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Starborough 2012 Marlborough Wines

By July 25, 2012No Comments

I’ve been fortunate to follow the fortunes of the Jones family’s venture with wine under the ‘Starborough’ label. I declare my interest now in that my partner Sue Davies has the Starborough wines in her ‘Wine2Trade’ portfolio that she sells to the wine and hospitality trade around Wellington and beyond. (Click here to see the range of Starborough wines available.) The Jones family have been favoured with growth of their label in times that are not conducive for building business and that says much for their acumen as well as the strong foundation of mixed farming that they have to spread risk.

The Jones family have had their 55 ha property in O’Dwyers Road in the Lower Wairau since 1947, but only planted vines in 2001, completing the planting in 2005. 90% is devoted to Sauvignon Blanc and the rest spread evenly between Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Purchasing the 255 ha Starborough station at Seddon in the Awatere in 1992, they set about planting two lots of 25 ha of vines on the terraces in 2006. Again Sauvignon Blanc formed the majority, with Pinot Gris in support. Last year, they purchased a 25 ha block in the Dashwood district of the Awatere planted around 10 years ago. Called the ‘Long Lane’ vineyard, this has 16 ha of Sauvignon Blanc, 6 ha of Pinot Noir, 2 ha of Pinot Gris and 1 ha of Chardonnay. The pick of the fruit goes into the Starborough label, and the rest is contracted out to a number of high profile producers. Clearly, one can see that the blending options available for Starborough are very strong.

Bill and Lynette live on one part of ‘O’Dwyers Farm’, and son James, who has responsibility for the grapegrowing and winemaking venture on another part of this block. Older son Andrew, who has the responsibility for the livestock and crops resides at the historic Starborough homestead at Seddon. The operation is fully integral and all family members are involved in all aspects, and this is the key to the success of the business.
Tasting the 2012 Starborough Wines
I recently reviewed the latest Starborough Sauvignon Blanc, the 2012 vintage, and the first release of a Starborough Pinot Noir from their own fruit, the 2011. I rated them both 4-Star (click here to see my reviews). James was eager for me to look at these wines again, with a few more weeks in bottle, and to see them in the context of the other 2012 vintage wines, not yet in bottle. As always, such exercises are extremely interesting.

First served was a tank sample of the Pinot Gris 2012, made up of 25% Awatere fruit and 75% Wairau, with 10% of it barrel-fermented, the wine at 13.5% alc. and around 4 g/L rs. Half of the fruit was hand-picked and the machine-harvested portion provided some skin contact. This will be another classical number with clear-cut stonefruits, pears and spices. Already, the richness and potential exuberance is evident, even though the wine is still tightly bound. The 2012 may finish more dryly than the 2011. This looks to be another winner.

2012 will see the introduction of the first ‘Single Vineyard’ Sauvignon Blanc, a follow-on to the excellent ‘Single Vineyard’ Awatere Pinot Gris 2011. The ‘Single Vineyard’ Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2012 is from the ‘Long Lane’ vineyard with 5% ‘Starborough Terrace’ fruit, fermented to 13.2% alc. and 4 g/L rs. Penetrating aromas that are expressive of the Awatere, cool, intense, gooseberry and nettles with some lifted interest. The palate has richness and a luscious succulence and great drive and line. And again, crisp and dry on the finish. Very Awatere indeed, and essentially a benchmarker.

This was a good time to re-look at the ‘Family Estate’ Sauvignon Blanc 2012. Quite densely packed with pungent passionfruit aromas allied to minerals. Mouthfilling and softly rich, with fine textural qualities, and acidity in excellent balance. If anything, this seemed a fraction more reserved that when I saw it for my review, though that bottle had the benefit of opening up in the glass. This is made up of equal portions of ‘Long Lane’ and ‘O’ Dwyers Farm’ fruit.

Onto the reds, a barrel-sample approximate blend of the Pinot Noir 2012, from ‘O’ Dwyers Farm’ fruit. Deep purple hued and with good colour saturation, the nose is well-ripened with dark plum aromas, but at this stage, the expression is clouded by reduction. On palate, the richness and fully-ripened fruit comes through. The wine is healthy and bright, with balanced acidity and fine-grained tannins that support with restraint. This will be a more substantial wine than the 2011.

And of course, a comparison with the Pinot Noir 2011 was mandatory. Lighter in colour and showing more garnet hues, this is a soft, restrained wine on initial impression that just builds and grows in mouthfeel, sweetness and richness. The tannins are very much in the background, but there’s plenty there. Quite a delicious and delightful wine that could be easily overlooked in beauty-contest judgings, but one that will completely satisfy at the dinner table.

I’m very impressed with how Starborough has evolved to its current status. But with the new 2012s in the wings, the label is sure to make another step up. www.starborough.co.nz

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