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Giesen Going Limited Production

By July 17, 2013No Comments
The Giesen Wines of today bears no resemblance to the operation that began in Burnham, just out of Christchurch in the early 1980s. Then, the three brothers Theo, Alex and Marcel were establishing something big in the Canterbury wine scene, but in the bigger picture, they were still a small player. My, how things have changed. In the space of three decades, the company, still run by the three brothers is second only to Oyster Bay in sales of Sauvignon Blanc in Australia, and one of the more significant players on the export scene. The business is totally Marlborough-based, though the Giesens divide their time between their original homes in Christchurch, and Marlborough where the business is driven.

Giesen operate a homely, Mediterranean-styled cellar door at the Renwick end of Rapaura Road, the former premises of Clifford Bay and Vavasour, taking it over from November 2011. There, they serve excellent food platters and offer a full range of wines including 16, of which some are from overseas, from their Enomatic machine to visitors. Australians, who want to visit the home of their beloved and favourite Sauvignon Blanc make up the majority of those calling in. Behind the complex are administrative offices for the marketing and sales team.

Giesen – The Large Player
The cellar door belies the size of the Giesen winery at Riverlands, which crushed 10,000 tonnes of fruit in 2013. Giesen accesses around 285 ha of vineyard, practically all of it in the Wairau Valley, spread out to benefit from the diverse soil and topography. Their own vineyards provide fruit for the premium end of the portfolio, but their management and advice for their contract growers ensures excellent quality for the 5 million litres of wine bottled annually under the ‘Estate’ range. Giesen are viticulturally progressive and up with the state of play with 14% of their vineyards certified organic or in conversion for the 2014 vintage. As with most large wine companies, there are higher quality tiers, and for Giesen, it’s ‘The Brothers’ range which are regarded as the ‘Reserve’ styled wines. Whereas the ‘Estate’ wines are designed for accessibility, ‘The Brothers’ are about what the vintage provides, while still being fruit-focussed.

However, there has been considerable experimentation of late, driven by Marcel Giesen, in producing very limited quantities of super-premium wines. The Giesen winemakers, Andrew Blake, the chief, with the company 16 years, Anna Kingscote since 2008 and Hamish Kempthorne for the last three years are absolutely delighted, as are the marketing and sales staff, who see these wines as examples of the skill of the winemakers and the quality of the vineyards behind the major moving lines. Since 2009, the winemaking team have been working on Sauvignon Blanc trials from the best vineyard sites, especially those in Dillons Point and Matthews Lane, and incorporating various vinification inputs. Cropping is very low, the vines pruned to two canes. To handle small volumes actually requires a disproportionate investment in tanks, barrels and effort by the winemakers. These limited production wines come under ‘The August 1888’, a tribute to the Giesens’ grandfather, and ‘The Fuder’ named after special 1,000 L German barrels imported especially for the production of the super-premium wines.

Anna Kingscote – Giesen winemaker, Marlborough

Tasting the Limited Production Wines
Giesen winemaker Anna Kingscote took me through a tasting of ‘The August’ and ‘The Fuder’ wines, along with other specialties in the works, and not yet released. At this stage the labels had not been signed off. In attendance were Roscoe Johanson and Victoria Lewis, brand manager and cellar door host, both whom had not tasted these wines before!

The first wine was ‘The August’ Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dillons Point and Matthews Lane fruit WBP and barrel-fermented with indigenous yeasts and full solids, and also aged in barriques and 1,000 L fuders, the oak generally older. Still very young in appearance, this is a subtly expressed wine with acacia, fine herbs, nectarines and a little spiced gooseberry fruit. The feature of this gentle wine is its sweet fruit, lusciousness, and great length. Less than 1,000 cases were made. This was paired with ‘The Fuder’ ‘Dillons Point’ Sauvignon Blanc 2011, WBP, wild yeast barrel-fermented with solids in one of six new 1,000 L fuder barrels purchased for that year. Also very pale in colour, this clearly shows barrel-ferment spices and nutty notes, the wine possessing lovely richness of nectarine-like fruit, fine granular textures and bracing acidity. The grip carries the flavours on a very long, dry finish. The wine is still very tight and raw, but the potential style is obvious. The wine has the likes of ‘Te Koko’ and ‘Section 94’ in its sights, but it’ll be different again. Only 1,000 litres, just over 110 cases, were made.

The next two wines were from the 2012 vintage. ‘The Fuder’ ‘Dillons Point’ Sauvignon Blanc 2012 is very fine and tight, with fresh, firmly packed aromas and flavours of gooseberries and fennel. The acidity is racy and the palate is one of intensity and cut, purity and drive. In comparison, ‘The Fuder’ ‘Matthews Lane’ Sauvignon Blanc 2012 is softer, somewhat broader, but not clumsily so, with sweet, ripe tropical fruits and grassy layers. On palate much softer, sweeter, gentle and creamy. This has a very long finish. Both these wines spent one year in oak fuders, 50% new. Only 2,000 litres, 220 cases, were made of each.

‘The Fuder’ Chardonnays
Onto Chardonnay, with three wines tasted. First was ‘The Fuder’ ‘Wrekin Road’ Chardonnay 2011, a beautifully classic, contemporary wine with intense citrussy fruit intermingling with complex flinty lees and reductive aromas and flavours. Very tightly composed, but revealing layers of mealy complexity, depth, texture and a very long, lingering finish. A great expression of Chardonnay without any doubt. ‘The Fuder’ ‘Wrekin Road’ Chardonnay 2012 was a completely different wine. Very elegant and showing soft stonefruit aromas and flavours, nearly ethereal and subtle, developing ripe, sweet, citrus and nutty interest. Some alcohol is noticeable, but with an amazingly long finish. Clearly a wine still needing time to emerge. A counterpoint was ‘The Fuder’ ‘Dog Point’ Chardonnay 2012, showing layers of complex reduction and lees, solids ferment unfolding continuously. This is still tight and well-concentrated, narrow and suggesting austerity on the dry finish. As with the ‘Wrekin’ wine, this needs bottle age to become richer and to open out. The quantities of these wines will be less than that of ’The Fuder’ Sauvignon Blancs.

The Limited Production Reds
As the limited production red wines did not use the large fuder barrels in their production, they have not come under ‘The Fuder’ tier. The same degree of experimentation and focus on single vineyard sites has occurred here as with the whites, so the philosophy is the same. We tasted three different limited production reds.

The ‘Wrekin Road’ Pinot Noir 2011 is a three barrel lot, two of the barrels new. This is tightly concentrated with waves of dark fruit and earthy elements providing complex aromas and flavours. Rich, savoury and spicy, this is a wine of density and rounded concentration, a real success for the vintage; one that is very much site expressive. Next was a ‘Winemakers Selection’ Pinot Noir 2011 with fruit from the ‘Eden’ vineyard in the Waihopi, ‘Murrays Road’ between Rapaura and Spring Creek, and the ‘Delta’ site. Four barrels made, all new. This is a lighter, tighter and more linear wine, marked by oak spices, with fragrance and lift. A crisp and racy wine, the wood is a little obvious, but it’s quality oak lending a sense of luxury.

Finally, ‘The Brothers’ Syrah 2011, blacker in colour, with densely packed aromas of earth, pepper and black fruits, all lifted by fresh, lively acidity, ‘The Brothers’ wines are usually a blend of sites, but this is from a single site on Wrekin Road. 3,500 litres were made, that’s just over 350 cases.
There were four single vineyard Pinot Noirs made in 2012: from the ‘Eden’ vineyard in the Waihopi, ‘Wrekin Road’, ‘Marlborough Ridge’ and ‘Dog Point’. Anna says the wines are all individual and distinctive. It’ll be exciting to see these in due course.

Giesen Limited Production Wines – ‘The August’, ‘The Fuder’ and single vineyard reds

The Benefits
With these limited production wines, Giesen have suddenly added a sense of innovation and seriousness to their image. We all know large companies have the resources and ability to craft limited quantities of outstanding wines. The Giesen brothers have done this in the past and Marcel in particular has been doing so with his personal ‘Bell Hill’ project. It takes the decision to do so and the commitment to follow it through, often working against commercial wisdom and practicality. The rewards I reckon can be immense.

I note that ‘The Fuder’ ‘Dillons Point’ Sauvignon Blanc 2012 and ‘The Fuder’ ‘Wrekin Road’ Chardonnay 2011 (as well as ‘The Brothers’ Pinot Noir 2011) went gold at the 2013 Spiegelau International Wine Competition (click here to see a list of the golds). It seems that the Giesens’ strategy of raising the bar and image with these limited production wines is taking effect. www.giesen.co.nz

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