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Red Barrel – Standing in the Vineyard

By May 23, 2017No Comments
My partner Sue Davies distributes the Red Barrel Hawke’s Bay wines of John and Juliette Lockie. The operation is a true micro-boutique, with a maximum annual production of 1,000 cases from the yield of 10-12 tonnes from the tiny 2.6 ha of vines on Te Mata Road in Havelock North.

On our recent visit to Hawke’s Bay, Sue, never actually visiting the vineyard or cellar door in the time she has looked after the wines, felt she needed to stand among the vines, see where the wines were made, and see the site where she could recommend clients go to visit. It’s a concept that is well understood and agreed upon by all wine enthusiasts. Being there and absorbing the atmosphere and meeting the people behind the wines is crucial in being truly familiar with the wines. www.redbarrel.co.nz

In the Red Barrel vineyard, Havelock North

The Red Barrel Wines and Winemaking
The Lockies acquired the site, formerly the Zepelin vineyard in 2010. They immediately took out the Cabernet Sauvignon, deemed too inconsistent, and replaced it with clones Mendoza, 15 and 95 Chardonnay. They retained the Merlot and Syrah which were planted in 1997. This makes the vineyard quite contemporary in composition, with the varieties that Hawke’s Bay is highly regarded for. The vineyard is part of the ‘Te Mata Special Character Zone’.
The wines are made by the very experienced Dave McKee, of Black Barn, just over the road. The Lockies and McKee work closely in determining the style of the wines. The styles are a work in progress, but invariably they aim for ripeness, full flavours and satisfying mouthfeel. To date, the releases I’ve seen are pretty impressive, and I know that Sue loves selling them.

During the time of our visit to Hawke’s Bay, both the Lockies and Dave McKee were out of the country, but we were fortunate to be able to meet up with Rebecca Coghill, who has responsibility for the compliance work among other duties at Black Barn and Red Barrel. Rebecca is well-versed in wine, being a winemaker herself, and married to Cairn Coghill, the red wine winemaker at Sileni Estates. With a young family in her care, the part-time work is ideal.

Rebecca Coghill, Red Barrel & Sue Davies, Wine2Trade

Visiting Red Barrel
Meeting up with Rebecca, she showed us the cellar door complex and function venue, the vineyard, and the on-site winery. The cellar door and function venue complex is fresh and modern, and tastefully decorated with distinctive artwork. Visitors can taste and purchase the wines available immediately inside the front door. The function venue opens out to the vineyard, thus possessing indoor-outdoor flow. There’s nothing quite like a winery cellar door that has the vines within a couple of metres distance.
The vineyard is surprisingly undulating, but it is immaculate. Rebecca says there is a regular “team of ladies” who love to tend to the vines. I reckon they work in a similar fashion to the luxury Napa Valley vineyards where the vines are managed by ‘intensive viticulture’. It is quite clear which are the older vines, at the back, higher up, with the thicker trunks. The Chardonnay seems to be coming along nicely.

2017 was a particularly difficult vintage for Red Barrel. The Chardonnay was harvested in good condition, but the Lockies decided to leave the Merlot and Syrah, their site suffering damage from the rain events which affected the whole of the Hawke’s Bay to some degree. Being such a small operation, they will need to manage their stocks of the 2014, 2015 and 2016 vintage red wines to compensate for 2017.

In the Red Barrel winery and barrel store

Tasting the Red Barrel Wines
As part of our visit, Rebecca gave us a taste of two wines, one a barrel sample of the 2017 Chardonnay, the other, the yet to be released 2015 Syrah.

Red Barrel Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2017 Barrel Sample
A blend of clones 15, 95 and Mendoza. The winemaking included partial indigenous yeast fermentation and MLF conversion. It will spend about a year in oak. 8 barrels were made, and 3 of these are new. Very pale and undeveloped in colour. The nose shows pure white stonefruits, a little simple at this stage, and yet to show the barrel and lees inputs. On palate soft and light textured, but with refreshing acidity. It is yet to put on weight. It’ll be better to see this with a few more months under its belt. There is a progression in style. The 2015 that I’ve already reviewed (click here to see) is deemed to show plenty of funkiness. The 2016 has less of the flintiness, but more indigenous yeast character.

Red Barrel Hawke’ Bay Syrah 2015
Yet to be released. Deepish dark red colour. The nose is redolent of black and red berry fruits along with some complexing savoury herb layers. There are minerals, herbs and game, as well as black pepper and earth. On palate, the wine is more elegant in expression rather than being a fruit-bomb. Attractive black fruit, some savoury detailing, earth and black pepper, all contributing to the interest. The mouthfeel is lively with piquant acidity, and the palate backed by fine-grained tannins.

The wine brought a smile to Sue’s face. She can now tell her clients the fuller story behind the Red Barrel wines.

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