In April this year, the Gisborne Classic Chardonnay group was launched to promote the style and quality of Chardonnays that come from the Gisborne region. The group’s aims included demonstrating the unique, richer styles of the Chardonnay variety when grown in Gisborne and the wine fermented and matured in oak barrels. I tasted a selection of wines from the group in April (click here to see my notes), and they to me back to the phrase “Gisborne – The Chardonnay Capital of New Zealand” which was touted in 1981. One of the promotion events discussed then was the ‘Chardonnay Express’, a unique idea which has now turned to reality. www.gisbornechardonnay.co.nz
In October, on the Sunday of Labour Weekend, the inaugural Gisborne Classic Chardonnay Express was run. It was a train ride starting from Gisborne railway station running to Muriwai (with great views of Young Nick’s Head) and return. On the trip, passengers were served 8 Chardonnays from the Gisborne Classic Chardonnay group, matched to generous canapes prepared by the Tairawhiti EIT.
Among the other special aspects of the train ride was that it was pulled and shunted by the only surviving Wa Class steam locomotive in the world. Wa165 was built 1897 in N.Z. Rail’s Dunedin workshops, one of 11 built between 1892 and 1903, and was retired in 1957, eventually ending up at Young Nick’s Playground in Awapuni Road, Gisborne in 1968. In 1986 a group of Gisborne rail enthusiasts removed Wa165 for restoration and was finished and fired up in 1997 with its first commercial trip on Labour Weekend 2000. On the train’s route it passes many historical Gisborne sites, and uniquely, in the southern Hemisphere, crosses the runway of Gisborne Airport, as well as the restored and raised Waipaoa Bridge. Also fully and beautifully restored are the carriages that passengers are taken in.
The inaugural Gisborne Classic Chardonnay Express journey was a joint venture of the Gisborne Classic Chardonnay group of wineries, with Gisborne tourism promoter ‘Experience Gisborne’, and Air New Zealand, who offered a wonderful value ‘Grab-a-Seat’ deal to Auckland and Wellington travellers. This offer to travel to Gisborne, visit the sites, and board the Chardonnay Express will be repeated soon. See more by clicking here.
Gisborne Wine Snapshot
A group of wine media and trade were invited to visit some of the Gisborne wineries over Labour Weekend, which coincided with the First Light Wine & Food event, held on the Sunday. While I could not participate in the Saturday activities, I was able to be involved on the Sunday, which included the ‘Chardonnay Express’. I offer my impressions (rather than full tasting notes) on the wines that crossed my path.
The Chardonnay Express Wines
On arrival at the station was the Spade Oak Methode Traditionnelle Blanc de Blancs 2014. This was a classical Blanc de Blances with its white stonefruit and floral characters, just beginning to soften up, but showing excellent autolysis. The first of four Chardonnays on the outward bound trip was the Waimata Vineyards ‘Cognoscenti’ Chardonnay 2016, served with Ovation lamb cutlet with herbed butter. The wine was showing ripe tropical fruits and oak richness, with clear barrel-ferment creaminess, some buttery MLF with good power, balanced by fresh acidity. Next came the Matawhero ‘Irwin’ Chardonnay 2016, served with pulled pork and Leaderbrand slaw in a soft taco. This was a wine of harmony and integration, but lovely richness and layers of flavour along with considerable power. Third on the train was the Bushmere ‘Classic’ Chardonnay 2015 served with arancini with Waimata camembert and watercress pesto. The wine had soft, ripe tropical fruit and creamy barrel-ferment notes with underlying fresh acidity and line, revealing nutty oak. Last on the outward journey was the Stonebridge ‘Barrel Fermented’ Chardonnay 2015 served with smoked salmon blini with crème fraiche and East Coast hemp oil. The wine made from 548 clone. This had a range of flavours from stonefruits, tropical fruit, mealy notes and nutty complexities.
Arriving at Muriwai, the passengers embarked to the up-beat sounds of a swing band and platters of Waimata cheese with toasted sourdough and focaccia with dukkah and olive oil, plus balsamic reduction. We had the chance to try more wines, not necessarily Chardonnay, but all from Gisborne. I tasted the crisp Natural Wine Co. ‘Organic’ Chardonnay 2016, a mouthfilling Spade Oak ‘Vigneron’ Viognier 2014, the delicate Matawhero Pinot Rosé 2017, a peppery Cognescenti Syrah 2015, a zippy TW Merlot Rosé 2017, and savoury Stonebridge ‘North Slope’ Merlot/Malbec 2015. These were followed by the restrained and taut Le Pont Chardonnay 2015, which we’d try later on the train. Then the TW Chardonnay/Viognier 2013 with Chardonnay nose and Viognier on the palate. Last was the savoury-confectionary Bushmere Rosé 2016.
Steve Voysey – Spade Oak and Sue Davies – Wine2Trade
Back on the train for the return run, and straight into a Le Pont Chardonnay 2015 served with chicken kofta with yoghurt lemon and kawakawa dust. The wine was tightly bound and firm with nutty white burgundy notes and fresh acidity. Then the Spade Oak ‘Vigneron’ Chardonnay 2015, served with Manurau pheasant liver paté on wholemeal croute. The wine was very elegant in expression with complex savoury fruit and balanced barrel-ferment, oak and MLF notes. A refined style. Third was the Wrights ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay 2015 served with Uawa polenta with roasted kumara and green peppercorn sheet feta. The wine is more ‘contemporary with its intense gunflint and minerally flavours, along with a taut, ageworthy palate. Last was the TW ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay 2014 served with Meyer lemon and white chocolate truffles rolled in Torere macadamias. The wine has complex citrus and nutty flavours showing a firmly concentrated palate with fresh acidity. Then we arrived back at the Gisborne Railway Station. What a fun, entertaining, educational and well-presented wine and regional-focussed trip this was!
The wine professionals were then whisked away for winery visits. This coincided with the wine and food festival, so we went to the venues for the festival. At the Gisborne Yacht Club, we could taste wines under four labels.
The Hihi wines are on the more elegant side, quite refreshing with subtle expression. I tasted the ‘Bubbles & Squeak’ Brut Cuvee NV, Pinot Gris2017, Viognier 2016, Albarino 2015 and Merlot/Malbec 2015/2013. My pick was the Gewurztraminer 2014 with its fine rose-petal and root-ginger aromas and flavours and fine-textured line.
A treat was the Petal Merlot Rosé 2016, from growers Hamish and Leslynne Jackson on Brunton Road. A lovely and pretty wine, remarkably fresh too. Made by Steve Voysey.
The only Cognescenti wine I tried was the Syrah 2015. A typical blend of dark raspberries, with black pepper and earth. Serious enough too, and will keep. Syrah seems to be good in Gisborne from what I’ve tried to date.
There was a strong line-up from Gisborne Garagiste. Trying the Sauvignon Gris 2016, Gewurztraminer 2014, Chardonnay 2014, Viognier 2013, St Laurent 2016, and Syrah 2014, my pick was the Cabernet/Merlot/Malbec 2013, the Cabernet from the ‘Redstone’ vineyard in Hawke’s Bay, the wine youthfully primary with ripe black fruits and some spicy oak. Cellaring wine here.
Geordie Witters and Anita Ewart-Croy -TW Wines
Then off to the TW ‘Golden Slope’ site where festival patrons packed out the venue. Here I tried the ‘Lily’ Rosé 2017, ‘Estate’ Chardonnay 2015, Pinot Gris 2014, ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay 2014, Verdelho 2013, Carmenere 2016, Merlot 2015 and Malbec 2011. My most preferred wine was the ‘Makauri’ 2014, a blend of Merlot and Malbec, quite developed with savoury spices, liquorice and fruit-cake with a firm, robust palate. Quite rustic, but to me, it was Bordeaux on steroids! Paul Tietjen and Geordie Witters have Anita Ewart-Croy making the wines.
Next on the whistle-stop tour was Bushmere Estate at their modern cellar Door. Shona Egan (husband David was away) took us with excellent vineyard detail through the Rosé 2017, Pinot Gris 2016, Gewurztraminer 2015, ‘Classic’ Chardonnay 2015, Merlot/Malbec 2015, Montepulciano 2015 and ‘The Italians’ 2014. My top wine was the ‘Classic’ Chardonnay 2016, with its fine, tight citrussy and stonefruit style, liveliness and energy. The wines are made by Amelia Riwai at Alpha Domus in Hawke’s Bay!
Our final stop was at Spade Oak. Steve and Eileen Voysey showed the ‘Voysey’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 and Gisborne Pinot Gris 2017, both successes for the vintage. The highlight was The Prospect Ormond Chardonnay 2016, still youthfully bound and a little shy, but unveiling refined stonefruit and citrus fruit, with very elegant barrel work, and subtle MLF nuances. “Sleek and creamy” say my notes. Not yet released, but one to anticipate.
Then off we rushed to the airport, concluding an excellent, fun-filled day in the lovely city of Gisborne.
Eileen Voysey -Spade Oak