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Gibbston Valley Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs

By September 26, 2013No Comments
The story of pioneer Central Otago wine producer Gibbston Valley is pretty well documented, especially the phenomenal growth the company experienced by founder Alan Brady. There has been a shift of ownership and changes of guard on the way and the company is now led by Philip Griffith. The winemaking team has had plenty of time there, with Pinot Noir geek Chris Keys making the wine since 2006 assisted by the exuberant Sascha Herbert and very capable, but quieter Matt Swirtz. The viticulture is under the care of Grant Rolston and Gary Ford’s ‘Vinewise’ company, and between them all, they’ve developed the Gibbston Valley single vineyard expressions of Pinot Noir to something very special, demonstrating the attributes of terroir, site character and vine age. www.gibbstonvalleynz.com
Tasting the Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs
On a recent visit to Gibbston Valley, I had the treat of being shown the single vineyard Pinot Noirs over several vintages. What impressed me was their consistent personality across different vintages, adding to the credibility of site character, and thus terroir. The quality of the wines is at the very top level of what is being made in Central Otago, and thus must be considered as among the best made in the country. I feel the marketing of these wines has yet to hit its straps and in making the most of what the vineyard and winemaking teams have known and achieved in making them over the last few years. However, the advantages are that Gibbston Valley has had the time to get it right, and the wines signal an exciting new phase for this well-established company. Here are my impressions of the wines tasted with Chris and Sascha:

Sascha Herbert & Chris Keys – Gibbston Valley winemakers

First a flight of white wines to whet the appetite. Chris and Sascha were keen to pour ‘La Dulcinee’ Pinot Gris 2007, a single vineyard wine from a section of the ‘School House’ site in Bendigo at approx. 370 metres a.s.l. fermented in stainless-steel barrel to 14.5% alc. and 16 g/L RS. This is beautifully rich in the most restrained way, with honey overtones to the stonefruit and pear flavours. Lovely acidity contributing linearity and a sense of minerality. This is aging gracefully and there’s no hurry. Two Chardonnays next. Firstly the ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay 2007, made as Chris learnt in Hawke’s Bay, by picking late and throwing the works at it with plenty of batonnage, the wine spending 11 months in 20% new oak. This is traditional and bold with big stonefruit, tropical truit and oak flavours, fulsome on palate with nutty, alcoholic notes and a Central Otago steely edge. Then a much more contemporary ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay 2011. Picked earlier, with no batonnage, but the similar oak regime of 11 months in 20% new oak. Clearly more fruit-oriented, and tight and linear with it, with complex aromatic white floral, herb and flinty flavours. This is a more food friendly style and is among the more considered Central Otago Chardonnays that will prove to be the way of the future.
The 2009 Pinot Noirs
Onto the single vineyard Pinot Noirs, looking at the 2009s, which are a turning point for Gibbston Valley with these wines. The ‘China Terrace’ Pinot Noir 2009 from Bendigo vines at 330 m a.s.l., planted in 2001 in clay influenced soils, the wine well-structured with breadth and layers of savoury fruit flavours offering interest and complexity. Akin to Martinborough in fruit profile to me, but retaining an underlying black cherry, Central Otago core. Fully destemmed. Pairing this was the ‘School House’ Pinot Noir 2009, also from Bendigo, but steeper at around 400 m a.s.l., on sandier soils, from vines planted 2003. The site is in conversion to organic certification, and interestingly the wine incorporated 20% whole cluster. The aromatics and perfumes are the feature, the wine one of finesse, elegance, silky textures and more acidity.

The other single vineyard wine was the ‘Le Maitre’ Pinot Noir 2009, from old vines in the ‘Home Block’ Gibbston, planted in 1983, the label in homage to founder Alan Brady. Classic Gibbston Valley expression with more dried herbal complexities, feeling cooler and crisper for sure, but beautiful in its elegance and smaller scale, and a little oak smoke and toast peeking through. There’s a core of density from the old vine input.
The 2011 Pinot Noirs
In the next bracket were the single vineyard Pinot Noirs from the 2011 vintage. The consistency of vineyard character was strikingly obvious. From Bendigo, the ‘China Terrace’ Pinot Noir 2011 rich, full, broad and mouthfilling, unfolding waves of red berry fruits and savoury herb flavours. This is luscious and plush, and very approachable. The ‘School House’ Pinot Noir 2011 again shows perfumes, delicate florals and tightly bound black cherry fruit. Fine-grained tannins and locked-in, this is the antithesis of the ‘China Terrace’ and distinctly backward, needing time.

There were two wines from the Gibbston sub-region to taste. The ‘Glenlee’ Pinot Noir 2011 from close-planted 115 and 777 clone fruit, the vines planted in 2003. This wine with 40% whole cluster, providing great fragrance allied to herbs and a touch of steel and minerals. A wine with fine features, delicacy, elegance and length. A wonderful comparison with the ‘Le Maitre’ Pinot Noir 2011, fully destemmed fruit from 10/5, the wines 20 years older. Great density and concentration, blacker fruits, with cherries and liquorice, a touch of reduction, just adding to the depth.
The 2012 Pinot Noirs
I’ve reported on how I found the 2012 Central Otago Pinot Noirs in general, after a ‘Spring Release’ tasting held the next day (click here to see my report), and I am very positive about their consistency and cooler, aromatic elegance. The Gibbston Valley single vineyard Pinot Noirs look to be a great success. As the site delivers, the ‘China Terrace’ Pinot Noir 2012 is beautifully soft and harmonious, opening up on bouquet and palate with layers of sweet, luscious and spicy fruit with aromatic lift. There’s sweetness but also a brooding depth. The ‘School House’ Pinot Noir 2012 is one ‘out of the box’ and something special has happened from this site in this vintage. Dark with intense black fruits, the concentration is stunning and startling. The power and length is a feature in what seems to be a remarkable wine. I can’t wait to see this again with some time on it.

Onto the Gibbston wines, the ‘Glenlee’ Pinot Noir 2012 has the sub-region’s elegance, this possessing exotic aromatics including violet florals herbs, whole berry fermentation lift and a pastille fruit character. Sweetly concentrated, velvety tannins and lacy acidity makes this another star. The ‘Le Maitre’ Pinot Noir 2012 is also another step up over the earlier vintages, being a combination of ethereal fruit expression with richness and density of mouthfeel. There’s a lot of fruit extract here and the substance and completeness is wonderful.
Some 2013 Barrel Samples
Chris and Sascha took me though a small selection of barrel samples of the single vineyard Pinot Noirs from the 2013 vintage. Firstly a ‘classical’ ‘China Terrace’, showing primary black cherry fruits, good textures and acidity, and fleshy tannins. Then a ‘China Terrace’ sample with 15% whole cluster, this more backward, with greater density and textural grip.

A sample of ‘School House’ with 10% whole cluster that had undergone 43 days on skins showed much riper spectrum fruit flavours of plums and even blueberry. The tannins on this were extremely refined and not overdone in any way. The decision to bottle it separately or use it as a blending component is yet to be made.  Then a ‘School House’ clone 114 with 30% whole bunch and 25-30 days on skins was dark and inky, but clearly showing the vineyard elegance and linearity of bold fruit.

Onto Gibbston next.  A ‘Glenlee’ with 43% whole cluster possessing great fragrance with sweet whole berry lift, and soft textures. Finally ‘Le Maitre’ with a beautiful pastille aroma and flavour, a touch confected in this primary state, but with that tell-tale old vine density and presenc

Clearly, Chris, Sascha and Matt are not standing still, experimenting with building greater structure, finesse and interest into the wines. The single vineyard wines can stand tall amongst the best in Central Otago, a testament to the uniqueness of the vineyard sites and the Gibbston Valley viticultural and winemaking teams’ interpretation and sensitive handling of the fruit.

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