The New Zealand Winegrowers Exporters Forum was on this week, so we thought we could get a sneak look behind the scenes at Spy Valley, with many people getting over the proceedings of the two previous days and nights. An early morning rendezvous with winemaker Paul Bourgeois almost seemed clandestine, and upon our arrival at the cellar door, it was, as expected deadly quiet. After all, who wants to get stuck into a round of tasting 2011 Sauvignon Blanc samples from tank at 9.00 am on a crisp, frosty, Friday morning? Paul, most thoughtfully decided to take us on a winery and vineyard tour.
My over-riding impression of the Spy Valley winery is the tidiness and clean layout of all of the areas of operation. There is plenty of space and room to ‘swing a cat’, load containers and drive forklifts between the buildings. The flow from grape reception and crushing to fermentation (and maceration), then to maturation, bottling and storage is so neat and natural. I wouldn’t be surprised if it satisfied the principles of feng shui! There are separate facilities for white and red wine production. All the mod cons and all the gear are present, backed by a specialist workshop to make or repair equipment as required. The winery is self-contained from ‘go to whoa’ and this has the obvious benefits of total control. Much thought has gone into the winery design, and being built from 2003 to 2007, this is indeed one of the most modern in the country.
However, the base resource for Spy Valley is the fruit from near 160 ha of vines. While acquiring the nearby luxury Timara Lodge, owners Bryan and Jan Johnson set about establishing the vineyards for Spy Valley in the Waihopi Valley on the terraces of the Omaka river.in 1993. The vines are now well and truly mature, and the performance of all of the blocks is recognised. Paul pointed out that sites only a few hundred metres apart can differ in time of ripening by as much as three weeks. On our tour of the oldest estate vineyards, Paul showed us the blocks that usually provide fruit for the top ‘Envoy’ labels. Varietal performance, quality levels, and yields can generally be predicted with confidence, and this has resulted in the consistent and high performance of the brand from the first Spy Valley vintage releases of 2000.
Of special interest to the team at Spy Valley is the ‘Outpost’ vineyard, a steep, west-facing site in the Omaka hills, developed by viticultural guru Mike Eaton, with close-planted Pinot Noir. It was acquired in 2007. The first crop for Spy Valley warranted the separate bottling of an ‘Envoy’ ‘Outpost’ Pinot Noir 2008. The wine is very different to the Pinot Noir from the ‘Estate’ blocks on the river terraces, and Paul believes the site has the potential to show greatness. Being driven to the top and around the boundary, and taking in the aspect I couldn’t help but think of the slopes of some of the finer vineyards of the Cote de Nuits in Burgundy.
An hour had passed and there were signs of more activity around the winery. It was time to make a quiet departure, and we left without tasting a drop of Spy Valley wine. But our sneak look behind the scenes explained why the wines I have tried are so good. I know the new releases will also not disappoint…