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Obsidian Vineyard Waiheke Island Update

By April 24, 2013No Comments

With much of the 2013 New Zealand wine harvest in, reports of an outstanding vintage are emerging. The East Coast of the North Island has certainly enjoyed the best year since 2009, and most of the country shares this upbeat conclusion. As I write, there are still vineyards around the country with late-ripening varieties still hanging, and a number of Central Otago producers have a significant portion of their crops to come in. The joys of a glorious summer have certainly gone and the worries of autumn are here. Fortunately this has been generally favourable…

I’ve always preferred to make my judgements on a vintage well after the harvest, when wines are in bottle and have been given time to settle down. Even better is when the wines have developed to show their potential, and winemakers themselves, who are much closer to the wines, are able to tell me their thoughts! The reality is that it is the growers and winemakers who are intimately aware of the status of their wines, and observers such as myself rely considerably on their conclusions. It is they who are better trained in appreciating very young wine. I gladly defer to their expertise in this aspect!

Mike Wood on Recent Vintages
I had the opportunity of talking to Mike Wood, winemaker at Obsidian Vineyard on Waiheke Island just after he had brought in his last grapes. Mike is one of those very thoughtful winemakers who tempers his positivity and enthusiasm with caution, realism and humility. It’s a lovely balance and skill that I wish I could emulate. He discussed his thoughts on what he had experienced to date, and I recount some of the points here.

It has been a really good vintage and he is happy with everything generally at Obsidian. It was the driest year that he had seen on the Island, with quantity a bit down, the lighter crops a result of poor fruit set due to the spring weather. All of the varieties performed very well with regards to quality, except Tempranillo which will be made into rosé this year. The standout variety looks to be Syrah. Feedback from around the Island suggests that the vintage will be a “mixed bag”, and those with higher crop load will not have done too well, and there has been a big band of harvest dates. The vintage for Obsidian was a condensed one.

In comparison with other years, 2013 will be an extremely good year. Honours for the best year to date would go to 2010 at Obsidian. The 2013s will have lower alcohols, though the flavours are on a par. It is too early to make a judgement on the structures, but there is plenty of ripe tannin and the acidities are also very good. The pH figures are slightly higher than 2010. “The jury is still out whether 2013 will be better than 2010 at Obsidian” says Mike. He added that 2010 will certainly be more consistent in results across the Island.

In reference to the other recent vintages, 2011 was not a better year, and can be seen in the same light as 2012 in Hawke’s Bay. Mike seemed reserved about the quality here until I reminded him that I thought the 2011 barrel samples of ‘The Mayor’ and ‘The Obsidian’ I tasted in May last year looked extremely good (click here to see my reviews of the barrel samples and provisional scores). I think Mike was mindful of the poor performance of Cabernet Sauvignon then, which saw Cabernet Franc play a larger role in the blends, which I really enjoyed.

2012 was touted by many on Waiheke Island as an outstanding year, and certainly the tank and barrel samples of many wines tasted superbly. Mike is very pleased with his 2012s too, but in typical fashion reined in any outright praise. With the Montepulciano and Syrah recently bottled, his assessment of these wines is that they are “looking good, but need time” “They are not massively concentrated, but very well balanced”. It was a light year for crop. Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec also were successes in 2012, but not Cabernet Sauvignon, with only 3 barrels of wine instead of the usual 30.

I asked about 2008, which was one of the best recent years at Obsidian too. My impression is that it is as highly regarded as 2010. Again, Mike didn’t make a definitive call, but described the 2008s still needing time, with the Bordeaux varieties coming out best. The 2010s will be approachable earlier, and in 2010, Syrah was the star variety at Obsidian.


Labelling Changes
With the 2012 wines, the secondary ‘Weeping Sands’ label has been discarded, and instead there will be an ‘Obsidian’ and ‘Obsidian Reserve’ tier. The regular ‘Obsidian’ wines will have the same price point as what the ‘Weeping Sands’ were set at. I found these to be among the best value wines from Waiheke Island, so the change will strengthen the brand. The limited quantity, extreme quality wines will have the ‘Reserve’ moniker. This structure consolidates the relatively small output to make it more cohesive in the market place. Mike found that consumers were not making the connection between ‘Weeping Sands’ and ‘Obsidian’. www.obsidian.co.nz

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