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Johanneshof Cellars – A Little Piece of Germany in Marlborough

By July 19, 2013No Comments
For those who have travelled the wine trail in Germany, Johanneshof Cellars will be a welcome reminder of their experiences. Located at Koromiko, approximately two-thirds of the way from Blenheim to Picton, Johanneshof is a little piece of Germany in Marlborough. It should come as no surprise that Edel Everling and Warwick Foley who established the business, have German winemaking backgrounds. Edel is a fifth generation winemaker who hails from Rudesheim, in the heart of the famous Rheingau vignoble. Warwick, a Kiwi, first worked at the Te Kauwhata viticultural research station before heading overseas, and both studied at viticulture and winemaking at Geisenheim university, before eventually coming to New Zealand to set up their own vineyard and winery in 1991.

Edel Everling – Johanneshof Cellars

German Style and Culture
Before it all sounds like an academic exercise, I must say that Edel and Warwick have not only brought the technical expertise with them, but the culture and attitudes that make the German wine a combination of the truly tradition with the delights and accessibility of the modern world. For the low alcohol, aromatic and refreshing German wines styles that have been made for decades are now in fashion again, as the new generation of wine drinkers demand elegance and freshness. And Johanneshof Cellars excels at such wines. The culture can also be experienced in a visit to Johanneshof, which is like walking into a weinkellerei in any part of Germany. The feel is baroque, warm and welcoming, and as in the home country, the cellar door boasts medal awards, plaques and certificates all over the walls and wine paraphernalia and memorabilia galore. You know that everything is steeped in wine.

A unique feature of Johanneshof is their underground cellar, dug out by West Coast miners in 1993. It was the first in the country, with Gibbston Valley following suite five years later. The Johanneshof cellars are 50 meters long and 20 metres deep into rock. The atmosphere is very old world, somewhat damp and with mould prevalent, these attributes appreciated by wine lovers as necessary for any good cellar in Europe. The temperature hardly fluctuates, between 12-14°C throughout the year, and is ideal for wine maturation. Much of the library stock, personal cellar and sparkling wine production is housed within.

Another European aspect of Johanneshof is the setting. The home ‘Maybern’ vineyard, cellar door, underground cellar, winery and Warwick’s home are all situated on a hillside. Edel and Warwick established Johanneshof Cellars on this site at Koromiko as the land was owned by Warwick’s family. It reminded them of Germany winegrowing in many respects, but it also was very different – very ‘Kiwi’ as well. The soil is sandstone with a high iron content. The site was originally planted to Riesling vines in 1977, making it one of the earliest Marlborough vineyards after those set up by Montana, but it is arguably the first hillside vineyard in the region. The vines were replaced in 1983 with newer Riesling, then to Pinot Noir, ungrafted and close-planted, in 1991 when Edel and Warwick set up the business.

The Wines
The Johanneshof wines are made by Warwick and Edel at their winery on-site at Koromiko. It is multi-levelled and utilises gravity rather than pumping wine, and their winemaking approach is that of least possible interference. The fruit is sourced from their own vineyard for the Pinot Noir and a number of long-term contract growers in various parts of the Wairau Valley for the other wines. This approach of parcels of fruit from different sources is consistent with their German winegrowing background. However, in hindsight, Warwick rues not purchasing large blocks of land at the outset, as nowadays it is far more difficult and extremely expensive to purchase suitable land for winegrowing. The demand for grapes has forced prices up and they find they must go with the market flow facing competition from the larger players.

As intimated above, Johanneshof excels with the aromatic varieties. Based on their track record, one must say that Gewurztraminer is their consumer flagship, with vintages consistently winning gold medals and trophies. Pinot Gris is another success for them, and also Riesling, particularly in the Late Harvest and Noble botrytis-affected expressions. This should be no surprise for anyone aware of their training and experience in Germany.

What is a surprise is their commitment to sparkling wine production. This is their secret weapon, and under the radar for most people. Although the method traditionnelle wines account for 10-15% of the annual production, there is a disproportionate amount of thought, effort and work involved. There are large stocks of wine on hold, as base wine, reserve wine and wine on lees maturing. Edel and Warwick have purchased considerable specialised equipment for the making of their sparkling wine, as well. All this has not gone unrewarded, as their ‘Emmi’ Methode Traditionnelle, which is the official ‘flagship’ wine, has been well-awarded. In support are the Blanc de Noirs NV and Blanc de Blancs Vintage, which are disgorged to order, thus there are stocks gaining in time on lees continually. Another sparkling wine, named ‘New Dawn’ is in development and will be released soon.

Warwick has developed a particular fascination for how sparkling wines develop with extended time on lees, and their behaviour after disgorgement. Part of his research involved bringing from Germany stocks of Bardong Rheingau Riesling Sekt 1986, tiraged in 1988 and on lees since then. He has disgorged small quantities in various conditions since as part of his education and pleasure!

‘New Dawn’ Methode Tradiionnelle 2011 in pupitres

A Tour and Tasting
Edel and Warwick took us on a tour of the underground cellar. It took us several minutes to get accustomed to the pitch black, and slowly the lit candles seemed to grow in illumination. Coming from the winter outdoors, there was a sensation of warmth. However, we were told that on a summer’s day, it seems very cool, but the temperature is fairly well constant at 12-14°C. The humidity is obvious. With the wrought iron and wood around the bottles, the cellar has a timeless atmosphere, and certainly not modern. This is the impression that Warwick and Edel wish to convey to visitors, to reignite the romance of wine that is treasured in Europe, but is missing in many of today’s winery visits in New Zealand.

In the depths of the cellar, we tasted the ‘New Dawn’ Methode Traditionnelle 2010, 100% Pinot Noir, now spending nearly three years on lees and dosage at 10 g/L rs. Very fine and more yellow stonefruit driven than autolysis focussed, with a delicate softness and sweetness. This is a beautiful aperitif style with the flavour to make it more versatile than expected. This will be a welcome addition to the range. As Edel has been touched by cancer, proceeds from sales will go to the Cancer Society.

Back in the tasting room at the cellar door, Warwick and Edel took us through several wines to show some important milestone vintages, demonstrating the Johanneshof wines’ ability to age well in bottle. First was the Pinot Gris ‘Trocken/Dry’ 2006, at 14.0% alc. and 4 g/L rs, sealed with Diam cork. Remarkably fresh with concentrated stonefruit aromas and flavours, just showing a touch of savoury interest, revealing honey and spices. This has an oily texture, and just a hint of alcoholic power showing. The wine is not at its peak yet. The first vintage of Pinot Gris was in 2000, and I’d imagine this to be going strong. To compare was the Pinot Gris ‘Medium’ 2007, at 13.0% alc. and 14 g/L rs, a more gentle and mellow, harmonious wine, plush and juicy with delicate florals, the spiciness suggesting Gewurztraminer. This too is still very fresh, but is on its plateau.

Then onto the Gewurztraminer 2004, with 23 g/L rs. Still very tight and concentrated with an amazing array of flavours including florals, ginger, honey and minerals on a smooth, sleek and near-unctuous palate. The finesse and length, combined with restrained opulence is astonishing. It was revealed this wine has been their most highly awarded. The Gewurztraminer 2003 with 20 g/L rs was served next. Somewhat more advanced, with less fruitiness and more earthy, root-ginger notes, maybe a shade coarser, very much as I’d expect Gewurztraminer to be, and with it a more up-front and bolder character.

Finishing with a bracket of Rieslings, led by the Riesling 2000, with approx. 20 g/L rs. An elegant style, showing the lovely creamy, custard and toasty aromas of development. Yet the palate still fresh with vitality and excellent acidity, carrying lime flavours to a dry finish. I’d drink this now, but it won’t fade quickly. The resemblance to a cooler Rheingau Kabinett was not lost on me. The final two wines were sweet Rieslings, led by the Noble Late Harvest Riesling 2006. Carrying 9.5% alc. and 188 g/L rs, with 8.6 g/L TA, the massive botrytis infection is the feature. But in support is very aromatic citrussy fruit, quite exotic and again, remarkably fresh with beautiful acid balance and fine, decadence and near unctuousness. A pretty-near perfect wine. Then onto the current release, the Noble Late Harvest Riesling 2011, at 10% alc. and 155 g/L rs. Quite a different wine, more golden in colour, with tea leaf and savoury mandarin aromas and flavours, the botrytis more bold and forward. This appears it will mature more quickly than the 2006, but will also provide immense pleasure.

Warwick Foley & Edel Everling in the Johanneshof underground cellar

A Little Lunch and Cellared Wine Treasures
Following the tour and tasting, we joined Warwick and Edel for lunch at Le Café, in Picton, where Edel lives. There, they served three wines from their private cellar demonstrating their hearts, experience and values. Firstly a Bardong Rheingau Riesling Sekt 1986, disgorged in September 2012, thus on lees (including first fermentation) for over 25 years. Ultra-refined, still identifiably Riesling, with tight and delicate toasty, nutty autolysis, combining a degree of lusciousness with acid cut. An incredible wine. Then a Ch. Leoville-Barton St-Julien 1985, classic claret from one of my favourite vintages. The 1985s were far more approachable than the highly rated 1986s, and I loved this aspect. Sweet and rich, with layers of savoury complexities, developing a hint of brett in the end, and just starting to dry on finish. A traditional wine in all respects and in the most positive sense. Finally a Siegfried Gerhard Hattenheimer Wisselbrunnen Riesling Auslese 1976, served in half-bottle. Deep golden orange and mahogany in colour and in taste. Caramel and crystalised fruits, burnished barley sugar and crème brulee, just tending to dry now, too. This was one of Warwick and Edel’s first discoveries, and it remains an inspiration today.

In a world that is focussed on freshness and the present, Johanneshof can satisfy the needs. But for those who realise the beauty and interest from development and the past, Johanneshof can deliver the experience too. www.johanneshof.co.nz

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