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Devotus Martinborough – Dedicated to the Vineyard

By February 9, 2016No Comments
Coming from Marton in the Manawatu, Don McConachy has always had his heart in the land. Working overseas as a mechanical engineer, he met his future wife Valerie Worsdale, an Englishwoman who spent much of her time in northern France where wine is part of the culture. Together they developed a taste for fine wine, and grew a vision of finding a piece of land where they could grow grapes to make Pinot Noir. While abroad, Don had been following the emergence of the Martinborough district, a winegrowing region not too far from his home, and he and Valerie decided this was the place to realise their dream.

It took a number of years searching before what they considered an ideal opportunity came available. It was 4ha of vineyard land on the corner of Puruatanga Road and Regent Street on the famed Martinborough Terrace, next-door to Dry River. The bonus was the established plantings of Pinot Noir, some of the vines around 25 y.o., others near 20 y.o., put into the ground by Neil McCallum. The block had been continuously cropped, but not fully utilised by the then owner due to other work demands. The high quality fruit was being taken on a contract basis, however the vines were becoming neglected.

 Valerie Worsdale & Don McConachy – Devotus
Intensive Viticultural Work
Purchasing the property in 2009, they finally settled there in 2013, with young family on tow. Don and Valerie understand that the quality stems from the vineyard, so all their efforts are dedicated to getting the vines into the best possible state of health, and utilising the property and land to its best potential. With a farming and cropping background, it is apt that Don now spends most of this time in the vineyard with the vines. A programme of intensive viticultural work has now started to see the existing plants coming into balance, growing and cropping within the desired parameters. The vineyard is clearly extremely well-tended and immaculately kept, reflecting Don and Valerie’s attention to detail, which can only come by living on-site. To rejuvenate the health of the soil, they cultivate between the rows of vines crops of barley, oats and peas, which are ploughed back into the ground for nutrition.

The most valuable resource is the 0.36 ha of Pommard clone Pinot Noir, these now 30 y.o. These 731 vines form 10 rows, and Don and Valerie bottle the wine made from this fruit as their ‘Reserve’ label. In 2014, 988 bottles were made. The oldest vines are supported by 3157 Dijon and Abel clone plants, these at 22 y.o., planted over just 1 ha in area, and in 2014 they yielded 1,703 bottles under the ‘Estate’ label.

Don and Valerie have established another 1.0 ha of new plantings, going into the ground in two lots over the two years they have resided there. They call them the “baby vines”. Don and Valerie are considering making a ‘Young Vines’ bottling from these vines when fruit comes on line.

The new vines now bring the vineyard into a fairly even proportion featuring 6 clones, these being Abel, 5, 115, 114, 667 and 777. The vineyard is a work in progress with a view to the long term, and their philosophy is one of “cultivating the soil”. The name of their wine, ‘Devotus’ reflects their dedication.

30 year old Pinot Noir – Devotus
The Wines
Last year in September, I reviewed the inaugural Devotus releases (click here to see). I was very impressed with the wines. Unusually, Don and Valerie have contracted two winemakers, Alex Craighead of Alana making the ‘Estate’ wine, and another highly experienced Martinborough winemaker who wishes the identity to be confidential, making the ‘Reserve’ wine. The ‘Estate’ wine is very ‘masculine’ showing the influence of 40% whole clusters in the powerful structure, whereas the ‘Reserve’ is more refined and aromatically detailed, and can be described as ‘feminine’. It could be argued that having two winemakers makes it more difficult to identify terroir or a vineyard site character. However winemaker signature is a factor that makes the distinction between the two wines clearer and stronger. Anecdotally, as wines mature, it is said that vineyard character grows in prominence; thus the two wines should develop greater commonality over time.

For 2015, Don and Valerie have maintained the same arrangement with the two different winemakers. I was given a barrel sample of the 2015 ‘Estate’ Pinot Noir wine to try alongside the 2014 ‘Estate’. Interestingly, the 2015 was made with 50% whole cluster, an increase over the previous year, but the wine was very elegant, and if anything quite ‘feminine’. Definitely lighter in colour, the aromatics are tightly bound, but beautiful in florality, with a complexing herbal note. The whole bunch component is subtle and integrated. On palate, the 2015 is elegant and very fine-textured, with very attractive lifted fruit characters. Is this elegance and finesse an expression of the vineyard, or is it a vintage expression, the style very much in line with other 2015 Pinot Noir barrel samples in the Martinborough district that I’ve seen so far? Time will tell…

I look forward to the release of the finished 2015 Devotus wines in due course and reviewing them. Devotus is a fascinating story of the revitalisation of an existing vineyard, its growth, and the making of very fine wine by a couple committed to the land. I propose that Devotus is a label to watch and follow. www.devotus.nz

‘Baby vines’ – Devotus

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