Philip Horn, proprietor of Unison Vineyard in the Gimblett Gravels was in Wellington for trade visits and called in with an update on the happenings at his operation. Philip brought with him wines from the 2009 vintage to be reviewed in July. Philip and his wife Terry arrived in February 2008 and made that vintage with Bruce Helliwell, and upon the Helliwells’ departure took Jenny Dobson on as his consultant winemaker from December that year. The 2009 wines are the first that have been made fully by Philip and are thus significant. Keep an eye out for my reviews of them.
Greater Style and Range Definition
The Horns have worked hard at rationalising the range of wines made, by clearly identifying the performance of different parcels of the vineyard to determine their suitability for the various expressions and levels of their Unison red wines. This combined with appropriate cropping levels has seen the Horns fix the ‘Reserve’ Merlot, ‘Classic Blend’ and ‘Selection’ becoming more defined. Stylistically, the ‘Reserve’ Merlot will remain the most approachable of the reds, in style and price, which is approx. $30.00 a bottle, The ‘Classic Blend’ will be an individual style, being a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Priced around the $35.00 mark. The ‘Selection’ will be a consistent Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine supported by Merlot. This is a reflection of the faith in the Cabernet Sauvignon variety to perform to an exceptional level on the Unison site. The wine will only be released if the quality justifies it, and it will be around $60.00 a bottle.
The range of wines has changed since the Horns have run Unison, with the introduction of white wines from Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. This is to give the Unison portfolio a better balance, mainly for the cellar door. They have found the demand for Pinot Gris is much greater than Sauvignon Blanc, and are considering phasing out the latter variety. By offering these whites and having a value-priced secondary tier red, the Horns have seen better cash flow prevalent.
Developments and Constants
The oaking regime at Unison is changing as well. Philip has moved away from the predominant use of American oak to rely mainly on French oak, with American oak in support. The Horns will continue to use the large vats seeing their benefits. The addition of a bottling line is also in the works. Not only will this give them greater quality control and the ability to bottle their wine at the time that suits them best, but it will be used as a contract bottling operation for small lots from other wineries. The other change is the development of the cellar door to include a café operation, making the experience of visiting Unison Vineyard a complete one.
The Unison Vineyard still provides around 40 tonnes of fruit under the Horn ownership. They see the low yields crucial for quality. Of this, approx. half is destined for the Unison label, the rest sold as bulk wine. The fruit for the whites is sourced from outside the Unison site. The vineyard is tended by Philip who has the assistance of Daniel Brennan on the ground and in the winery, with Jenny Dobson consulting with the winemaking also. Terry remains in charge of marketing, sales and the all-essential administration. It appears it is all coming together. www.unisonvineyard.co.nz
Tasting Some Unison Vineyard Current Release Wines
Philip took me through a few currently available wines to keep me up-to-date, and to set the scene for the wines that will be appearing over the next few months. Firstly the Unison Rosé 2011, a saignee wine made from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah fermented to 12.5% and <2 g/L rs. Bright pink colour and bright-fruited on bouquet, this delights with its aromatic fruit character. But this is not lolly-water, but a wine with good body and depth of flavour – raspberries, strawberries and watermelon – but it's not confected at all. Just good serious vinous flavours with a sense of elegance. The first red was the Unison ‘Classic Blend’ 2008, made from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. There was no ‘Selection’ this vintage, so this wine incorporates that fruit. Marked by spicy new oak, but plenty of black and dark berry fruit flavours underlying. This is now developing complex, savoury secondary game-like aromas and flavours, but the presence of plenty of fine-grained tannins indicate that it will keep on keeping on. The Unison ‘Selection’ 2007 has a substantial proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon in the mix, supported with Merlot and Syrah. The wine spent30 months in oak, but the oak doesn’t dominate at all. Black red colour still, this speaks of the Gimblett Gravels more than any variety, with its ‘iron-earth’ flavours. The wine is still firm and tight, and again, well-managed, ripe tannins come across as finesse of structure. The final wine will receive a full review appraisal later. The Unison Syrah 2009 shows the ripeness of fruit from a hot, dry year. Black fruits compacted with dense earth flavours, but still clearly Syrah with its spices and pepper. This has a lot built into it, and it should age well.