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North Canterbury Wine Soils and Terroir with Lynnette Hudson

By July 23, 2018No Comments
Since the beginning, wine drinkers have considered the influence of soil on the taste of wine. To this day, it remains a complex and indeed a controversial subject. The French in particular have taken the view that soils are crucial to the style and quality of wines, hence the concept of terroir and the development of the Appellation Controlee system, of which the example of Burgundy is cited as proof.
Lynnette Hudson – Tongue in Groove

A Seminar and Tasting in Wellington

Lynnette Hudson who is intimate with the North Canterbury wine scene came to Wellington to present a seminar and tasting of wines describing the different soils and terroirs of North Canterbury and how it is assumed to influence the taste of the wines grown there. Lynnette is well-known as a winemaker, working for many years at Pegasus Bay in developing the styles of those wines, and as the winemaker at the boutique Tongue in Groove operation, and as a consultant at Pyramid Valley over the previous two vintages.

Lynnette was supported by Angela Clifford, one of the proprietors of Tongue in Groove, and closely involved in a sustainable farming property in North Canterbury, as well as Canterbury and New Zealand wine. The tasting was co-ordinated by Stephen Wong MW, of Wine Sentience, in the new The Wine Sentience Hub premises on Vivian Street.

Around 30 attendees took part in what was an extremely interesting presentation, and a fascinating tasting of a dozen wines chosen to demonstrate the effects and influences of soil on the taste of a wine. I report on and summarize the important points as gleaned by me following, with my notes on the wines presented later.
Angela Clifford – Tongue in Groove

Research and Understanding Today

To start the seminar, Lynette discussed the current research and thoughts on the influence of soil on wine. The primary factor and most apparent are the physical properties, especially with regard to water retention. Then some words on the microbiology of the soils, and how different soils have different micro-organisms, with microflora, microfauna and the role of mycorrhiza fungi playing significant roles in vines absorbing nutrients. The role of organics and biodynamics and regimes associated with these philosophies was mentioned. The question remaining to be answered is what sort of role and effectiveness of the microbiology has in the transfer of nutrients? The subject of ‘minerality’ was not brought up. The overall conclusion is that the more micro-organisms there are, the better the health of the soil, and the more the resultant wine speaks of the terroir.

Descriptions were then offered by Lynnette on the soils prevalent in North Canterbury, and the style of wines they resulted in. Limestone had words such as tension, acidity, tight, salty, ageworthy. Clay gave words such as fatness, rounded, full-bodied, unctuous. Gravels lent intense aromatics, perfume, less generous, perfume, harder tannins. There are, of course other soil types, such as schist, not so relevant in North Canterbury.
A geographical overview of these soils and where they fitted into the North Canterbury region was then discussed, starting with the Pyramid Valley/Waikari district stretching over to the north-eastern end of the Waipara Valley, where the Black Estate ‘Dam Steep’ vineyard is located. The soils here are limestone influenced. Below this swathe, the district and be divided by a cross. That on the eastern side of the cross feature Awapuni clays. This area is bordered on the east by the Teviotdale hills. The southern and south-western part of the cross is the Glasnevin Gravels, with the Waipara River a feature. To the north on western side are more free-draining gravels with a clay top soil, and this is where Waipara Springs is located.

A Blind Tasting to Demonstrate the North Canterbury Soils

Lynnette had chosen a dozen wines to be served in pairs or groups of three wines, to demonstrate the different soils. All of the wines came from the excellent 2015 vintage, a year of low crops, good ripening with no over-ripeness, and the wines with good acidity. After going through a closed period, they are deemed to be “opening up” according to Lynnette. The wines were served blind to identity, but attendees were told what the wines were supposed to demonstrate. It was the job of the tasters to make an informed guess. The identity of the wines and their soil type were revealed after everyone had decided.

My notes follow on the wines, made with the aim of identifying style according to soil type. Quality impressions were secondary, but I offer my score on the wines – these not added to my database.

Flight One: Pinot Noir (A)

Both wines with limestone base, but one with more clay than the other in the make-up. To me, this was a relatively easy choice. The elegance of these wines as a pair made the differences clearer, in my opinion. Both were made similarly.

Pyramid Valley ‘Angel Flower’ Canterbury Pinot Noir 2015 (Low clay content)
Lighter garnet-red. This is aromatic and perfumed with a floral lift. Very fine and fragrant. This has finesse, a line of acid, fine tannins, freshness, quite ethereal, but lively and delicious. My guess: lower clays, correct. (18.5+/20)
Pyramid Valley ‘Earth Smoke’ Canterbury Pinot Noir 2015 (Higher clay content)
Ruby-red colour with dome depth. Solid, deep nose with darker fruit and a solid core. Good weight, presence, quite solid, rich, rounded, fleshy, quite plush. My guess: higher clay soils, correct. (19.0/20)

Flight Two: Pinot Noir (B)

One wine with limestone influence, the other with Awapuni clay soils influence. Again, I found the differences easy to see. These were more substantial wines than the previous two. And these wines were essentially made in an identical fashion.

Black Estate ‘Damsteep’ North Canterbury Pinot Noir 2015 (limestone influenced soils)
Dark, deep ruby-red colour. Lovely fragrant nose, with lifted primary fruit and florals. Elegant on palate, the fruit bright and vibrant, lifted and with finesse. Fresh and good acidity. My guess: limestone, correct. (19.0+/20)
Black Estate ‘Home’ North Canterbury Pinot Noir 2015 (Awapuni clay soils)
Full and dark ruby-red with garnet. Solid and densely packed on nose, some savoury and game-like aromas. On palate this has darker fruits, with depth and weight, savoury and tannic with plenty of structure and grip. My guess: clay soils, correct. (19.0+/20)

Flight Three: Pinot Noir (C)

Three wines presented, two from high clay soils and one from gravel soils. This was more difficult as other variables were involved, such as different producers, and different winemaking inputs. The Tongue in Grove wine had a high whole bunch component whereas the other two were fully destemmed.

Tongue in Groove ‘Cabal Vineyard’ North Canterbury Pinot Noir 2015 (clay soils)
Darkish, deep ruby-red with slight garnet hues. The nose is full and broad with ethereal aromatics showing complex savoury fruit and other inputs lending dried herbs and game, Full and broad on palate with complex savoury flavours. Forward? A little rustic, but fine tannins. Very smooth and even, mouthfilling flavours. My guess: gravels, incorrect. (19.0-/20)
Muddy Water Waipara Pinot Noir 2015 (clay soils)
Dark ruby-red colour, a little lighter on the edge. Lovely up-front primary fruit with ripe berries and plums. Rich, sweet and luscious on the palate, still very primary, juicy and with refined tannin extraction. Fresh acidity but with presence and weight. The most elegant of the three. My guess: gravels, incorrect, (19.0-/20)
Terrace Edge Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2015 (gravel soils)
Light, even ruby-red colour, with some depth. Full, broad sweetly ripe dark-red fruits, with richness and concentration. The fruit bright and youthful. Similar in style to the Muddy Water, but more complete. Rich and plush, very together, and the fruit plushness the feature. My guess: clay, incorrect. (19.0+/20)

Flight Four: Riesling (A)

One wine from gravels which shows aromatics, perfume, elegant structure and fine complexities, the other from clays with fullness and richness. The Tongue in Groove is from Georges Road with 5-10% botrytis. It also has some reduction which firmed the mouthfeel.

Tongue in Groove North Canterbury Riesling 2015 (gravels)
Even straw-yellow. This has citrus and tropical fruit notes, some SO2 lending mineral reduction, but underneath broad and rich. Dryish to taste, this is soft-textured, quite dense and rounded, the flavours in the riper spectrum. The acidity is very fine. My guess: clays, incorrect. (18.0/20)
Muddy Water ‘James Hardwick’ Waipara Riesling 2015 (clays)
Bright pale straw with golden-yellow tints. This is beautifully perfumed and pure, with lime and lemonade and intense florals. This has delicacy and beauty. On palate quite taut, but with fine drying textures. This is refined with fine acid cut. Sheer finesse. My guess: gravels, incorrect. (19.0+/20)

Flight Five: Riesling (B)

Three Riesling, two of the wines from the same producer, but one from gravels soil and the other clay. The other producer’s wine from gravel soils. For me the house style was useful to identify. This aided the identification of the soils. The third producer, Terrace Edge, quite a different style, with botrytised fruit and slightly higher residual sugar. I came across the answers by elimination more than from the taste of the wines per se.

The Crater Rim Waipara Riesling 2015 (gravels)
Bright pale straw-yellow colour. Very fresh and bright, a little SO2 reduction giving firmness. Very tightly bound on palate some delicacy and essentially a little shy. Softer on palate with some breadth. Unfolding lime, lemon and honey. The acidity is excellent, but the core has depth and richness. My guess” clays, incorrect. Guess: One of the two wines from the same producer, correct. (19.0-/20)
The Crater Rim ‘Hillside’ Riesling 2015 (clays)
Bright, light straw-yellow colour, very pale edged. The nose is soft and delicate, quite shy in expression with mineral alongside florals. Soft on palate with intensity and depth, taut and tightly bound, with a slenderness. My guess: gravels, incorrect. Guess: One of the two wines from the same producer, correct. (18.5+/20)
Terrace Edge ‘Liquid Geography’ Waipara Valley Riesling 2015 (gravels)
Pale golden-hued straw-yellow. Very full with bright and very ripe fruit aromas, tropical fruits, deeply concentrated with honied breadth. On palate medium-sweet and rich. A tight core and some fineness. But also an unctuousness. Botrytis and honey, and deliciously decadent. Guess: gravels – by default, but the taste seemed to indicate clay. Correct. Guess: The single producer, correct. (19.0+/20)
Stephen Wong MW – Wine Sentience

The Wine Sentience Hub

The North Canterbury Wine Soils and Terroir tasting was held at The Wine Sentience Hub. This is a facility designed by Wine Sentience to offer wine professionals especially those visiting Wellington to have a space to work in. It is a fully licenced location to hold meetings, run tastings or getting work done. The hub has spaces for social events as well as quiet places for focussed work. There are Riedel glassware available for use, as well as Coravin preservation and temperature controlled storage for wines. Antipodes water is on hand. Users have access to high-speed internet and printing services.

The Wine Sentience Hub is located at L1, 104 Vivian Street, Wellington, and will be open from 1 August 2018. Check out www.winesentience.com/the-hub for more information and rates.

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