When Rod McDonald set up his own company in 2006, he knew that he was going to focus on Syrah – what was going to be the next best thing in Hawke’s Bay and indeed New Zealand. He, like many others recognised the varied and diverse sites and terroirs of Hawke’s Bay, and their ability to yield high quality and diverse expressions of grapes and wines, especially with Syrah. But going out on his own, to focus only on Syrah turned out to be impractical to make a living, so Rod McDonald Wines was born. Creating this company has seen amazing growth. Rod developed a series of brands that encompassed most of the varieties and styles that can be made in Hawkes’s Bay, and a few more, as well as branching out to making wine from other regions. His role as a contract winemaker became a major component of his overall business. The brands he now has include ‘Quarter Acre’, ‘Te Awanga Estates’, ‘Two Gates’, ‘Blanket Hills’, ‘One Off’ and ‘Frizzell’, all of which are being developed to tell their own story. www.rmwines.co.nz
Such was the growth that Rod founded the Hawke’s Bay Wine Company in 2012 which now operates the former Corbans (ex McWilliams for those with longer memories) winery in Pandora, Napier, purchased from Pernod Ricard by four local businessmen with an interest in entering the wine indusrty. With new business partners, in a bold move this year, he moved all of his plant from the Matariki winery, where he was operating, over the space of a couple months to his new site, to form an innovative facility, from which he conducted the 2014 vintage. There, he has a small batch winery making a relative compact 600-700 tonnes for limited production wines, within a large winery with the capacity to manage over 10,000 tonnes of fruit. The combined output not only covers his own Rod McDonald portfolio, but the production for another 25 wineries, clearly many of which are large and operate with interests outside Hawke’s Bay. Rod now has Darragh Hughes and Pieter Koopman working with him at the Hawke’s Bay Wine Company and Amy Hopkinson-Styles hands-on with Rod McDonald Wines. For his own wines, Rod has long-term leased vineyards which are managed by Brent Stone, these totalling 75 ha, the fruit regarded as premium.
Rod McDonald with his ‘Trademark’ Syrah 2011
Rod McDonald with his ‘Trademark’ Syrah 2011
Back to Syrah
Eight years down the track, Rod has been able to put the focus back on Syrah, his original passion and dream, and the reason he went out on his own. The dream has been smouldering, and slowly gathering momentum over the time. Rod now has four vineyards from which he sees his best Syrah can be sourced from. The most extreme is a steep, 1 m x 1 m close-planted vineyard on Kereru Road with mainly Limmer clone fruit, this being Rod’s Cote-Rotie look-alike. His other sites are just as individual, one in the Tuki Tuki Valley, with limestone soils, another in Te Awanga with the cooling maritime influence, and finally the Bridge Pa Triangle. However, it is fruit from a site on gravels soil that Rod has made his first super-premium ‘Trademark’ Syrah from the 2011 vintage.
The name ‘Trademark’ was borne out of intellectual property issues with the ‘No. 8’ brand that Rod used for some of his first wines, the dispute involving a couple of other New Zealand producers. Despite the strong connotations that ‘No. 8’ had with his philosophical approach to his wines and winemaking, it was easy to trademark ‘Trademark’, the new name not only reminding him of the IP concerns, but having it represent what will be the flagship and signature wine and variety that Rod hopes to be known for.
At this stage, Rod is still very open to where the ‘Trademark’ Syrah will go. Although the first release is a single site Gimblett Gravels wine, there is the potential for up to four different single vineyard ‘Trademark’ Syrah wines made every year. Also being considered is a blend of fruit from any or all of the vineyards to make the most complete wine possible. Maybe both of these paths could be followed. The inaugural 2011 release is the first step in realising Rod’s dream of showcasing Syrah from Hawke’s Bay. He is aware he is only just embarking on a journey that may take over a decade. The potential and future for Rod McDonald is extremely exciting.
Tasting and Lunch at Osteria del Toro
Rod McDonald and Jason Pearce from Rod McDonald Wines, and representatives from their distributors of Quarter Acre wines Red+WhiteCellar hosted a luncheon at Wellington’s popular Mediterranean-themed Osteria del Toro restaurant for hospitality, trade and media, to show the current Quarter Acre wines with matched food courses designed by the talented John Allred, and to launch the ‘Trademark’ Syrah. The Quarter Acre wines can be seen as a good representation of Rod’s approach for top-end Hawke’s Bay wine, being “on the edge of winemaking”, as natural as possible and traditionally so. Hand-picking, whole bunch pressing, indigenous yeasts, barrel-fermentation and maturation, with low sulphur regimes. Here are my impressions. www.osteriadeltoro.co.nz
On arrival the Quarter Acre Hawke’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (18.0/20), showing clear varietal fruit with sweet and subtly rich, ripe green stonefruit flavours, qunice and a nod to the gooseberry and herb spectrum, but good weight and flowing textures and fresh mouthfeel. It has Hawke’s Bay softness for sure, and nuances of complexing interest appearing at this early stage.
Smoked salmon with clam velouté
A classic presentation, the salmon flavour prevailing and the velouté seafood stock quite subtle and foamed. Starting with the Quarter Acre Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2012 (17.5+/20), quite soft and matty in fruit expression and texture, but withmealy complexities, along with barrel-ferment smoke nuances and soft textures. A wine of textures and soft structure rather than sweetness or exuberance. This was absorbed and melded with the salmon.
Also the Quarter Acre Hawke’s Bay Viognier 2013 (18.5/20), brilliant in colour, with vibrant orange zest aromas and flavours, the wine possessing power, intensity, succulence and slipperiness, but the acid and alcohol cut with it. The richness, power and flow of this wine are its features. This has become smoother and the phenolics more integrated over the last few months. An excellent combination with the salmon, with plenty of extract and cut to match the salmon, and the exotic flavours being enhanced by the salmon oils.
Lamb loin with sweetbreads and a red sauce diable
A fine slice of loin, subtly flavoured and slightly grainy in texture, but sufficiently tender and moist from the sauce, the sweetbreads sweet as they should be. First up was the Quarter Acre Hawke’s Bay Merlot/Malbec 2011 (18.0+/20), quite tightly bound and a little undemonstrative. The fruit still bright and with a juiciness, but not quite the definition and drive as on tasting last. Redcurrant and black fruits follow a very fine tannin line. Maybe the food took over, but the quiet nature of the wine was on par with the lamb texturally, but less so in flavour.
The Quarter Acre Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2011 (18.5+/20) is a full, ripe, luscious and sweetly fruited expression. It has lovely aromatic florals, with black spices and pepper. Ultra-refined extraction allows the fruit sweetness to prevail. Quite decadent with smooth mouthfeel and impressive harmony allowing immediate accessibility and providing immediate gratification. A little too rich and flavoursome for the meats, but very good with the gravy.
Venison with wilted Swiss chard, cacao jus and roasted root vegetables
A lovely cut of meat, quite firmly textured, with a density, but also notes of chocolate, the root vegetables and leafy chard providing contrast in textures, the dish well-salted overall. A very good match with the wine which had the deep game meat and chocolate nuances.
The Rod McDonald ‘Trademark’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2011 (19.5/20) is from a single site on S.H. 50 on gravel soils, from organically managed MS clone vines planted in 2004, the wine undergoing greater extraction than the Quarter Acre Syrah, and aged 2 years in 60% new oak. 200 dozen were made, and the wine will have a $75.00 RRP. Very dark, black-red colour, this is powerful and robust with densely packed, youthfully primary aromas of ripe black berry fruits along with highly spiced and aromatic oak, revealing iron-earth elements, typical of the Gimblett Gravels. A robustly structured and near-ruggedly presented palate features bold, rich, deep fruit flavours of spicy black plums, liquorice, black pepper, hints of chocolate, and sweet oak, all wrapped in fulsome tannins. This is a wine that puts itself in front of you, rather than waiting demurely to grow. It will keep well, develop greater savoury complexities, and soften to come together over the next decade plus.
If Rod McDonald wanted to make a statement with his inaugural ‘Trademark’ Syrah, he’s certainly done so. Interestingly, it comes from the 2011 vintage which was challenging for many Hawke’s Bay winegrowers. Looking at his track record with the 2011 Quarter Acre wines, he’s been one of the successes in such a year. Clearly Rod has good vineyard sites and the experience to produce high quality wine in demanding conditions. One can easily imagine what will be achieved in a top growing season. It appears there will be a ‘Trademark’ Syrah 2013. It could be stupendous. In the meantime, the inaugural 2011 is something special to seek out. I’ll have my full ‘Feature Review’ of the wine in due course.