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Martinborough Vintage Trade Day 2016

By April 5, 2016No Comments

The ‘Wines From Martinborough’ collective has fostered a close relationship with the Wairarapa and Wellington’s wine and hospitality trade over the years with the annual ‘Vintage Trade Day’. Held during vintage, invited attendees visit wineries, meet the owners and winemakers, and see the goings-on during vintage, often participating in some of the work. It’s a lot of fun and is educational, and those involved have a closer rapport. This year’s ‘Vintage Trade Day’ was held early on in the vintage, so there wasn’t a lot of fruit in, and there wasn’t much of the new wine to taste. However, there was plenty of information disseminated, and wines (and barrel samples) from other years tasted. The wineries participating were Palliser Estate, Dry River, Te Kairanga, Margrain, Murdoch James, The Elder Pinot, Escarpment and Coney Wines. I was invited to attend this year’s event, and I report my experiences here. www.winesfrommartinborough.com

Welcome at Palliser Estate
All of the attendees assembled at Palliser Estate for a welcome by CEO Pip Goodwin, with brioche and coffee, and were advised of the day’s activities, before being taken on a tour of the winery and the barrel hall by winemakers Allan Johnson and Guy McMaster. 2016 is Allan’s 26th vintage, so his experiences are truly valuable. At the time of the trade day, approx. 10% of the fruit was in, this being Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, including that for sparkling wine base and rosé. As Guy McMasters said, “we just need to be patient”.

In the winery, we saw Pinot Noir fermenters, some with machine-picked fruit destined for the ‘Pencarrow’ second label, and hand-picked fruit to go into the top labels, some of which included whole clusters. One of the assistant winemakers demonstrated plunging the cap of a smaller fermenter of Pinot Noir. Discussion on fermentation and plunging ensued, with Allan providing a more in-depth discourse on the use of oak casks. www.palliser.co.nz

Allan Johnson – Palliser Estate
Dry River
Our group was then directed to Dry River, where we were met by winemaker Wilco Lam and Sarah Bartlett responsible for marketing and communications. Around one-third of the total fruit had been harvested, accounting for two-thirds of the Pinot Noir with the Chardonnay mostly in, along with some Riesling and Pinot Gris. 50 mm of rain in the weekend had put a hold on picking, but the Dry River team had recommenced today with Gewurztraminer. The Viognier, Syrah, and late picks of Pinot Gris and Riesling were still ahead.

Wilco briefly recounted the Dry River history, starting with Dr Neil McCallum’s first plantings in 1979 of Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc, the latter variety now replaced by Pinot Gris. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay followed. The Dry River home block was supplemented by fruit from the ‘Craighall’ and ‘Lovat’ vineyards in the 1980s and 1990s respectively, and now there are 11.5 ha total of vines, managed to the Dry River philosophy. All of the production is handled on-site, including bottling and labelling. The low yields of around 30 hL/ha, equivalent to grand cru burgundy cropping, result in approx. 2,500 cases of wine made yearly, of which around 750 and up to 1,000 cases is Pinot Noir. It is an incredibly tiny production. The actual winery is also tiny, smaller than a normal garage, and set up in a basic and functional way, perfect for small batch winemaking.

We then decamped to the underground cellar where Wilco pulled out a number of wines to taste. Firstly the ‘Craighall’ Riesling 2014, pale with pure mineral, lime, lemonade and a nutty suggestion. Beautifully tight and refined, with a crisp, mouthwatering palate, this is a beauty. Then the ‘Craighall’ Riesling 1991 at 11.8% alc. Deep golden yellow, with rich orange fruit and honey, beautifully integrated with cream, custard and toast unfolding. This is sweeter than the current release, but has the same razor sharp acidity. The Chardonnay 2014, 100% BF and 15% new oak, tight and shy and very reserved with white stonefruits and mealy, nutty layers. Lovely richness and smooth textures provide cut and the wine is carried by the acidity. This was followed by the Chardonnay 1992, light golden and oxidised. Apple-like on nose, and fruit still showing on palate, the wine rather dried out now. The Chardonnay 2002 not a good bottle with some oxidation too, and possibly some TCA. Lanolin flavours and textures, but mealy elements, underlined by good acidity. Finishing with the rare Tempranillo 2011, fruit from 350 vines. Dark ruby-red, this is aromatic with raspberry and carbonic maceration-like lifted confectionary aromas and flavour. Rich and sweet-fruited, modest extraction, and lively acidity. A pretty wine for sure. www.dryriver.co.nz

Dry River – Cellared wines
Escarpment Vineyard
Here, we were hosted by Larry McKenna and Huw Kinch. Larry has made wine in the Martinborough district for over 30 years, but respects Huw’s judgements immensely. At this stage, approx. 25% of the fruit was in, all Pinot Noir, and the Chardonnay and other varietals yet to be picked. The season has been unusual in that some of the Te Muna blocks were ready to pick before the town blocks. Today, fruit from the ‘Te Rehua’ site had just come in. It was pronounced “beautiful and fantastic”. According to Larry, Martinborough wine producers and consumers will see four outstanding consecutive vintages from 2013 to 2016.

With no juice from 2016 to taste, we were treated to barrel samples of the ‘Insight’ single vineyard Pinot Noirs from 2015. Firstly the ‘Pahi’ 2015, the final wine for Escarpment from this site, 50% whole bunch. Lovely purple colour, this is elegant and fragrant with pure violet perfumes, unfolding dark red fruits. This has great purity and beauty. On palate there is no lack of richness or concentration, and there is plenty of structure. This exudes finesse and suppleness. Then the ‘Kiwa’ 2015, clones 5, 6 and 13, and 50% whole bunch. Darker purple-red. Dense and softly packed on the nose, the aromatics a little shy today. Fuller, weightier with considerable structure, mouthfeel and presence. Some favour dark red fruit characters, including whole bunch. Definitely spicy and complexity here, but also sweet and rich fruit underneath. Thirdly the ‘Te Rehua’ 2015, with 65% whole bunch. Dark purple-red, the bouquet soars with aromatic black fruits and florals, spice notes and the most subtle whole bunch. Rich and plush, succulently sweet with black fruits, liquorice and spices. Great concentration and matching extraction, but very, very fine-grained. This would be hard to beat as a total package. Then the ‘Kupe’ 2015, with 70% whole bunch, and not the final blend of barrels. Black-purple colour, this speaks of great concentration and depth of black fruits with liquorice, some whole bunch and a touch of minerally reduction. Wonderful structure, with matching richness. Near monolithic in expression, but all the detail is there. The final wine may see some more whole cluster. It could handle it. These will be wonderful wines, to be released in just over a year’s time. www.escarpment.co.nz

Huw Kinch, Escarpment – punching down Pinot Noir
Coney Wines
The rest of the day’s activities were conducted at Coney Wines on Dry River Road, just a short 6 ½ km south of the Martinborough village. A family affair with Tim and Margaret Coney in charge and Roseworthy-trained daughter Lisa as the winemaker, their motto is “small is beautiful”. Although making a range of wines, Riesling is the favoured variety with four bottlings: the dry ‘Rallentando’, the off-dry ‘Ragtime’, the spitzy ‘The Ritz’ and a rarer dessert style. The Coney Wines complex features a restaurant with excellent food, and this is run under the care of Margaret Coney. The Coneys are extroverted and extremely entertaining and musical, as befits the treble clef motif on their labels, and names of the wines.

On arrival, we were warned that there would likely be “spontaneous singing”, and indeed, Tim and Lisa handed out lyric sheets and burst into a medley of songs. We were treated to a glass of ‘Rallentando’ Riesling 2008, elegant and dryish with fine but intense aromas and flavours of limes, honey and toast. The wine carries a light dry finish, and the 8 years bottle age is classical. The wine makes an ideal aperitif. www.coneywines.co.nz

Nicola Belsham – Murdoch James

Paul Raynor – Te Kairanga  


A Tasting
The next activity was a tasting of wine put on by the participating wineries. With eight wineries on show, I only tasted the latest and premium Pinot Noir releases. The Margrain ‘Home Block’ 2013 is a lighter style, delicate and tight, quite refined with plenty of sweet fruit and some spice elements. It has good structure underneath. The Palliser Estate 2014 has grown in depth and richness over the past few months. The fruit is blacker and richer, but well-balanced by the fine tannin and acidity. Another fine release. The latest Te Kairanga Pinot Noirs are excellent. The Te Kairanga ‘Runholder’ 2014 is fresh and fragrant, with plenty of juiciness on the palate. There’s great acid liveness providing tension too. It should be a keeper. The Coney ‘Pizzacato’ 2013 is a lighter and more slender expression with complexing savoury strawberry fruit. Everything is in proportion, and the wine is supple and already accessible. The Escarpment 2013 is a full-blooded, concentrated with ripe black fruits and complexing whole cluster flavour and structure. Yet there’s richness and sweetness, and the structure has a good degree of finesse. This has come together extremely well over the last year. Another fulsome style is The Elder 2013. Dark coloured with concentrated and vigorous sweet dark-red and black fruits, the richness balanced by the extraction. This finishes very fine and with length. The Dry River 2014 looked very complex, with ripe black fruits and an array of herb and minerally notes, suggesting reductive complexities in the mix. Very fine-grained tannins, a little inkiness, but luscious and plush too. A wine that will live well. Then finally the Murdoch James ‘Blue Rock’ 2013. Extremely smooth, supple, refined and totally accessible, with a full array of aromatics from savoury red fruits, florals, earth, wood, herbs and spices.

Tim Coney – Coney Wines

Strat Canning – Margrain Vineyard

A Wine Options Game
Following an excellent long Italian-style platter lunch served from the Coney kitchen, the attendees were asked to participate in a fun wine options game. Split into four teams, we had to choose between two options over seven wines. For Wine #1, the options were Gruner Veltliner or Riesling. More difficult than it might seem. The wine was the Margrain Gruner Veltliner. Wine #2 was either a Viognier or Sauvignon Blanc. It was relatively easy to identify what was the Dry River Viognier. More difficult was Wine #3, between Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. The earthier and more rustic nature gave it away as the Escarpment Pinot Blanc. Wine #4 was either an ‘Aged’ Chardonnay or a ‘Young’ Chardonnay. We chose ‘Aged’ and it was indeed, being the 2004 Palliser Estate.

With the red wines, it was getting rushed, as the collecting shuttles were not too far away, so there was lots of pressure on! Of all three reds, the question was if the wine was a Pinot Noir or Syrah. Again, it was relatively easy for all the teams. Wine #5 was The Elder Pinot Noir, Wine #6 the Coney ‘Pizzacato’ Pinot Noir and Wine #7 the Murdoch James ‘Blue Rock’ Syrah. The Syrah was distinctly peppery.

Two ‘Bonus Questions’ were asked to sort out the tie-breaker: Firstly, when were the first grapes planted in Martinborough? We were too clever for this. Neil McCallum is said by Michael Cooper to be the first in 1979. But we know that Alastair Taylor was earlier at Te Kairanga. The ‘correct’ answer was ‘1980’ as the first ‘commercial’ plantings! We were robbed. Everyone got the second question correct, that Martinborough represents 1-2% of the country’s wine production.

With Shilpa Patel, our gatecrashing guest from San Diego, CA
A Gatecrasher
During the day, it transpired that an extra person had joined the Trade Day events. Shilpa Patel from San Diego, California had booked to go on the Tranzit Wine Tour, but inadvertently boarded a Trade Day shuttle. Shilpa was welcomed into the proceedings with celebrity status. She now reckons she’s seen some of the country’s best wines, and will no doubt treasure her experience while travelling the rest of the country, taking her memories of this adventure and excursion back home.


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