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Felton Road – The Search for Even Greater Finesse

By October 28, 2014No Comments
Blair Walter, winemaker at Felton Road, is seeking greater elegance and finesse in his wines. This is a progression that he has continually worked at, partly influenced by his experience in the global markets in which his wines sit. The Felton Road wines, regarded arguably as New Zealand’s best, are invariably compared with the finest burgundies and best Pinot Noir expressions from around the world. The buyers of such wines crave freshness, delicacy and subtlety, and the ability to age well, over bold fruit expression and instant gratification. The Felton Road wines have naturally and inexorably headed this way as the vines have matured, and Blair’s role is one of guiding and facilitating them on their natural path of evolution.

Last year in July, Blair took me through a tasting of his 2013 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines in barrel, showing the results of earlier picking in finesse and elegance. (Click here to see my report.) The danger of earlier picking is insufficient flavour, phenolic and sugar ripeness, and it clearly takes dedicated viticulture, and positive decision-making when it comes to picking dates if one is to follow through Blair’s approach. With each successive vintage he has picked earlier, he has seen wines that step a little closer to where he thinks they will fit in with the best of the world. www.feltonroad.com

Blair Walter at the Felton Road tasting room

Tasting 2014 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Barrel Samples
I had a flying visit to Felton Road, and Blair took me through some barrel samples of 2014 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which demonstrated the results of his even earlier picking. As a pre-taster, to set the scene, we sampled two 2013 Chardonnays from bottle. The Bannockburn Chardonnay 2013 refined and integrated with its interwoven stonefruit and minerally flavours and beautifully even textures. The ‘Block 2’ Chardonnay 2013 showed greater definition, focus and cut, with tighter citrus and mineral notes and an acid freshness indication its youth and freshness. These are certainly elegant and fine in the classical white burgundy mould.

Looking at the barrel samples, there was an even tighter, more precise nature to the wines, yet they displayed their distinctive differences due to provenance. The ‘Block 6’ clone 95 Chardonnay 2014 from vines planted in 2006, beautifully soft, gentle and even white stonefruits, destined to go into the ‘Bannockburn’ wine. The ‘Block 8’ clone 548 Chardonnay 2014, also from vines planted in 2006, more nutty and densely packed; this will be great blending material for richness? And the ‘Block 2’ Mendoza clone Chardonnay 2014, from 22 y.o. vines, refined white stonefruits and florals, and that edgy acidity that Mendoza gives. Breath-taking stuff here.

The Pinot Noir barrel samples were even more enlightening. Firstly a ‘Cornish Point’ Pinot Noir 2014 from 14 y.o. wines, with black fruits, a touch of minerals, and fine, tight, black-red floral perfumes. Beautiful poise, and perfectly ripened. Then a ‘Cornish Point’ Pinot Noir 2014, fruit picked 10 days later. Softer, broader, similar in black fruit and black floral expression, but not quite the focus, liveliness and lift. Although an excellent wine in its own right, it was eclipsed by the vitality of the earlier picked wine. This result is typical of what is giving Blair the confidence in his approach.

The next barrel sample was ‘Block 3’ Pinot Noir 2014, clone 10/5 from the eastern side. Red fruits, elevated acidity, very refined tannins and textures. I saw this very poised and on the edge, again with no distracting unripe notes, the earlier picking with no negative consequences, but if anything with highlighted complexing herb and floral interaction.

We then compared two more samples. The ‘Block 5’ Pinot Noir 2014 from clones 5 and 6, on grafted vines, picked early. Black fruits and minerals, concentration and structure, with great energy, drive and fruit depth. Following was the ‘Block 5’ Pinot Noir 2014 from clones 5 and 6, from ungrafted vines, picked 6 days later. Similar to the above, but with more lift and perfume, and sweeter fruit, but still nuanced and minerally with a fine core. This is delicious too, in a different way. Clearly there are variables and preferences in fruit expression still to explore.

Although Felton Road is seen by many as New Zealand’s greatest Pinot Noir expression, there is continued fine-tuning and evolution that is taking the wine to another level. The rest of the country would do well in following suit.


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