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Dry River – Roger, Roger, Wilco

By February 21, 2017No Comments
I apologise now for the title, but I couldn’t resist it. But it signifies that everything is progressing positively at Dry River. In Martinborough for the day, it was timely to visit Wilco Lam, in charge at the iconic Dry River Wines estate. When founder Dr Neil McCallum and his wife Dawn retired followed by winemaker Poppy Hammond and viticulturist Shayne Hammond departing, there were many fans who worried about the future of Dry River. However, Dry River followers need not have had any concerns, as Wilco Lam, Poppy’s assistant since 2010, and industry veteran Ant Mackenzie acting as general manager stepped into the vacated roles. The transition has been seamless, as we all know that nothing had changed in the vineyards and the winemaking. The ensuing wines carried on the Dry River style without any change.

However, there are changes afoot at Dry River, albeit subtle ones, instigated by Wilco and Ant that are designed to bring Dry River into a more contemporary operation. Wilco, Ant and the Dry River team are aware that any changes must be made slowly, so as to not disaffect existing clientele, but positively to continue to grow the business. The most obvious and immediate has been in the area of marketing, with a new website, and rejuvenated paper mailings. But more important are the changes in the wines.

Dry River will always be a boutique operation, producing around 2,500 dozen wine annually. At this size, the wines must be impeccable and at the highest level of quality, while offering individuality and uniqueness. The wines will always be from the Martinborough vignoble, and the opportunity of purchasing more vineyards that meet the required specifications for extremely high wine quality is exceptionally rare. That is not to say that it will not happen sometime in the future, but at present, all of the wines come from fruit from the ‘Dry River Estate’, the ‘Craighall; vineyard and the ‘Lovat’ vineyard, all on the Martinborough Terrace. www.dryriver.co.nz

Wilco Lam – Dry River

Evolving Styles at Dry River
Wilco and Ant have given each of the wine styles much attention, and they have continued the evolution of the styles as carried out by Neil McCallum. Most obvious is the greater ‘Pinosity’ of the Pinot Noir, following criticisms of 15 plus years ago that they were more Syrah-like. That could not apply to any of the recent Pinot Noirs, and indeed the growing elegance, finesse and florality of the Pinot Noirs can be charted noticeably over the last decade. The Syrah wine remains one of the district’s best examples, and the style as such continues, with attaining proper ripeness the key. The new red varietal, Tempranillo, is in its infancy, and requires more time to see how it ranges in character, and indeed quality.

The white wines are also continuing their evolution too. The Gewurztraminer, one of the best examples made in the country needs little change. Likewise the Pinot Gris, which is regarded by some critics to be Dry River’s best wine! Riesling has seen the addition of a sweeter ‘Selection’ wine, made by the inclusion of a riper component in making the blend. This new wine has been an instant success. The Viognier, normally a wine with noticeable residual sugar resulting from the desire to achieve ‘the most natural balance’, has been managed in the vineyards to become drier. And most exciting are the moves to introduce greater textures and layers of complexity into the Chardonnay, a wine that has been one of purity and elegance, maybe too much so in the past.

A Tasting of Some Dry River Wines
While visiting Dry River, Wilco took us out to see vines in the ‘Dry River Estate’. One could not help but be impressed with the size of the trunks, showing their mature age, and the degree of exposure the bunches were given to sun and air. Then into the winery – it is truly a micro-winery. Then to the tasting room (also the staff room) to taste some bottles. Wilco uses the ‘Coravin’ system which enables pouring samples without removing the cork, while replacing the wine with Argon gas which preserves the quality of the remaining wine in the bottle. These notes were made with enjoyment as the focus, so were not rated.

Dry River Martinborough Chardonnay 2015
Straw-yellow with some depth. This is firm and tight, very refined in expression showing white stonefruits and delicate lees notes and nutty oak, with creamy barrel-ferment elements on the nose. This has bright and lively, pure stonefruit expression with subtle oaking and bright acidity adding to the freshness. The palate features very fine textures. It is a wine of sheer elegance, but unfolds more detail in the glass. Maybe later releases with have greater complexities and textures, with subtle ‘corruption’?

Dry River Martinborough Pinot Noir 2014
Mainly clones 5 and 10/5, from the ‘Dry River Estate’ vines planted in 1980, but top-gafted in 1984, producing in 1987, from the ‘Craighall’ vineyard, planted 1982-1985, and the ‘Lovat’ vineyard, planted 1992. 35% whole bunch. Dark-hearted ruby-red with slight purple hues. Savoury dark-red fruits with dried herbs and secondary complexities appearing. This has depth and intensity. Rich and sufficiently ripe, but with plenty of structure and extract, along with good acidity. The core carries the wine, unfolding savoury complex layers of red fruits, but unveiling florals with sweetness. Quite a success for a challenging vintage at Dry River.

Dry River ‘Amaranth’ ‘Lovat’ Martinborough Syrah 2013
Very dark, deep, purple-hued ruby-red, youthful. This has intense and ripe sweet black and dark raspberry fruit aromas with gorgeous aromatic floral, pepper and violet floral lift. Bold and striking aromatics. Very rich and lush on plate, with sweetly ripe black and dark raspberry fruit, along with black pepper, florals and spices. Beautifully fine tannin extraction. So pristine and youthful. The ‘Amaranth’ designation for wines that will develop with interest. Like a ‘Reserve’ bottling in other words.

Dry River Martinborough Pinot Gris 2015
Predominantly older vines from ‘Craighall’ and ‘Dry River Estate’, fermented to 13.5% alc. and c.20 g/L RS. Fruit with some shrivel and botrytis. Straw-yellow colour with some depth. This has a full, deep nose with very ripe fruit, showing yellow stonefruits, honeysuckle, pears and exotic tropical fruits. Medium-sweet on palate, rich, honied and exotic, the palate is rounded and unctuous, with gentle acidity. Lovely layers of richness and exoticism.

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