2017 has been a continuation of 2016 in many ways for Sue and ‘Wine2Trade’. Sue has continued to support me in every way, as we go through the cancer treatment process. Thank goodness for her good clients who she has a strong relationship with. Working for 17 years in the market counts for something, and strong and well-established operators appreciate experience and not just deal with the ‘trendy’ distributors who may be here today and gone tomorrow.
Here are my ‘Favourites of 2017 from the Wine2Trade Portfolio’. They are listed by the producer’s approximate geographical location from north to south. For this year, I have included wines available from the cellar only to show the wide range of developments, or depth of stocks and styles.
The Spade Oak brand has become well-established in a relatively short time, no mean feat in a crowded and very competitive market. Steve and Eileen Voysey have the benefit of several decades of wine industry experience behind them, and Steve as a winemaker of many successful and high quality wines as well as great value, large production offerings knows what ticks the consumers’ boxes. The flagship Spade Oak ‘Vigneron’ range wines have great style, depth and complexity. But the accessible ‘Voysey’ range has drinkability.
The Red Barrel operation is a true boutique vineyard and winery. The immaculate vineyard in Havelock North is a tiny 2.5 ha, and the winery attached to the cellar door is truly a micro-space. However the wine styles that John and Juliette Lockie prefer, and winemaker Dave McKee of Black Barn, just over the road make, are big and flavoursome. They can make a stylish statement, and have plenty of complexities, intensity and facets. The cellar door and function space, which Sue and I visited earlier this year show the Lockie’s style and taste. It’s very smart.
As expected, Vynfields has become an export-focussed business since Harry and Zinder Gou and their syndicate of owners took ownership. Vynfields has reverted to natural cork closures rather than screwcap because of market expectations. The sales to China are seeing much of the production go there, but a significant portion of the fruit is being sold locally, and the wines still have a loyal following, especially influenced by the certified BioGro organic status and biodynamic regimes. We worked at Vynfields for Toast Martinborough this year. It was very busy as usual, the the smiles of the visitors said it all.
Daniele has expanded his portfolio with a Zarathrustra Sauvignon and a Zoee Rosç to supplement the Pinot Noir, these named after son and daughter respectively. And don’t forget that Chardonnay will be coming on soon. Simone Amorese has taken over the winemaking now, after Paul Mason made the 2014 and 2015 vintage wines for Pond Paddock. It must be another couple of percent advantage (they all add up!) that Simone lives on site on Te Muna Road, and his attention to the vines quite beneficial. I believe Simone is staying on at the Colombo site, now it has been sold.
This remains one of Sue’s star brands. Charles Wiffen wines fly a little under the radar, but they are classically made and always elegant. They deliver quietly, and for those who have discovered them – both resellers and consumers – they know one of the market’s better-kept secrets. Charles and Sandi Wiffen release their wines with a little bottle-age on them, so they have lost their brashness of youth, and have gained a settled expression where the components have come into harmony. They drink really well at the dinner table as they have finesse.
The Bishell family have been Marlborough farmers for 5 generations, and are your archetype New Zealanders living on the land. They seem to have the issue of succession sorted with sons Simon and Scott well-established in running their 190 ha property next to Woodbourne aerodrome. Sustainability is a by-word for how they operate, as well as diversification. Grape-growing has turned out to be the way, and supplying under contract is their mainstay. Of course the next step was to introduce their own label – Caythorpe.
The Chapman family is very progressive with their keenness to innovate in the vineyard, with Albarino, Viognier and St Laurent coming on stream. They already do the classical Waipara varieties of Riesling and Pinot Noir superbly, but the Pinot Gris and Syrah are just as good in my opinion. The first vintages of the new varieties have delivered more than is usually expected so early, and much of this can be attributed to the near-fanatical work in the vineyard by son Pete Chapman. The winemaking by Gavin Tait at the Muddy Water facility plays a big part too.
As mentioned above, Douglas Brett and Jane Young decided to close down 36 Bottles due to pressures of family, work and lifestyle. In retrospect, I think they’ll be pretty proud of what they’ve achieved, as their wines made excellent inroads into the market, and the wines also performed well on the show circuit. Their model of operating as a negociant, and with Douglas taking an active role in selection and blending meant high quality wines suiting the tastes of the keen consumer. Sue has had a great time working with the range.
The Desert Heart girls Denny Downie and Jane Gill are in their happy space. They’ve developed their new site on Felton Road in Bannockburn, having planted a block of grapes, and waiting for the vines to bear fruit. They’ve also opened their cellar door, consisting of two tastefully modified containers. There, they are selling new and older vintages of their wines, and serving delicious platters. Sue and I can vouch for the tastiness of the food served, having visited late November. I can also report that they were busy. It’s already proving to be a popular place.
Domenic and Ally Mondillo have a superb vineyard in the Bendigo sub-region. Trained as a viticulturist, Dom was able to select the site of the vineyard following serious study of the area and with plenty of experience in establishing other superior vineyard plantings there. I just love all the wines that are coming from this immaculately kept site. The Pinot Noirs have great accessibility and sweet fruitiness, and the Rieslings are exquisitely exotic, no matter what style they are made in. And the cellar door is equally immaculate, just as the branding, designed by Ally.
Having Brendan Seal’s wines on board means that there is always something unique, limited production and interesting in the works. The Writer’s Block wines are appealing for those who don’t rely on constancy. So it is with Brendan, who has shifted from his base at the Packspur Wine Studio in Lowburn to make is wines – Central Otago Pinot Noir, of course – in a heritage building in Dunedin. The concept of an urban winery is being developed into something special for Brendan, Dunedin City and his clientele. Sue and I intend to visit his URBN VINO soon.