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Kerner Estate – From Showbiz to Pinot Blanc Star

By February 17, 2014No Comments
Joanne and Bruce Kerner are taking a new direction with their Kerner Estate wines. Coming from the United States to set up their vineyard in Marlborough, it was most logical for them to sell the wines to their home market, and until now, it’s where almost all of their wine has gone. However, with advice from many of their winegrowing friends and colleagues, they are now looking to properly establish themselves in the domestic market.

Coming from a ‘showbiz’ background, the Kerners bought land and established their vineyard in Fareham Lane in the Wairau Valley, just where it joins the Waihopi, in 1995, and settled there in 2004. The first crops were sold to Wither Hills and the first Kerner Estate vintage was 2000, made by Brent Marris. After Bent, the wines were then made by Antony Ivicevich as West Brook, and now the wines are made at Mahi, Brian Bicknell being the winemaker for the last half dozen or so years. The Kerners are well and truly established now, and their contacts in their new home are such that their wines are known well-enough here, while the U.S. market has become more difficult to service properly.

Pinot Blanc – The Star in the Vineyard
The Kerners have just over 10 ha of land of which over 8 ha are in grapes, mainly planted to three Dijon clones of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, the remainder to Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. It’s the latter variety that has taken the Kerners, the consumers and industry by surprise. Planted as something different to trial, their Pinot Blanc has become one of a few examples in the country, desired by a small number of keen aficionados, winemakers included. The most notable are Mike and Claudia Weersing of Pyramid Valley who source the Pinot Blanc, from 6 rows of around 20 from the Kerners. The Weersings manage the rows to their own specifications, but credit the fruit to the ‘Kerner Vineyard’. The Pinot Blanc has been sourced by Clayridge, Small and Small, and now Johanneshof.

Chardonnay fruit is going to Daniel Le Brun’s ‘No. 1 Family Estate’ this year, and all this points to the quality of the fruit. The vineyard is managed organically by Bart Arnst and while the Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris are certified BioGro organic, the rest of the vines are in conversion. The small plot of olives are also certified BioGro organic. In fact, a BioGro audit was to be carried out the next day for Joanne. The Kerners were keen to adopt organics after noticing the differences in organic vineyards. They see it as ‘part of life’, where ‘the earth, and in fact everything is better’.

Joanne Kerner and a range of Kerner Estate wines

Tasting the Kerner Wines
Joanne offered for tasting a selection of current and new releases to show the range. The Kerners’ preference is for fruit expressive wines, and those who compare the Kerner wines with say, the Pyramid Valley will see the difference clearly. There’s a good understanding of this point with winemaker Brian Bicknell, and both parties are receptive to each other input.

First up was Pinot Blanc. It’s easy to overdo the winemaker input, so the Kerner wine is clean and unadulterated. The Pinot Blanc 2010 is showing some savoury yellow stonefruit and honied, nutty bottle development now, quite rounded in the mouth. It feels mature, but there’s no hurry, if Alsace examples are anything to go by. I really like the new Pinot Blanc 2011, showing much more acidity, freshness and liveliness. Showing the lighter vintage, this has been sensitively made, respecting the fruit, and that includes the subtle oak spicing behind the fruit.

The Pinot Gris 2011 is a refined and delicate style, clean, fresh and focussed on pure fruit. There’s possibly a nod to the Pinot Grigio style here with its acid drive and length, but the fruit is sweeter and richer.

Two Chardonnays reflected the characteristics as seen in the Pinot Blancs, but these wines showing more and positive inputs, especially in terms of oaking. The Chardonnay 2010 is the riper wine with excellent citrussy fruit and real weight and depth. There’s plenty of wine here, but the core of acidity is a feature. It should keep very well, and in fact it just grows in the glass. It’s possibly my pick of the wines shown. The Chardonnay 2011 is a lighter wine, quite elegant and tighter, with lovely length. The oaking is very sensitive, and there is a nuttiness and textural line that shows on the finish. I suspect it might mature more quickly than the 2010.

The ‘Splendiforous’ brand is the second label, and the Splendiforous Sauvignon Blanc 2013 is a classic, initially slender expression of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with up-front thiol passionfruity aromas and flavours. Then the sweeter gooseberry notes kick in, on a lush palate. The Sauvignon Blanc 2012 is a more sophisticated number, showing ripe green stonefruits and fine oak complexities. This is more textural and tightly bound, and clearly one for at least another year’s time.

Finally, the Pinot Noir 2011, a lighter wine that will be overlooked by those who want to be bowled over by sweet flavours. This is more a testament to good work in a difficult year. Soft red fruits and a mellow palate, but developing a good heart with fine, soft tannins. There is some herbal and resinous oak interest, as well as fresh acidity, but it’ll be a match for tuna and salmon.

The Kerner labels are clean and simple, featuring a muscular archer. Joanne says Bruce reckons it looks like him, but tells the story that Bruce one filled in as an actor in the first ‘Terminator’ film, where he plays a policeman who is terminated. I know the archer is more symbolic, as the Kerners are aiming straight and strong on their path. www.kerner.co.nz

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