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Framingham – Visiting Our Best Riesling Maker

By March 23, 2016No Comments

Andrew Hedley and Framingham Winery Block Old Riesling

Make no bones about it, Framingham is first and foremost a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc producer. The vast majority of its annual 23,000 – 25,000 case production is dedicated to that variety. That’s why the Portuguese wine giant SOGRAPE, probably most famous for its Mateus Rosé, bought the business in 2008. The company enjoys a very good reputation for its Sauvignon Blanc overseas, and nowadays the U.S. market has outgrown that in the U.K.

For wine lovers and enthusiasts, and indeed for most industry people in New Zealand, Framingham and winemaker Dr Andrew Hedley is best known for Riesling. The Framingham Rieslings are arguably the best in the country, the reputation cemented by a number of annual releases which have styles that cover the German Pradikat categories from Kabinett to Trockenbeerenauslese. I’ve scored the 2011 and 2013 Framingham Riesling TBA both 20.0/20, and the rest of the range is always rated 5-star level. Of course, there are other brilliant Riesling producers, such as neighbour John Forrest and Mat Donaldson at Pegasus Bay, but Andrew Hedley and Framingham does it all so well with Riesling, and notably with the likes of the ‘Classic’, ‘Select’ and ‘Noble’, which are recognised consistently as among the country’s best in classical styles.

However, Framingham is also known among the wine critics, geeks and gatekeepers for their innovative wines that come under the ‘F-Series’. These are the limited quantity bottlings that push the limits in style and winemaking. All of the ‘F-Series’ wines employ or possess something that is not mainstream. Indigenous yeasts, skin contact, complexing lees contact and sulphide reduction characters and the use of oak where not normally seen are some of the methods that are introduced, and what is learnt here is applied to the ‘estate’ wines later. www.framingham.co.nz

35 y.o. Riesling vine – Framingham

A Tiny Production of Riesling
It comes as a shock for most to discover that Riesling accounts only for around 2,000 cases or 8.7% of the total production at Framingham. Most of this is the ‘Classic’ at 1,500 cases, with a tiny 150 cases each of the likes of the ‘Old Vine’ and ‘Select’. For the ‘F-Series’ wines, it’s even slimmer pickings, with less than 1,000 cases total. Yet, Framingham’s reputation, at least in New Zealand and among serious wine lovers is based on the superb releases of Riesling.

Andrew Hedley sees this quantity as all the market can absorb, at least presently. It has always been the situation that Riesling’s repute far exceeds its popularity. As wine lovers, we don’t understand or accept this, as Riesling is as great as Chardonnay is, and of course, we all drink buckets of Riesling, don’t we? As Riesling lovers, it is one of our missions in life to spread the word about the greatness of the variety, but decades of zeal haven’t really seen much change or growth.

One might think that great Riesling is incredibly difficult to make, but Andrew Hedley says not. It’s relatively straightforward to get the balance between fruitiness, alcohol, acidity and phenolics right, and ensuring that if botrytis is employed, it is the noble kind rather than the brown. It’s all about careful selection and harvesting. At Framingham, they have trained pickers, the same team harvesting every year. Andrew reckons that most Riesling producers in the country have the ability and opportunity to make wines similar to those at Framingham, but choose not to do so.

However one factor that Framingham has that few other Riesling producers have is a precious resource of old vines. Framingham has 10.5 ha of 35 y.o. Riesling vines in its arsenal, and this is truly a significant acreage which few can match in New Zealand. There’s also a further 0.8 ha of vines that are 20-25 y.o. All of the Riesling is grafted, showing the foresight of founder Rex Brooke-Taylor. The old vine material is planted around the winery, and the Riesling variety accounts for approx. 50% of the vines in these blocks, followed by Sauvignon Blanc, then Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Viognier, these being younger vines, of course.

The other factor in Framingham’s favour in enabling the production of a superb spread of Riesling styles is the consistent development of botrytis in the variety at the winery blocks. In Andrew’s time, the proper appearance of noble rot only failed to occur in 2001, which was too dry, and 2010 which was too wet. On the subject of weather, the Framingham winery blocks have not been significantly affected by frost, until a severe event in November last year, reducing the yields for the 2016 vintage. This can be interpreted as more evidence for climate change and global warming, and the rate of change worries Andrew Hedley. Greater incidence of extreme weather is a sign, and more frosts are certain. Andrew states that Framingham is investigating frost protection now.

Some undulation in the vineyard

Walking the Vineyard and Tasting the 2016 Riesling
Dr Andrew Hedley took us for a walk among the old Riesling vines. The Framingham estate vineyards are certified BioGro organic, though the winery is not. There’s a very good feeling among the vines with their thick trunks and clearly healthy bunches. Many bunches showed the development of botrytis at various stages. The air was clean, and the overriding impression was of balance. Surprisingly, the Riesling is planted on undulating land, one expecting it to be dead flat. Andrew had a big smile as he walked. It’s obviously one of his favourite places to be.

Vintage 2016 had yet to take off at Framingham. Yesterday, pickers had harvested 3 tonnes of Riesling, to go with 1 tonne of Pinot Noir taken in. The Riesling was dedicated to the ‘Select’ Riesling style, picked for its slightly elevated acidity, required to balance the relatively high residual sugar. Fruit for the ‘Select’ usually comes in first, followed by the picks for ‘Classic’, then ‘Old Vine’, ‘Noble’’ and finally the specialised pradikat levels. It is all dependent on the development and level of botrytis.

Back in the winery, Andrew gave us samples of the ‘Select’ Riesling must, the fruit picked yesterday. Light golden yellow colour, murky, of course. This had an amazing spread of aromatics from savoury mandarins, tea leaf and cold tea. Up-front flavours of orange and mandarins, ripe and almost exotic in detail came through on the palate. The sweetness of the must prevailed, but zesty, cleansing acidity underlined the mouthfeel. Andrew pronounced it “classical ‘Select’ Riesling juice”. I can’t wait to taste and drink the finished wine.

Andrew Hedley drawing must sample of Select Riesling 2016


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