Neil McCallum has been threatening to retire for quite some time now, but it is truly official. He and his wife Dawn held a celebration drinks event at Parehua Country Estate in Martinborough to mark his standing down from active involvement in the running of Dry River Wines. Neil invited a good number of people he felt were instrumental in the establishment, growth and success of his Dry River wine operation, and thanked them publicly. These people included his fellow pioneers in the district, essential professionals and supportive locals and members of the wine industry. Neil especially noted the special support of his wife Dawn and his family, and the dedicated staff, most who had been with Dry River for many years. Derek Milne, one of the most influential people in Neil’s decision to plant vines in Martinborough, recounted the remarkable achievement of Neil as one of the pioneers in the district, seemingly against all odds, single handedly growing Dry River into a “super-premium boutique winery”. Derek spoke of Neil’s tenacious character, insatiable work ethic, enormous intellect and attention to doing it right, all of these factors part of making Dry River what it is today – one of the most highly regarded wine producers in New Zealand.
It is a now a far cry from the start of Dry River in 1979. Martinborough was a very different place then, a farming town without any apparent potential for growth. It was a small band of diverse people, all with visions, somewhat similar, yet very individual, who came together to make the district a viable grape-growing region, and now a world-famous one. Neil McCallum was one of the drivers. He leaves Dry River in very safe hands and in the position to grow further. Winemaker Poppy Hammond, with Neil for 11 years, continues to craft the superb wines from immaculately managed, mature vines. She will assume the full responsibilities at Dry River that Neil has been slowly stepping away from. The highly experienced Ant Mackenzie heading the sister Te Awa and Kidnapper Cliffs wine labels, also under Julian Robertson’s ownership umbrella, will oversee the integrated development of the wines and branding of the total portfolio in the wider market place. Times are simultaneously difficult and challenging, but the credentials of these labels and the people behind them will ensure success.
Neil, an ever-active man will no doubt have other endeavours to develop to occupy his mind and apply his drive and energy as well as utilising his keen sense of what is aesthetically pleasing. We await with interest to hear of what Neil McCallum will be doing in the near future…
It is appropriate to note some of the wines sampled at the ‘retirement celebration’. A Dry River Sauvignon Blanc 2006 was crisp, dry and showing fine structure without any undue development, quite a revelation. The Dry River Late Harvest Riesling 2008 with a wonderful balance of richness with stylishness, and a touch of toasty complexity. Particularly backward and with the potential to develop even more superbly was the Dry River ‘Lovat’ ‘Amaranth’ Syrah 2006, a stunner, served from magnum. The Dry River ‘Lovat Syrah’ 2008 lighter, but with more supple sweetness and accessibility, and textbook varietal black and white pepper. Quite delicious. I’ve seen the Dry River Pinot Noir 2009 on many occasions, and whilst still tightly bound, its depth and richness was now unfolding. It is an outstanding wine. However, close to perfect was the utterly seamless and unctuous Dry River ‘Bunch Selection’ Gewurztraminer 2009. Delicacy and decadence in a glass. A pair of Hawke’s Bay wines also impressed. The Kidnapper Cliffs ‘Ariki’ 2007 was firmly structured with great richness depth, and aging ability ahead of it. And I loved the Kidnapper Cliffs Malbec 2009, a bold and exotic red with black fruits and spices galore. The final wine I saw was the Dry River ‘Craighall’ Late Harvest Riesling 1995, served from 375 ml bottle. Decidedly luscious still, this displayed earthy tertiary complexities alongside the lime, floral, honey and toasty elements. It was a wine showing its age, but worthy of respect. Neil would have been very pleased, if not proud of how these wines tasted this night.