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Mt Difficulty – Central Otago Flagbearer

By July 1, 2013No Comments

Mt Difficulty winery view from cellar door
The ‘Green Roof’ building to the left is actually the same size as that on the right!

Two of Central Otago’s wine flagbearers are situated on Felton Road in Bannockburn but are very different. Felton Road has carved a niche as a maker of extreme quality wines of distinctive styles that are relatively limited in availability. However, Mt Difficulty has become everyman’s Central Otago wine, producing a very broad and diverse range which has something for everyone, but delivers everything one could ever want. Mt Difficulty too, has extreme quality, site expressive wines that are also very ‘difficult’ (excuse the pun) to find, but the value ‘Roaring Meg’ wines can be found more widely. The growth of the company is phenomenal and it’s a success story that all of Central Otago and indeed New Zealand can be proud of.

My last visit to Mt Difficulty was in 2007, and the picture has changed immensely. The winery and barrel hall has been enlarged by another half and it blends into the landscape when viewed from above. The ‘green roof’ is planted with natives and grass, the structure built to withstand 500 kg per square metre. Within it, there are at least 1,200 barrels. Arriving at the winery, between the administration and winery building, and barrel hall is the equipment and tank farm for the ‘Roaring Meg Project’, which much of the expansion is geared to support. A side road takes visitors up the hill to above and behind the winery to a very smart cellar door and restaurant complex. This provides visitors to the Bannockburn a major attraction. www.mtdifficulty.co.nz

Michael Herrick, marketer & Matt Dicey winemaker

Tasting Current Release Riesling and Pinot Noir
On my visit, I met up with Michael Herrick and Matt Dicey who are responsible for marketing and winemaking respectively. They showed me flights of current release Riesling and Pinot Noir wines. Here are my impressions of these wines.

The Mt Difficulty Dry Riesling 2012 has a combination of pure lime fruits, minerals and flinty lees notes with a fine, dry, textural palate showing great drive. Around 200 cases are made. The big surprise was the Roaring Meg Riesling 2012, a wine that seems to have hit the market running. The production of around 1,000 cases is set to double. At 13.0% alc. and 18 g/L rs, it has excellent freshness poised with sweetness, the sugar perfectly match to zingy acid mouthfeel. There is real linearity along with fine textures. It’s a really appealing all-round style. Next was the Mt Difficulty ‘Target’ Medium Riesling 2012, an equal blend of ‘Target Gully’ and ‘Long Gully’ fruit, with 40 g/L rs. More rich and honied, with a distinct lusciousness and a mouthfeel hinting at unctuousness. This is a popular style and around 1,500 cases have been made. Taking the richness level up a step was the Mt Difficulty ‘SV Long Gully’ Late Harvest Riesling 2012, made from shrivelled fruit, at 10.0% alc. and 100 g/L rs. A wine with density and decadence, the sweetness balanced by the finest drying textures and grip. A more specialised style, with only 200 cases, but I reckon there should be more. The final of the flight was the Mt Difficulty ‘SV Long Gully’ Noble Riesling 2012, at 11.5% alc. and 220 g/L rs, lifted with classical sweet wine VA, unctuous in texture, but not overly constituted with sugar. At $37.95 for a 375 ml bottle, a bargain for sure. But only 50 dozen were made.

Matt Dicey showing 2013 tank and barrel samples

The reds began with the Roaring Meg Pinot Noir 2011, a fruity, juicy, up-front, plush and easy wine that has everything for immediate enjoyment. More serious is the Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir 2011, initially shy, but this open up with vibrant, lively fruitiness. This is a typically elegant 2011 wine, and a real success. I’ve already reviewed the Mt Difficulty ‘GS Packspur’ Pinot Noir 2011, and again there is savoury whole cluster aromas and flavours, with subtle layers and perfumes in the mix, and a lovely, balanced mouthfeel, the acidity and tannin in harmony. The final red was the Mt Difficulty ‘SV Target Gully’ Pinot Noir 2010. This is tight with black fruits and fine whole bunch aromatics of savoury dark herbs on nose, showing layers of textures and flavours of black fruits and spices on palate, with excellent concentration. This is an outstanding wine with the ability to develop serious interest.

Tank and Barrel Samples of 2013 Vintage Wine
Following a tour of vineyards and elevated views from the top of Beaton Track and above the Cairnmuir inlet, Matt Dicey showed a series of 2013 vintage wines from tanks and barrels. It was an opportunity to gauge the quality of the latest vintage to some degree and also see the breadth of wines that Mt Difficulty is producing.

Firstly the Mt Difficulty Dry Riesling, on lees but unstirred, showing ripe citrus fruit, lovely clarity and softness, but with good textured line. Then the Roaring Meg Riesling, presented with clarity also, and acid zing with fine lusciousness. I find the balance spot-on and this will be an excellent follow-on from the 2012. The nose of the Mt Difficulty ‘Target’ Medium Riesling was a little shy, but the flavours quite exotic and the palate extremely long, carried by the racy acidity. The Mt Difficulty ‘SV Long Gully’ Riesling has 10-15% botrytis, which adds a savoury aspect to the aromatics and flavours, and this is a step up in richness, density and texture as well as sweetness.

Samples of other varieties followed. The Mt Difficulty ‘SV Long Gully’ Chenin Blanc 2013 will be the second release, and it has the thiol and tropical fruit melange as the 2012. The acidity is racy and driven, cutting through the sugar, but this has a very natural feel. The Mt Difficulty Pinot Gris has textbook varietal character, with ripe pear aromas and flavours, good weight and textures, and a powerful line. The softness of texture and acidity on the palate was the feature of the Roaring Meg Sauvignon Blanc. This will show that Central Otago Sauvignon Blanc is not searing nor shrill. An interesting wine was Mendoza clone ‘Golden Hills’Chardonnay from Lowburn. Hints of smoke and citrus, lean and zesty and in an elegant style, with mineral notes, tending towards the nature of Chablis?

The range of Pinot Noirs is astounding. The ‘Black Rabbit’ Pinot Noir from 11 y.o. vines has savoury black cherry fruit with mineral notes, tightly constructed, showing chalky tannins and acid tension. Savoury black fruit, but with more floral lift, the ‘Ferris Vineyard’ Pinot Noir has fresher mouthfeel with very fine acid, and refined extraction. The vines were planted in 1997, and the settled nature may be indicative of this. A sample of clone 113 ‘Mansons Farm’ Pinot Noir, quite fulsome, broad and with great density, but still with underlying sweet, black fruitiness.

Matt showed two barrels of ‘Pipeclay Terrace’ Pinot Noir, the first, from clone 113 with a taut iron core of black fruits and lifted florals, driven by firm tannins and acid. This was deemed a little atypical, but valued for its strength of personality. The second was from vines planted in 1995, more fragrant with dark red fruits and a subtle thyme herb underlay, with succulence and energy. The ‘Long Gully’ Pinot Noir was rich, fully structured and sweet-fruited, quite bold if not up-front. Matt usually sees red fruits and perfumes here. The ‘Target Gully’ Pinot Noir, made from clones 5 and 6, possessed violet florals and very fine-grained tannin structure, revealing spiciness and exotic and mineral notes.

Finally some samples from outside the Bannockburn sub-region. A ‘Swallows Crossing’ Pinot Noir, from a site further on from Maori Point, attractively dark fruited with herbal interest, the palate lively and racy with linearity, but an underlining denseness. And a ‘Packspur’ Pinot Noir, savoury red fruits with sweetness and richness, along with a constraining firm line and balancing acidity. This Lowburn vineyard has a mature feel and yields wines with a layering of flavour detail that is immediately apparent.

Mt Difficulty is arguably one of the driving forces for Central Otago’s success. Their support for the region is on many levels from marketing to technical advice and experience. The company has a strength of conviction in itself, as is demonstrated by its global growth, and along the way, everybody in Central Otago has benefited.

Barrel hall at Mt Difficulty

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