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Domain Road – Bannockburn Class and Style

By January 29, 2014No Comments
Graeme and Gillian Crosbie have a touch of class and style, and along with it, a sense of independence, attitude and disregard of the norm. That’s how they have approached establishing their Domain Road wine operation in Bannockburn, Central Otago. The Domain Road wines are like their vineyards and cellar door, all elegant and neat, and they reflect Graeme and Gillian exactly. It’s because they are not just grapegrowers, but are winegrowers, who have an active and intelligent input in everything that is required to make fine wine.

Gillian and Graeme Crosbie at the Domain Road cellar door

Residents of Dunedin with a property management business there, the Crosbies have had a long association with Central Otago, and Bannockburn in particular, and divide their time between the city and the country fairly evenly. Developing an interest in wine, they acquired their Domain Road property, an old apricot orchard situated in the upper Bannockburn terraces and planted vines over 2003 to 2005 with the advice of Robin Dicey. Graeme knew to dedicate the quality loam over clay soils to Pinot Noir, of which there are around 4 ha planted. There are 1.25 ha each of Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling planted on the pipe clay soils, with some Sauvignon Blanc vines planted on a terrace overlooking the main blocks. This vineyard has been the foundation of Domain Road, and it is clear that the clear and thoughtful planning, as well as attention to detail has had dividends in the quality and the presentation of the wines.

The home vineyard on Domain Road

The ‘Defiance’ Vineyard
At the time of the global financial crisis, the Crosbies knew that an uncertain and difficult future lay ahead for the wine industry, with the inevitable discounting and drop in interest in top end wines. Laterally, or more correctly in diametric opposition to the expected response, they decided to purchase more land for expanding their vineyard holdings. Two years ago, they purchased10 ha on Felton Road, and planted 7.5 ha of vines. Naming it their ‘Defiance’ vineyard was a reflection of their thumbs-to-nose attitude towards the recession. It takes brave people to spend rather than save money in such times of financial crises, but more often than not, these spenders are shrewd and reap the benefits later on down the track.

The new vineyard is planted to approx. 3.5 ha of Pinot Noir, 1.5 ha of Chardonnay, 2 ha of Pinot Gris and around 0.5 ha of Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, again with the help of Dicey viticultural expertise. It is a beautiful site, and is indeed in blue-chip land, the access ‘off the Beaton Track’ (Graeme says the pun was created by Robin Dicey) from Felton Road. The immediate neighbours are the ‘Target Gully’ vineyard of Mt Difficulty and the vineyards of Felton Road winery. The wines now have two growing seasons chalked up, with a crop expected next year. Tending the expanded vineyard holdings, the Crosbies can justify a full-time vineyard manager, and took on board Fiona Johnman last year. Meeting Fiona, it was evident she has real sensitivity for the vines and a wealth of experience gained from a number of years in the Central Otago growing region.

Graeme Crosbie with the ‘Defiance’ vineyard below

Winemaking Approach
The Domain Road winemaker is Pete Bartle at VinPro. The Crosbies have had a strong and direct input in the winemaking process, especially in determining the styles of the wines. The wines are guided by Peter towards elegance as this is the preference that Graeme and Gillian have stated. The couple agree pretty much on what they like to see in all the wines, with a slight divergence on Pinot Noir, Graeme liking the linear and floral expressions, and Gillian the more savoury and textural wines. I think the opinions of Peter Bartle tie them all together to a workable result.

Tasting a Selection of Domain Road Wines
At the cellar door, I asked to be taken through the wines opened for tasting for visitors to Domain Road. I’ve tasted most of the wines before, so this reconfirmed my feeling of impeachable quality and style of the wines, and that they’d make a worthy reward for anyone considering making a visit. Here are my impressions of the wines.

A number of Central Otago producers source Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, but Domain Road uses estate fruit, the Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (17.5-/20) a blend of upper and lower terrace fruit, with around 7% barrel-fermented. The fruit is restained and very fresh with pure aromas of blackcurrant leaf, the palate youthfully lifted and featuring refined textures. Quite remarkably, there is no suggestion of aging at this stage.

Two Rieslings are made, ‘The Water Race’ Riesling 2012 (18.5+/20) is the dry interpretation at 5.6 g/L RS. This is mouth-wateringly pure and sports a very refined, delicate linearity and a seamless flow. The lime-like fruit combines thirst-quenching acidity and fruit lusciousness beautifully.

The medium expression is the ‘Duffers Creek’ Riesling 2012 (18.5-/20), and 19.0 g/L RS. The comparison with the dry reveals a softer, more mellow and pillowy wine, with lime, lemon and honey aromas and flavours. There is a little more phenolic presence, and the fruit flavours more matty, and not quite the same definition. This is countered by the greater richness.

Central Otago is having its fair share of success with Pinot Gris, as the Pinot Gris 2012 (18.0+/20) shows. Fresh, lifted with exotic stonefruits melded with honey on the nose, the palate appears quiet and somewhat restrained initially. Everything is there, with richness and sweetness at 11 g/L RS, along with acid cut and fine texture. This just grows in richness in the glass.

For a vintage of considerable variability, the Pinot Noir 2011 (18.0+/20) is one of the freshest and more vibrant. Dark cherry and berry fruit with a little secondary nuance making a show. This combines well with spice elements and oak cedar. The fresh acid and mouthfeel keeps everything alive and adds to the length.

The ‘Paradise’ Pinot Noir 2009 (18.5+/20) was first release of a flagship wine, released as a statement in opposition to the ‘doom and gloom’ of those espousing ruin from a worsening financial state and tougher market conditions. This vintage was made from a selection of barrels given extended maturation. It’s a deeply coloured and saturated on sight with a little garnet. The aromas and flavours are intensely concentrated and packed with dark plums and spices The mouthfeel is plush and luxurious, unfolding waves of complex savoury fruits, oak and undergrowth, supported by plenty of extract and tannin at the core. Along the way, the acidity underlines the flow. The Crosbies are very careful to ensure the selection process does not detract from the ‘estate’ Pinot Noir label.

Future Pinot Noirs
The future is particularly interesting and exciting for Domain Road, especially with Pinot Noir. There’s a multitude of options being placed in front of them as the ‘Defiance’ vineyard heads towards providing fruit. The thinking so far is to increase the offerings to two ‘single vineyard’ wines, as no doubt the home ‘Domain Road’ site will be different to the ‘Defiance’ site. Clearly an ‘estate’ wine blending the two sites is on the cards, and the ‘Paradise’ a selection of outstanding fruit taken a further step will continue to be made. There will inevitably be more layers of detail and interest in these latter two, and that can only be good. www.domainroad.co.nz

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