Lawson’s Dry Hills, established by Ross and Barbara Lawson is an example of your classic Kiwi ‘can-do’ attitude. Growing grapes since 1980, they set up their own label in 1992. Driving into the winery, sited in the south-eastern suburbs of Blenheim, one is greeted by a homely and welcoming tasting room, cleverly designed by architect John Waddy, next to the winery complex. The number of awards, certificates, medals and trophies that adorn a wall of the tasting room is a sign that there’s more than meets the eye.
At the cellar door is your quintessential Kiwi bloke, Nigel, who is down to earth, and very approachable. He’s been in the industry for well over two decades. Winemakers Marcus Wright and Bec Wiffen, both smiling, have their sleeves rolled up, arms folded, and look quite staunch, but at home in their white gumboots, ready to tackle any task. They are an engaging lot, and a quick tour of the premises reveals how large Lawson’s Dry Hills is. The winery seems crammed with tanks, but the bottling hall is roomy, and that leads to a cavernous storage area, recently added on to cope with the burgeoning output.
There is an endearing combination of pride and humility at Lawson’s, that is very much the New Zealand way. The wines made are outstanding examples of modern winemaking reflecting the soils and site of the Alabama Road vineyard. As noted above, they have received many awards over the years, and one can sense the attitude “this is what we do, and we do it well”. But also, there is the question “what can we do better to sell more?” Nothing is taken for granted, and the aim is to continually strive to do one’s best. You couldn’t be more Kiwi that that,
Bec, Marcus and Nigel offered the current range of wines to try, and a few new ones to be released soon. The line-up is excellent. In the aromatics, first up was the Sauvignon Blanc 2010, fine, lean and racy, quite tight and with legs to go, followed by the ‘Pioneer’ Sauvignon Blanc 2010, much more weighty, concentrated and with a broader range of flavours. Initially thought it might be OTT, it has come together well. A Pinot Gris 2010 was subtle, but grew and became more substantial on the palate. The ‘Pioneer’ Pinot Gris 2010 has extra layers of flavour over the already smart regular wine, and carries its 18 g/L rs very tidily. I found the Gewurztraminer 2009 a little forward and tending blowsy, but there is no denying its exotic, ginger-spice expression. I was very impressed with the ‘Pioneer’ Gewurztraminer 2010, more refined, tighter, and ageworthy. A superb example of the variety, possessing great depth with style.
The market for Chardonnay has proven a tough one to crack for Lawson’s, and I don’t know why. The Chardonnay 2007 is a wine of great concentration, a result of the low yield vintage, and is complexed by sulphide reduction, a little too much for me, but no doubt pleasing the wine judges at present. The Chardonnay 2008 was more to my liking, based on sweet fruit, subtle richness and sensitive oaking. The Lawson’s team are proud of their Pinot Rosé 2010, and I can see why. It’s bright with crisp, refreshing fruit flavours and quite steely on palate. I’d like to see a little more fleshiness, personally. The Lawson’s Dry Hills Pinot Noir has advanced in leaps and bounds. The Pinot Noir 2008 has a good sweet core of fruit, but the Pinot Noir 2009 has an extra dimension of liveliness and tension. It retains the signature elegance of style, but the fruit brightness has been ramped up. The Pinot Noir 2010 is just darker in fruit expression, a function of the excellent vintage. Marcus brought out a tank sample of Pinot Noir 2011, and the continuity of style since 2008 and 2009 is quite remarkable.