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Opawa – Designer Marlborough Wines

By July 25, 2012No Comments

Opawa, meaning ‘smoky river’ in Maori, is the secondary tier of Nautilus Estate in Marlborough, sitting below ‘Nautilus’ but above the ever-popular ‘Twin Islands’ wines. Nautilus’ winemaker Clive Jones and his assistant Brett Bermingham vinify all the Nautilus, Opawa and Twin Islands wines, but Brett has a special responsibility for the ‘Opawa’ brand that he takes personally, and it shows in his pride of the wines.

I’m not sure if Brett would like me describing his Opawa wines as ‘designer’, but that is essentially what they are. Quality, ripeness and yield are inextricably linked, and any winegrower who requires any sort of consistency will know what quality and quantity of grapes any given vineyard will provide. Growers and winemakers base their decisions on previous experiences and after doing some quick calculations, and barring any unforeseen disaster can predict what sort of wine and how much will come available to them at an early stage in the growing season. The Opawa wines are made, in fact designed, according to such formula that dictate grapegrowing.

The Opawa wines are designed stylistically to be juicy and fresh, eminently approachable and drinkable straight away. The fruit is sourced from vineyards and blocks that have been identified as particularly suited to the style required, and cropped higher than that for Nautilus wines, at 3.5 kg per vine, which is still in no way excessive. Half the fruit comes from ‘Nautilus’ estate vineyards, the other half from contracted fruit. The quantity of Opawa wines is surprisingly small. Around 22,000 cases of the top tier Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc are produced each vintage, and around 30,000 cases of Twin Islands. However, only 3,000 cases of Opawa Sauvignon are produced, showing how it is a rare commodity as well as being designer. Most of it is sent overseas, but a limited quantity is reserved for the domestic market.
Tasting 2012 Opawa Wine
Visiting Nautilus Estate with a desire to investigate Opawa further, Brett took us through a tasting of the 2012 white wines, in tank, but practically ready to be bottled. He reckons 2012 to be the best vintage he has seen to date, the grapes picked with superb flavour and ripeness at lower sugars. The Opawa Pinot Gris 2012 is 55% Wairau and 45% Awatere in origin, sitting at 13.0% alc. with 3 g/L rs. Classical pear fruit aromas and flavours, sleek and elegant and attractively slippery. The Opawa Sauvignon Blanc 2012 is lush and well-judged in ripeness, being a juicy style that retains a sense of restraint. Maybe it is a little tight, but good for it. The acid mouthfeel is near racy, but there is no excess. A lot of thought has gone into this wine, some 12% having oak contact for subtle textures and weight. The balance is its feature, Brett reeling off the figures of 2.8 g/L rs, a TA of 7.3 g/L and a pH of 3.25.

Showing that his priority is the Nautilus wine, Brett showed us some of the more exciting and funky 2012 Sauvignon Blanc components that are blending options. Clive and Brett are constantly investigating the influence of varying additions of oak-fermented and aged proportions. They like the extra layers of interest and mouthfeel that these contribute to the final wine. It’s easy to be seduced by the extra power, depth and spicy, nuttiness that oak can give, but then again it’s all too easy to overdo it. Especially interesting were samples from barrique wood and larger format cuve wood, the latter more subtle and integrated. Judging the percentage inclusion is the key….

Due to time pressures, we didn’t taste the 2012 Pinot Noir barrels, but I find looking at wines at this young stage more difficult than finished wine, so a look further down the track will suit me better. I know that as vines get older and newer clones and sites come on stream, superior material in coming on hand. The Nautilus Pinot Noir has made a big jump in expression and stature over the last few vintages. Fruit that was previously destined for Nautilus is now being incorporated into the Opawa Pinot Noir. Brett’s eyes brighten and his demeanour lifts when Pinot Noir is the topic of conversation. He’s got plans for his Opawa labelled Pinot Noir! www.opawawine.com  www.nautilusestate.com

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