Having awarded Kidnapper Cliff my 2011 ‘Winery of the Year’, I was duty-bound to visit Ant Mackenzie at Te Awa. Those more pedantic than me have pointed out that Kidnapper Cliffs is not a winery, but a brand, and I concur. But recognising the separate style of the Kidnapper Cliffs from the Te Awa wines (which are very good too), and their defined vineyard sources is the key.
I haven’t had the opportunity of calling into the Te Awa winery since Julian Robertson and the late Reg Oliver bought it way back in 2002. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see how much the winery had been extended, but I was. The growth has occurred out of sight, behind the leafy rural setting of the cellar door, restaurant and tastefully fitted function venue, and is thus unobtrusive to the visiting public. The winery, barrel hall and storage complex is all compactly sited for efficiency to handle 400 tonnes of fruit. The Te Awa vineyards cover 50 ha, of which up to half of the fruit is used to produce around 10,000 cases of Te Awa (and a tiny amount of Kidnapper Cliffs) wine yearly. The rest is contracted as premium grapes to a number of high profile wine producers.
Ant Mackenzie has the responsibility of running Te Awa, as well as overseeing sister winery Dry River, in Martinborough. With the departure of assistant winemaker Cam McInnes from Te Awa last year, team member Barry Timmins has stepped into that role to continue the gains that have been made over the last five years, and especially those since Ant’s arrival in 2009. The revitalised Te Awa wines and new Kidnapper Cliffs wines have made an excellent impact on the market, and the potential for more is clear to see. In many respects, it’s all quite new and exciting, not only for Ant and his crew, but for fine New Zealand wine enthusiasts.
I was taken through a quick tasting of unfinished and unbottled 2011 and 2010 wines as a preview of what’s in the works. The Te Awa Chardonnay 2011 has excellent clarity of citrus fruits, tight but obviously rich, with a long fine, grainy finish. In comparison, the Kidnapper Cliffs Chardonnay 2011 is even tighter, with beautifully fine acidity, and even longer on the finish. I thought of the French term ‘puissance’ meaning concentration and grip with tension. Then a new wine, a Te Awa ‘Left Field’ Pinot Noir 2011 from Martinborough fruit, a touch reduced on bouquet, but with bright, zesty, lively red plum fruit flavours and freshness. It will be a lovely all-purpose wine.
The Te Awa Cabernet/Merlot 2010 shows classic Cabernet Sauvignon currant aromas and flavours, sufficiently ripe in fruit and tannins, an acid freshness the only real indicator of a cooler vintage. As serious as a wine can be, the Kidnapper Cliffs ‘Ariki’ 2010 is marked by dazzling perfumed scents of violet florals, backed by a dense, but rounded palate. And the Kidnapper Cliffs Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 is all class, and is classic in its blackcurrant expression. It will be more elegant than the very special 2009, but its finesse and length will make it highly desirable.
I left Te Awa thinking about how the wines I had just tasted went against the initial opinions I’d heard on how disappointing or weak the wines from 2010 and 2011 would be. The long, cool growing season of 2010 has resulted in wines lighter than those of 2009. But there is aromatic beauty and finesse in many of the wines. Chardonnay fared badly in many Hawke’s Bay vineyards in 2011, but also, many sites were left unscathed. I believe Ant Mackenzie is pretty pleased with what he has from these vintages. www.teawa.comwww.kidnappercliffs.com