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TerraVin Update with Gordon Ritchie

By January 28, 2015No Comments
Recent months have seen a number of changes at TerraVin on many levels. Winemaker Gordon Ritchie has taken over many of the responsibilities for TerraVin as a whole for the consortium of owners who are based in New Zealand and overseas. TerraVin wines have always been of extremely high quality, reflecting the quality of the fruit and their sources, and this foundation is undergoing some changes in approach, which should not alter the quality, but will make, hopefully, significant differences in style, resulting in how they will be perceived in the marketplace. Gordon paid me a visit in Wellington, while on promotional business in the capital, and explained the evolutionary process at TerraVin.

A couple of years ago, Gordon signalled his desire to see TerraVin Pinot Noirs begin to express vineyard character to a greater degree. This philosophy is very much in line with the growing awareness and acceptance of terroir, epitomised by the wines of Burgundy. TerraVin has now stated this as its raison d’etre on its website. The enabling of the expression of region, site, and indeed terroir has become one of the great desires of winegrowers throughout the world, and the recognition and understanding of it is one of the tenets by which sophisticated consumers live and breathe.

TerraVin is leaving behind the concept of a flagship wine based on a selection of the best barrels or lots. This previous path led to TerraVin’s ‘Hillside Reserve’ wines which were statement wines, often the richest, most structured and robust and strongest blends. As Gordon says, “These ‘Hillside Reserve’ wines primarily showed how good we were as blenders”. The new approach instantly resulted in markedly more elegant and individual wines under the ‘Cowley Family Vineyard’ and ‘Eaton Family Vineyard’ bottlings. The TerraVin portfolio and wines continue this development and are now going a further stage to accommodate the changes in the company set up. www.terravin.co.nz

The ‘Calrossie Vineyard’ or ‘TerraVin Hillside Vineyard’
Key to TerraVin’s change in approach has been the coming of age of the company’s 30 ha ‘Calrossie’ vineyard, situated between the Wairau and Awatere Valleys. Planted in 2002 and 2003, the vines have grown in maturity and begun to exhibit distinctive characteristics with greater clarity and consistency. Gordon sees the Pinot Noir wines displaying a unique spicy and peppery expression, with the most subtle nod to Syrah, though the wines are clearly varietal Pinot Noir in every way. He wishes to have this vineyard character central to his best wines. Gordon has Bart Arnst consulting in TerraVin’s viticulture, and there is continuous progress in its management with the incorporation of organic regimes. Thus, this vineyard has now become the major focus for TerraVin, and there is the plan to rename it the ‘TerraVin Hillside Vineyard’ (THV).

The existing supply from the ‘Cowley Family Vineyard’ is a little different. As Gordon is concentrating on the ‘Calrossie’ Pinot Noir of which the quantity will meet his needs, he will cease taking the ‘Cowley’ Pinot Noir, despite it being of excellent quality. However, he sees the ‘Cowley’ vineyard as essential for the style of the ‘Te Ahu’ Sauvignon Blanc, and for the Chardonnay wines, so the relationship continues with the Cowley family.

With the change in management and ownership of the company, it has been decided not to use the fruit from the ‘Eaton Family Vineyard’, and again, especially with the ‘Calrossie’ (THV) vineyard coming into its own. Gordon still sees the ‘Eaton’ site as one providing first class grapes, and indeed, the fruit from the site was used up to 2013, and will be part of the TerraVin portfolio up to that vintage.

It’s a matter of perspective!
Pinot Noir is big for Gordon Ritchie and TerraVin

Tasting two 2012 ‘TerraVin’ Pinot Noirs
Gordon tasted two 2012 vintage TerraVin Pinot Noirs, as yet unreleased, to show the differences resulting in the new approach. 2012 was a disappointing vintage in terms of yield for TerraVin, but the quality of the wines has been extremely high, so this vintage is a good one for explaining the changes. Firstly the ‘Estate’ Pinot Noir 2012, 69% ‘Calrossie’ fruit with 28% ‘Cowley’ and 3% ‘Eaton’, all destemmed, the wine aged 12-16 months in 22% new oak. Moderately deep ruby-red colour, this has a full, deep and solidly packed and presented nose with dark red and black berried fruits, a little plumminess, and an attractive lift. On palate rich, plush succulent and mouthfilling, the fruit to the fore, with supple tannins in support. There is good acid freshness, and the wine has soft vitality. This has good size, weight and volume, and its harmony will ensure broad appeal with an immediate accessibility.

In comparison, the ‘I Block’ Pinot Noir 2012, 100% from the ‘Calrossie’ (or ‘THV’) vineyard, destemmed, the wine aged 12 months in 15% new oak. Darker ruby red colour, and more refined, elegant and more tightly concentrated on bouquet. Red berry fruit spectrum with red floral and spice aromatics, lovely purity and fruit focus, the fragrance the feature. Again, the palate has elegance and precision. The fruit expression is aromatic and includes red florals and spices. Here, the tannin extraction is more serious and sophisticated. The extraction is very fine-grained, and the firm core shows it is designed to develop with age. The mouthfeel has greater acid freshness as well. It too can be enjoyed now, especially for its perfumed nature, but the concentration and grip indicates it needs time.

The latter wine comes from the best-performing block on the ‘Calrossie’ vineyard in 2012, so the name ‘I Block’ may not be the final nomenclature, as other blocks may be better in other years. As good as this wine is, Gordon, a perfectionist, is looking for even better things. I hope he releases this wine as the first expression of TerraVin’s new approach to their flagship wine. Maybe it should still be labelled ‘Hillside Reserve’, as TerraVin followers will understand the new style of a greater clarity of vineyard expression.

Gordon has sent a selection of new TerraVin wines about to be released in the near future. Do look out for my ‘Feature Reviews’ of them.

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