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Esk Valley – 2014 Vintage, and 2013 Tank and Barrel Tasting

By January 20, 2014No Comments
At the time of writing, it appears the 2014 vintage in New Zealand will be an early and large one, which brings back memories of 2008 which the size of created many challenges in the marketplace with an oversupply. Visiting Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay in mid-January, there were signs of veraison, and the impression was that the growing season was around a week or so early, with picking probably commencing in February. There’s plenty of growth too, requiring canopy management, and there is incidence of powdery mildew, from the more humid and wetter weather, along with residual spores from last season having a role. Reports from Marlborough are that crops are large, and this will necessitate thinning for quality and indeed for management and logistical issues in processing and space, let alone the ensuing marketing and sales of a high volume of wine. Two-thirds through January, a cold spell has slowed down the growth in Central Otago a little. There’s still some way to go before vintage 2014 is all go, but interesting times are ahead for the industry.

Gordon Russell with MS clone Syrah, ‘The Terraces’

‘The Terraces’ 2014
Over Wellington’s Anniversary weekend, I managed to spend some time with Gordon Russell of Esk Valley in Hawke’s Bay. He took us for a walk around ‘The Terraces’ vineyard behind the winery at Bay View. From the base where the Cabernet Franc is planted, up past rows of Malbec, then Merlot, and Malbec again, to the top where the young plantings of Syrah are sited. Gordon pointed out the large bunches and vigorous foliage. There’s considerable work in the vineyard still to be done to ensure there is good air circulation, and spraying (sustainable, of course) to negate any mildew.

Gordon is very pleased with how the crop is this season, the development “best in consistency”. He knows he will likely take in 6 tonnes from ‘The Terraces’, approximately 45% Malbec, 35% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, reflecting the proportions of the vineyard, and it will all be co-fermented in concrete vat No.2 in the winery, as is has been done for over 20 years. The wine will reflect the season and the site without any doubt. It might sound as if Gordon is a bit blasé about it all, but he gets excited and the anticipation is clear to see when he is talking about it. ‘The Terraces’ wine is his baby and special project.

Gordon Russell and Fermenter No. 2, Esk Valley Winery

Tasting 2013 Tank and Barrel Samples
First wine up was the ‘estate’ Chardonnay 2013, all barrel-fermented to 13.4% alc, all blended up and tasted from tank. Textbook sweet stonefruit, melon and tropical fruit aromas and flavours, the oaking very integrated and subtle, but with a fine, textured core, with crisp, fresh acidity. This will be a great all-purpose Chardonnay. 5,000 cases made. For comparison, the ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay 2013, of which there will only be 500 cases. 30% new oak, but it has a strong presence, matching the powerful, but elegant fruit depth. Stonefruits, mealiness and nuts abound, combining fruit sweetness with refined acid cut. Delicious and ageworthy, and yet another star Chardonnay from Gordon. These two were in tank, finished and awaiting bottling.

Moving onto the white variety that Gordon sees is immensely under-recognised. He has been on a crusade of sorts to rectify that over the years. Two very different expressions tasted. Firstly a Late Harvest Chenin Blanc 2013, hand-picked botrytised fruit from the organic ‘Joseph Soler’ vineyard, finishing at approx. 10.5% alc. and 200 g/L RS. The yellow-gold colour hints at the decadent nature. Soft, rich, rounded but with concentration, opulent tropical fruits and honey. Remarkably approachable and mouthfillingly mellow, but with enough acid zing underneath. Borderline ‘Winemakers Reserve’ status for me, but by placing it in the ‘estate’ tier, it will be seen and enjoyed far more widely. There is indeed a ‘Winemakers Reserve’ Chenin Blanc 2013. Hand-picked organic fruit from Moteo Pa, indigenous yeast fermented to a mind-boggling 15.5% alc. and complete dryness, but carrying >7.5 TA. There’s one puncheon and 4 barriques made. I must say, the alcohol strength is not noticeable, as the wine has incredible balance. This has sleek and pure power, with driven white florals. The sensation of fruit weight and extract is the highlight. Refined phenolic textures and lacy, racy acidity carry through to a very long finish.

The red wines were just as fascinating and packed with individuality. The barrel samples tasted were components and blending options for Gordon. First was a ‘Ngakirikiri’ Merlot 2013, beautifully ripened to show aromatic and sweetly dark plum and earthy flavours on an elegant, silky-smooth palate. The finesse of tannins and linearity is a feature of this barrel sample. Next was a ‘Cornerstone’ Merlot 2013, showing black berry and plum fruits, showing drive and mono-dimension rather than an array of flavours. This with great drive, and textural structure and extract.

The next variety was Cabernet Sauvignon, from different blocks of the same Gimblett Gravels vineyard. The ‘Cornerstone’ ‘Block 3’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is all up-front and fulsome, archetype Cabernet Sauvignon with robustness, concentration and grainy textures encasing flavours of blackcurrants and dark herbs. This had a visceral, earthy, raw quality about it. Then a ‘Cornerstone’ ‘Block 1’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, exhibiting greater purity and aromatic lift. There’s no shortage of concentration with this either, but the flow is close to seamless for such good extraction. This component has always made it into the final top blend.

2013 saw the first yield of the Syrah vines planted at the top of ‘The Terraces’ vineyard. Gordon isn’t too sure of how ‘The Terraces’ Syrah 2013 will end up, but I was impressed with its classical spicy black pepper fruit. There’s some complexing reduction that is very much a Syrah trait, and the extract, tannin and acidity all work together, providing a granular line. But there is also a suggestion of menthol and camphor for Gordon. This is aging in a neutral 600 L puncheon to ensure there is no oak interference to the fruit expression. Will it be bottled separately, or will it end up in the ‘estate’ Syrah wine?

Another wine full of personality is the ‘Cornerstone’ Malbec 2013. A warm, sweet and very deeply packed with exuding spicy black berry fruits along with exotic florals and boysenberry ripeness. The concentration and finesse of tannins here will show those who consider the variety less-noble how wrong they are.

The final wine was ‘The Terraces’ 2013, and we tasted the finished blend. Around 14.0% alc., so it is not a monster by any means, but the 45% Malbec comes through strongly. Impenetrable in colour, the fruit is sweet and bright with an acid edge providing sensational elegance, freshness, cut and vitality. The nose and fruit is fragrant, with an amalgam of ripe blackcurrants, dark herbs, sweetly ripe black plums plus exotic spice detailing. At the heart is a concentrated core that shouts refinement rather than ruggedness. As is nearly always the case, ‘The Terraces’ will be another star in 2013. There are only 8 barrels, or 200 dozen of it. www.eskvalley.co.nz

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