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Murdoch James Estate and Coney Wines

By October 5, 2011No Comments

A half-day without writing commitments gave me the opportunity of visiting the vineyards on Dry River Road, 7 km south of Martinborough following the Lake Ferry Road. Although only a short distance away from the town, there are noticeable differences in soil and climate, and thus the area offers a point of difference from operations on the Martinborough Terrace and Te Muna. Murdoch James Estate is the largest operation on Dry River Road and with Coney Wines, these two have cellar door operations as well as a café or a restaurant. There are vineyards belonging to Hamden Estate, Stonecrop and Margrain on the road too, but no facilities for accepting visitors.

Murdoch James Estate
The furthest down Dry River Road is Murdoch James, about 3 km from the Lake Ferry Road junction. The mood is particularly buoyant there. Roger Fraser sold the winery and vineyard to Charles Zhang, a Wellington-based property developer and investor in March this year; Roger retaining a small shareholding still. The financial input has enabled the upgrade of equipment and improvements to the property and the important purchase of the neighbouring 20 ha vineyard thereby nearly doubling the plantings of vines. The Murdoch James vineyards, planted approximately to 55% Pinot Noir, 20% Syrah, 15% Pinot Gris, Murdoch James’ focus, the remainder to a varied historical mix. But now there is extra Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc with the new acquisition. Sited on uplifted seabed with lime and clay soils which are quite distinctly different from the rest of Martinborough, the hillside plantings of Murdoch James flow continuously to the flatter aspect of the new vineyards, and the property is a strikingly beautiful one in a region where most of the vines are planted on flatter land. The vineyards are entrusted to the care of Steve Plowman, and winemaking is by Carl Fraser, Roger’s son, in charge since 2005. Former winemaker David Bloomfield still assists in winery and vineyard consultation.

Unsurprisingly, the Asian market has become an important one for Murdoch James, and this has spurred on a sprucing up of the labelling and brand tier system. The new labels are the work of Carl’s wife Nicola, who has considerable wine retailing experience, and are very contemporary. A new top tier, the ‘Fraser Reserve’ will be introduced, with Pinot Noir, Syrah, Pinot Gris and Merlot as the variants, these wines destined mainly for China. The ‘Blue Rock’ range will be single-vineyard’ wines made from fruit solely from the estate plantings, and the ‘Martinborough’ range will include fruit from growers.

A quick tasting of a selection of the wines revealed some serious goings-on. The ‘Blue Rock’ Pinot Gris 2010 is a classical varietal expression with pear and stonefruit flavours, infused by minerals, all with good weight. The ‘Blue Rock’ Sauvignon Blanc 2010 explosively fruity with intense pungent nettley fruit and a fine textured palate. A powerful expression. Comparing two Pinot Noirs was instructive. The ‘Martinborough’ Pinot Noir 2010 touched by a little reduction at first, but blossoming to show sweet, lush accessible fruit with good balance and extract. Up a notch in interest is the ‘Blue Rock’ Pinot Noir 2010, restrained in fruitiness, but more beguiling and layered in interest and componentry. This is an altogether more complex wine that will develop well. The ‘Saleyards’ Syrah 2008 harks back to the Fraser’s property in town with the name. Tight with black pepper fruit, firm, yet elegant in proportion. The ‘Blue Rock’ Syrah 2010 reflecting the cooler vintage being a little lighter, but the trade-off is greater aromatic interest, with white pepper and floral notes. This could develop with beauty. And finally a wine from 26 y.o. vines, the ‘Blue Rock’ Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc 2009. Some cooler black and red currant fruit flavours, well-balanced tannin management and a lovely spicy oak peacock’s tail. The Murdoch James team are very pleased with their direction and the wines reflect it. I suspect there will only be further improvements on an already satisfying range. www.murdochjames.co.nz

Coney Wines
Tim and Margaret Coney run a true, hands-on family business, mostly without the family! Establishing their 6.5 ha property in 1996, they have planted 2.2 ha of Pinot Noir, mainly to the unfashionable 10/5 clone with some 5 and 13 Pommard clones, and tiny amounts of 114, 115 and Abel. There is also 1.3 ha of Riesling and just under a hectare each of Pinot Gris and Syrah, planted more recently in 2003. The vineyard is on ‘metal’ soils, deemed to be similar to that of the Martinborough Terrace. Tim tends the vineyard and has made the wine at the winery on the property since 2003, but daughter Lisa, a Roseworthy graduate, has shouldered the responsibility lately. Margaret is in charge of the burgeoning ‘Trio Café’ and the events management-catering business, this adding a complementary side to the winemaking, the Coneys running a complete wine and food experience. Both Margaret and Tim are totally involved at the ground level, and this is a real attraction when visiting Coney Wines, as you will speak to, be served and entertained by the viticulturist, winemaker, marketer, chef and owners, all at the same time!

Tim took me through a few of the current wines. The ‘Rallentando’ Riesling 2008 has more than a similarity to the Rieslings of the Clare Valley, being dry and carrying 13.0% alc. Still lively, tight and toasty, this has real interest. In the style of what’s hot is ‘The Ritz’ Riesling 2010, at 9.8% alc. and with 30 g/L rs, deliciously lime-juicy and lush, and very more-ish. The ‘Piccolo’ Pinot Gris 2011 has all the spiced pears you could ever want, on a near-unctuous palate. 14.0% Alc and 7.5 g/L rs. And I though the ‘Pizzicato’ Pinot Noir 2008 a success with its intense and firm fruit, well-spiced with excellent oaking. The Coneys are down to their last few cases of this. A lighter wine, the ‘Pizzicato’ Pinot Noir 2009 shows cooler, dried-herb fruit, but still with attractive sweetness, fine extract and accessibility. Coney are also pleased with Syrah, and a tank sample of the Syrah 2010 was a little shy on nose, but packed good white and black peppery fruit, spice interest and good structure. Only 300 cases of this will be released. I sense that with Lisa Coney having a strong input in the winemaking and Tim’s ever-present openness to how the vineyard can work in providing wines for these times, there is a brightness and freshness in the wines that is becoming more apparent; very much in the way our food has progressed, something that Margaret will no doubt support. www.coneywines.co.nz

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