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Northburn Station – A Quintessential Central Otago Experience

By September 26, 2013No Comments

For visitors to the Central Otago winegrowing region, a visit to Northburn Station may cover all their needs. Situated around 8 km out of Cromwell on the eastern side of Lake Dunstan on the Tarras Road, the station offers a complete wine experience. Once part of a massive station that measured well over 100,000 ha, it still remains a large landholding at around 13,500 ha. Owned by Tom and Jan Pinckney since 1993, the station has around 11,000 Merino sheep and 200 cattle. The station is a destination due to the excellent fare served at ‘The Shed’ restaurant, where the food is based on the produce of the land around the restaurant, which acts as a function and conference venue. It is combined with the Northburn Wines cellar door-farmgate shop complex, and with the gardens, it’s a beautiful and picturesque location worth visiting for the view alone.

Table set for a fine dinner at The Shed, Northburn Station
However, as with a number of farmers who have decided to plant grapes, their 23 ha of vines has become a major focus for the Pinckneys. The grapes were planted in 1999, with 17 ha of Pinot Noir, 4 ha of Riesling and 1 ha each of Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. Around 30% of the fruit is reserved for their own label and the rest is contracted to a number of high profile producers. The vineyard is under the care of well-experienced viticulturist Shane Livingston, ex-Millton Vineyard, who brought it to BioGro organic certification this year. Richard Broadhead, Jan’s brother, is the winemaker, and the wines were initially made with the consultancy of Michelle Richardson. He uses the Mount Edward winery facilities. www.northburn.co.nz

A Tasting of Northburn Station Wines
I met up with Paul Tudgay, The Shed’s general manager, and viticulturist Shane Livingston. Paul is a very experienced wine man having worked as a sommelier, in wine sales and in hospitality before coming to Northburn Station. Shane discussed the vineyard and the plants, noting how the vines were ‘grounded’ and connected to the soil. He felt there was a fresh, clear ‘airy’ feel about them at Northburn too. Paul and Shane took me through a range of wines. I offer my impressions here:

Paul Tudgay and Shane Livingstone


The introduction was the Pinot Rosé 2013, made with 4 days skin contact and fermented to 13.0% alc. and around 3 g/L RS. Dry to taste with a combination of bright raspberry fruit and fresh herbs, the textures fine, showing well-handled phenolics and a dry finish. And then a bracket of Rieslings. The Riesling 2009 with 14 g/L RS is showing toasty development aromas and flavours, the wine one of concentration with a balance between sweetness and steeliness. Again finely textural. The ‘Jeweller’s Shop’ Riesling 2010, from a select block and made by back-blending botrytised wine, carries 52 g/L RS. Restrained in expression, there is complexity in its amalgam of toast, honey, citrus fruits and ‘sweet and sour’ elements. This has a soft and luscious richness. Then a ‘Jeweller’s Shop’ Riesling 2007, also around 50 g/L RS. Still youthfully pale with a firm and fine linearity of citrus fruit, this appears to have the potential to develop more slowly than the 2010, and with equal if not greater detail and complexity.

It was fascinating to compare the ‘Bill’s Blend’ and ‘Reserve’ Pinot Noirs from 2009 and 2010. The ‘Bill’s Blend’ Pinot Noir 2010 dark and youthfully purple, with a firmly compact and concentrated nose and palate. Black fruits and violet aromatics with fresh acidity mark this wine. The ‘Bill’s Blend’ Pinot Noir 2009 showing some garnet and fruit in the red spectrum with some savoury development. Softer, more even, the tannins more resolved, but still with a firmness and core underlying. The ‘Reserve’ wines share the same vintage characteristics, but the wines are richer and sweeter, possess finer tannins and a poise from fresh acidity noticeable. It’s all about a better balance. The ‘Reserve’ Pinot Noir 2010 has robust and ruggedly youthful aromas and flavours of dark berry fruits and fresh herbs. Some layers of detail become revealed, with spices and oak part of the equation, and the mouthfeel is tight. The ‘Reserve’ Pinot Noir 2009 also dark-fruited, but with more perfumes and finer aromatics. Rich in expression and decidedly more supple, and showing some savoury development.

Paul and Shane finished with a pair of Pinot Noirs, showing old and young. The Pinot Noir 2003, one of the earliest releases, still dark and densely coloured, but with garnet and brick. Into secondary and tertiary expression now with dried herbs, undergrowth, mushrooms and cedar, as well as game meat. This still has a solidness and density, indicating it will continue to open out. The yet-to-be released ‘Reserve’ Pinot Noir 2012 is indicative of the vintage, with its bright, light purple colour and tightly bound, fine and steely core of floral fruit infused with herbs, minerals and earth. This has a finesse and linearity, driven by the acidity. It fits in with the expression I’ve seen in many of the other 2012s.

One of the overall impressions I got in tasting the wines is that there is a family resemblance with their firm core and linearity. This is present in the whites too, but is more distinctive in the Pinot Noirs. Shane and Paul see this too, and attribute it to what the land gives, rather than to winemaking. The wines from the eastern side of Lake Dunstan appear to possess this trait, especially many of those from Bendigo. The flavour profile is a little different at Northburn to Bendigo, being in the more savoury-earthy spectrum rather than liquorice-like. It will be very interesting for me to explore this impression over forthcoming vintages.

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