When Villa Maria confirmed it had purchased Te Awa in September 2012, it was ostensibly for the prime vineyards in the Gimblett Gravels. Many wine enthusiasts wondered what would happen to the Te Awa and Kidnapper Cliffs brands, as the Villa Maria, Vidal and Esk Valley labels were already successful. The Kidnapper Cliffs tier of Te Awa was my first ‘Winery of the Year’ in 2011 (click here to see the article), and I hoped that these wines would not disappear.
I and no doubt many others are pleased to see that the Te Awa brand has continued, with a number of recent wines winning good awards at wine competitions. I understand that there have been bottlings of 2013 vintage wines destined for the Kidnapper Cliffs range now. It appears the number of wines will be reduced, and that the wines will be concentrated on the classical Hawke’s Bay expressions. Being made by the Villa Maria Estates team of winemakers, the reds will be more ‘conventional’ in style, rather than taking the Pinot Noir approach that the Dry River team of Neil McCallum, Poppy Hammond and Ant Mackenzie employed.
I particularly enjoyed the style of the first Kidnapper Cliffs wines from their short maceration and time on skins. Although the colours were as dark as any other comparable Hawke’s Bay reds, their supple and fine-grained textures were striking. The wines still carried plenty of extraction and I believe the wines made will still live well and evolve gracefully. It was for these reasons, and the fact that they dared to be different, that I gave my ‘Winery of the Year’ award to Kidnapper Cliffs.
In discussion with Ant Mackenzie who has been retained as a consultant for Villa Maria Estates, he has noted that the wines are different to those he originally made, but they are equally high in quality, and indeed may even be better, especially with the outstanding nature of the 2013 vintage. So those who have followed the Kidnapper Cliffs wines will see some exceptional releases in the near future, albeit in a different style. Having seen the top Hawke’s wines from Villa Maria, Vidal and Esk Valley, I have no doubt they will be worthy of top tier status.
The Villa Maria Estates winemakers, led by Alastair Maling MW, are very aware of the stylistic differences of each of their Hawke’s Bay brands, these being the result of vineyard source, winemaker approach and the influence of the winery where vinification is carried out. There are plans to build a large winery and visitor centre complex on the Te Awa site, maybe in time for the 2015 vintage, where the company’s Hawke’s Bay wines can be vinified only a short distance from the fruit sources. I suspect that the open-top fermenters as used at Esk Valley may need to be replicated to ensure that the style of those wines is continued. And in a same vein, the Kidnapper Cliffs wines will need to be unique too, reflecting the Te Awa vineyards, and in a style that offers a point of difference.