it gives him the ability to source fruit from other region of desired, such as Syrah from Hawke’s Bay.

For the coming 2016 vintage, Michael has acquired the lease of the old 1 ha Benfield and Delamare block of Merlot and Cabernet Franc on Oxford Street, the 3,000 vines close-planted trained extremely low to the ground. For those with long memories, they will recall that Bill Benfield and Sue Delamare had a tiny amount of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris blended white; the vines are from this plot. The red varieties have gone into wine for Hiro Kusuda, Simon Groves and Heather Simpson since Benfield & Delamare ceased production; now it’s Michael and Martha’s turn to have some fun.

Harvest Estate vinifies its wines in the former Chris Buring ‘Oak House’ winery in Kitchener Street. Michael is slowly upgrading and reorganizing the tank sizes and selection to allow him to manage the different parcels of fruit he harvests correctly. The winery is about the right size, allowing him to manage approximately 40 tonnes of grapes annually It appears Michael’s plan is all coming together well. That’s why he’s enthusiastic and constantly wears a smile on his face. Martha also has a happy face. The lifestyle they live must be good. www.harvestestate.co.nz

The former Benfield & Delamare Oxford Street block
Close and low planted old Merlot and Franc vines

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