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Obsidian – Shines Through On Waiheke

By May 9, 2012No Comments

The Obsidian Vineyard was one of the new wave Waiheke Island wineries that approached the marketplace realistically with properly priced wines and consistent distribution. This followed a boom time where the pioneers enjoyed generous pricing and high demand, such periods always coming to an end. The realism has seen Obsidian consolidate as a textbook and archetype producer on the island. As with all the best vineyards, Obsidian’s plantings are on steep slopes. Though possessing 18 ha of land, 9 ha are actually planted, and the vineyard blocks are sited in a natural amphitheatre off Te Makiri Road near the Onetangi beach on the north of the island. Driving from Ostend and over Seaview Road, one gets a magnificent perspective of Obsidian and how well it is protected from the elements.

The wines are made at the ‘Shepherds’ facility on Onetangi Road, which is shared with Mudbrick. The output is diverse with 11 different wines made under the premium ‘Obsidian’ label and the secondary ‘Weeping Sands’ brand, and all the wines have proven extremely successful. The mainstays are the Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, designed to be the focus from the start, with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec in support. The other varieties, Chardonnay, Viognier, Syrah, Montepulciano and Tempranillo are proving their worth already. Some Pinot Gris and Chardonnay is purchased to supplement their own fruit.

Michael Wood is the man on the ground, living on the vineyard, but director Lindsay Spilman and his wife Janet have their Waiheke residence only minutes away and are fully involved in all aspects of the operation. Michael is assisted by Luke Stout who shares in all the vineyard and winemaking duties. Interestingly, Luke enjoys wine, but doesn’t drink beer!

Michael took us for a walk in (or should I say ‘climb up’) the vineyard. The last 5 to 6 years have seen the composition of the vineyard change as new clones have become available. There is an increased proportion of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot at the expense of Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2011 vintage has seen the production of a Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot/Malbec blend, the aspiration here to match the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot based flagship Bordeaux-blend. This Left Bank and Right Bank synergy seems a good move to me.

Another fascinating development is the planting of 1,200 vines of MS and Bailey clone Syrah in 2010 on ‘The Knoll’. This steep 0.25 ha area at the top of a protected ridge has been terraced and close-planted to maximise the benefits of its north-west facing aspect. Despite 50+ mm of rain overnight, the ground was hard and dry on ‘The Knoll’ at lunchtime. The sunshine and heat there was particularly noticeable. I can’t wait to try the wine from this little piece of Rhone-like land.
Tasting the 2010 Obsidian Flagship Wines
The 2010 vintage is regarded as arguably the best ever on Waiheke Island, the low yields contributing to the quality. The Obsidian flagships have clearly been made to reflect the ripeness of the fruit. The Obsidian Syrah 2010 is a complete wine, softly rich and plump with sweet, ripe black plum fruit flavours, with black pepper and spices. There is plenty of tannin in support, fine and tight, and also excellent acidity. The oaking (40% new) emerges in the glass, but melds in with the opulence. This is certainly in the riper end of the spectrum, yet has not crossed the line to ‘Shiraz’. Then ‘The Obsidian’ 2010, a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 13% Petit Verdot and 6% Malbec. Fully ripe but still definably Cabernet Sauvignon in varietal expression, but all the extra layers of tobacco-like Merlot, black fruits from the PV and Malbec, and an ethereal red fragrance from the Franc. The structure from ripe tannins is the real feature. This is quite accessible and enjoyable now, but it has the fruit and depth to see it last a decade and a half easily. I look forward to their release. www.obsidian.co.nz

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