The weather gods smiled on the Wairarapa Wines Harvest Festival for 2012. Amidst a dour growing season with little warmth and brightness over summer, and the autumn not promising much, beautiful weather made the day of the festival. A week before, the riverside site on Dakins Road, on the edge of the Ruamahanga river was submerged by a flowing torrent of water, and the forecast was for rain over the weekend next. Then as the working week drew to a close, the revised forecast was for a brilliant day, followed by rain the next! The Wairarapa Wines Harvest Festival seems to be blessed.
2,200 attendees enjoyed the sun, the offerings from 16 Wairarapa wineries, food from 9 eateries and providers, all to the music of Fran Barton and the Kevin Clark Group, Way Out West, the Shenanigans Irish Band and California Dreamers. It was a family occasion with people of all ages present, and all responsibly behaved, with no excesses observed by me.
Was it significant that Hudson Vineyard and Julicher Estate from Martinborough were amongst the exhibitors? Among the attendees enjoying the festival were a board member of Palliser Estate, Larry McKenna from Escarpment and Ali Paton from Ata Rangi. It is certainly encouraging to see a greater collaboration between the more-established Martinborough vignoble and those from the greater Wairarapa region. The wider collective area experiences similar weather patterns and share the effects of an overall geography and geology, marked by the Ruamahanga river. Many technical initiatives in winemaking and especially viticulture as well as marketing have people from all over the greater Wairarapa working together for the good of all.
This year was the sixth festival, and the number of wines able to be tasted has never been greater. I took the approach of visiting all of the wine exhibitors to try to taste at least two wines, with an eye on Pinot Noir, from each wine label, in a leisurely fashion. I failed in my mission to do it before the end of day. There were too many wines and far too many distractions from the food, the music and the conversation with so many people around us. I and my friends who attended had too good a time!
I was asked on more than one occasion “How do you find the wines?” My answer was that there was a range of quality and a delightful range in styles providing diversity and interest. Some wines don’t deliver all the quality you might want, but there are equally as many that surprise you with how really good they are. Much of this comes down to vintage effects and the accumulating expertise and ability of the vignerons. The 2011 and 2010 vintages were more challenging for sure, but growers and producers learn lessons each year. The overall standard is improving all the time. I love seeing this and it is one of the reasons I’ll keep on attending this excellent wine festival. Here are my impressions of the wines I tried:
First was a comparison of two Matahiwi Pinot Noirs. The Matahiwi Pinot Noir 2010 is a moderately weighted and less densely concentrated wine than the Matahiwi ‘Holly Pinot Noir 2009, which has greater ripeness and oaking. The latter has refined textures and is still elegant because of it, but a family style of balance seems to prevail. The highly experienced and respected Jane Cooper continues to craft these modern wines. It was also instructive to taste unfinished barrel samples of the Wycroft Pinot Noirs from the 2011 vintage. The Bryant family have engaged Guy McMaster of Urlar to look after the winemaking again. There is a clear delineation between the Wycroft ‘Forbury Pinot Noir 2011 (Barrel Sample), with more fresh herb characters to the fruitiness and racy acids, whereas the Wycroft ‘Reserve’ Pinot Noir 2011 (Barrel Sample) has sweeter dark fruits with oak spices. They will be fascinating to follow as they get bottled and change with time in the bottle. Though not a direct comparison, a similar gradation in character was seen in the Schubert wines that winemaker Marion Deimling was showing. Her namesake the Schubert ‘Marion’s Vineyard’ Pinot Noir 2009 quite feminine, with cooler elegances, though lush fruit. The Schubert Wairarapa Syrah 2009 shows typical black berry and black peppery fruit, along with complexing earthy notes, and a dry, structured finish, a more masculine number.
The Cottier family are fully involved in their label. The Cottier ‘Emily’s’ Chardonnay 2011 is a full-blooded oaky number as its predecessors, a style which has found favour with many clients. This vintage has pronounced citrus fruits as well, and is very youthful in mouthfeel. The Cottier Pinot Noir 2010 is quite accessible now with its soft red fruit flavours, attractive sweetness and juiciness. Angus and Davina Thomson are making big impressions with their certified organic Urlar wines. A yet-to-be-released and yet-to-be-labelled Urlar ‘Small Parcel’ Sauvignon Blanc 2010 shows sophistication with its nectarine-like fruit, spicy oak and creamy textures that still need a little time to come together. Interestingly, the Urlar Pinot Noir 2010 which I found quite tight and disjointed just two months ago has come on extremely well, showing richness, excellent textures and layers of flavour hinting at funkiness.
A seldom-seen opportunity to experience a vertical tasting of a Dakins Road sourced Pinot Noir could be had at the Blairpatrick stand. The wines show the different vintages well. The Blairpatrick Pinot Noir 2010 lighter bodied with sweet strawberryish fruit and hints of herbs. A little more substantial was the Blairpatrick Pinot Noir 2009, riper, with more oak to match and with it more extract. And a other step up in weight and richness again was the Blairpatrick Pinot Noir 2008, a tad on the shy side in expression, but with greater presence, and beginning to become rounder in mouthfeel. I only got to try one wine from Mebus Estate, with Michael Mebus incorporating the Waipipi label into his portfolio. I had the Mebus ‘Young Vines’ Pinot Noir 2010, showing a little leafiness on nose, but with sweetness on the palate. Having tried many wines from the Gladstone Vineyard range over the last few years, I chose two of my favourite current releases. The Gladstone Vineyard’Sophie’s Choice’ Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is still tightly bound, with good fruit depth and sensitive oaking, that just adds layers rather than taking over. The Gladstone Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 has a fulsome bouquet, but more stylish and balanced with texture on the palate. A lovely, elegant expression this year, but still with plenty built in.
The two Martinborough winery’s wines just slotted in with those from the greater Wairarapa region. Hudson has been very successful with the Riesling variety of late. The Hudson ‘RPM’ Martinborough Riesling 2008 is off-dry at 9.5 g/L rs, the sweetness enticing and balanced by fine textures with toasty interest. Even better is the Hudson Martinborough Late Harvest Riesling 2009 with 95 g/L rs. Gorgeous and decadent honey, lime and marmalade aromas and flavours with zingy acidity, this is a beauty. I’ve tried the whole range from Julicher recently, and it was a pleasure to see Wim Julicher and Sue Darling with their sales manager Stephen Edwards pouring their excellent wines. I had the Julicher Martinborough Pinot Noir 2009, ripe, rich fruity and accessible and full of dark fruit flavours, showing why the label is a consistent top award winner.
Back to Dakins Road fruit, the Boyd family operate the Lynfer label, the wines made at Gladstone Vineyard. The Lynfer Rosé 2010, made from Pinot Noir, is delicate and pale, with s succulent sweetness of fruit, made in a more medium style. The Lynfer Pinot Noir 2010 is also a lighter weight wine, but just as pretty as the rosé, the strawberry and herb aromas and flavours enticing. I’ve always enjoyed Paddy Borthwick’s wines for their consistency. Although all the wines are of a high standard, the Chardonnay is my pick. The Borthwick Chardonnay 2010 has modern citrus and reduction complexities, and excellent definition on palate, with rich citrussy fruit, hints of oatmeal, and spicy, nutty oak. This will handle some time, as will the Borthwick Pinot Noir 2010, seemingly lighter and forward by way of its strawberry and herb flavours, but this has a firm mouthfeel that will benefit with some time in bottle. Another firm offering is the Ian and Jenny McGovern’s Loopline Reserve Pinot Noir 2008, made from fruit from Opaki Plains, Masterton. Mint and eucalypt notes to the aromatics and flavours, showing sweetness allied to structure that will provide body and texture for some time yet.
Jon McNab’s Fairmont Estate Pinot Noirs may be the hidden gems of the Wairarapa. He’s had consistent gold medal success for his dark-fruited wines which he attributes to his vineyard site. The Fairmont Pinot Noir 2010 is a little more accessible than earlier years, maybe reflecting the vintage, but has the characteristic bitter dark chocolate nuance. The Fairmont ‘Block One’ Pinot Noir 2009 is deceptively elegant and fine in expression, but its silkinesss builds to richness. Named after the Paulownia trees overlooking their vineyard and as a play on their name, Vaughan and Christine Paul’s wines are show true varietal character. The Paulownia Pinot Gris 2011 is distinctively lifted and aromatic with spiced pear fruit and florals, and the Paulownia Pinot Noir 2010 at the lighter, fragrant red floral and fresh herb end of the spectrum. I was glad to see the Paulownia Noble Sauvignon Blanc 2009 again, as it showed superbly last year, and again this year. Some red capsicum and herb aromas, with rich, unctuous textures and racy acidity to balance the luscious sweetness on palate. This is real decadence and a hedonistic dessert wine. Johner Estate was my last call, but with the queues lining up to access their wines, I could only try the Johner Chardonnay Methode Traditionnelle 2009 from their comprehensive range. Manager Stephen Bates showed this to me earlier in the year, and again its delicious citrus and white floral fruitiness and delicate bready autolysis is refreshing to be served at the start of a meal, or at the end, as it was here.