General Blog

Two Days in Central Otago with COPNL

By November 23, 2017No Comments
As a prelude to the Central Otago Spring Release Tasting on Friday 24 November (click here to see my report), Central Otago Pinot Noir Ltd organised visits to a number of wine producers over the two days beforehand. Each of the invited guests had their own personalised itinerary, to ensure a closer interaction than would be had in a larger group. I was accompanied by my partner Sue Davies. The visits were relatively brief, so as to not tax the endurance of the visitors, nor take up an inordinately excessive amount of the hosts’ time. It was judged well, and the impressions gained at each visit gave added insights to each of the producers. I give an overview of each visit.
Phil Handford and Mike Moffitt – Grasshopper Rock

Grasshopper Rock

It’s quite a drive from Queenstown airport to Earnscleugh in Alexandra to visit Grasshopper Rock. But worth it, as Grasshopper Rock is a significant producer, the most successful of the Alexandra winegrowers in wine shows with an illustrious track record from the inaugural 2006 vintage. The vineyard is 7.8 ha, planted only to Pinot Noir, but in six clones, these being 115, 667, 777, Abel, 5 and 114, on rootstock matched to the varying soil types found within the contiguous block. Mike Moffitt tends to the viticulture and Pete Bartle of VinPro makes the wine. Phil Handford who heads the syndicate of owners and Mike Moffitt took us through a vertical tasting of all the wines bottled to date. Some samples were from bottles extracted by Coravin. Here are my impressions. Due to the quick tasting, I haven’t added these notes or scores to my database. www.grasshopperrock.co.nz

2006: Faded orange-red with brick hues. The nose is fulsome, solid and dense with savoury red-brown fruit, dried herbs and earth. Quite secondary and tertiary, with dried herbs, earth, undergrowth and mushrooms. Soft textures and soft acidity, a touch drying on finish. 18.0-/20
2007: Dark, deep, garnet-red and brown, bricky hues. Full, up-front and bold, with real density and solid depth. Complex and savoury secondary aromas. A big wine, rich and deeply fruited, quite solid but rounded mouthfeel now. Still with good tannins and structure. 18.5/20
2008: Lighter garnet-red with some depth. Lovely full and voluminous ethereal fruit with freshness of red cherry and berry fruits with marked florals. An elegantly proportioned wine, fine-featured and tight, with bright, vibrant fruitiness, with soft red berryfruit. Still to show secondary savouriness, fine textures and acidity. Remarkably fresh. 19.0-/20
2009: Garnet-hued with some bricking, with good depth. This is solid and fulsome on bouquet, quite densely packed with savoury game secondary complexities, nearly funky, with tertiary earthiness. Very fulsome on palate with depth and density, but also fruit sweetness, Red fruits, game, earth and undergrowth all show, with fine-grained tannins the build. Rounded and lush still and with acidity giving freshness. 18.5+/20
2010: Dark, deep, ruby-red with garnet hues and bricking. The bouquet is packed with full, deep, black berry and cherry fruits. This has great presence and layers of complex savoury herb and earthy aromas. Full, deep and densely packed on palate with black and red fruits, savoury game, dark herbs and earth, the wine is still lively and fresh. This has plenty of structure. Lovely complexity and great length. 19.5/20
2011: Moderately deep with garnet hues and a touch of bricking. The bouquet is solid and densely packed, with fragrant red fruits and savoury game, earth, dried herbs, all well-concentrated and complex. A little shy on palate, but showing good sweetness and underlying depth. Remarkably tight still. Secondary game and savouriness is the feature. 18.5-/20
2012: Lighter ruby-red with some depth. This is quite elegant and fine in presentation, still tightly bound, but with finesse, showing same savouriness to the red fruits. On palate and elegant, somewhat slender, but with lovely fruitiness and freshness, with good acidity. A pretty wine in all respects, and attractive for it. 18.0+/20
2013: Light ruby-red colour, with faded rose colour on edge. The nose is fresh with red fruits and fragrant florals, that show with concentration and intensity. Well-proportioned on palate, with more concentration and firmness than the 2012, this has fine tannin and structure and balanced acidity. A real Pinot Noir and very expressive as such. A soft ripeness present. 18.5/20
2014: Dark ruby-red with good depth and slight purple hues. This has an elegant, fine, but firm nose with a taut core of red fruits and fragrant florals, all harmoniously balanced and together. This is sweetly rich and luscious with ripe fruits, enlivened by fresh and lacy acidity, underlined by refined, powdery tannins. Lovely vitality is the hallmark. 19.0-/20
‘Block 6’ 2014: All 667 clone fruit. Dark, deep ruby-red with hints of garnet on the rim. The nose is full, deep and bold with substantial bright dark-red fruits, showing black fruit notes and minerals. Fulsome and solid on the palate, but integrated and plush in the mouth, there is still plenty of fine grip and structure. A bit of grunt too. Ripe dark-red fruits, a little black fruit and liquorice. The wine is a ‘statement’ for Grasshopper Rock. 19.0+/20
2015: Moderately deep ruby-red colour. The nose has intensity and good depth of ripe dark-red berry fruit with subtle herbs, along with freshness, perfumes and vitality. Rich and sweetly luscious fruit, with good, fine structure, somewhat carrying the bright red fruits. Some hints of game add interest, and this unfolds violet and liquorice notes. 19.0-/20
2016: Light ruby-red colour with some youthful purple hues. This is elegant and taut on nose with intense dark-red berry fruits. Rich and concentrated on palate, this has dark-red berry and plum flavours, but all in balance with fine tannin extraction and a line of acidity. Youthful raspberry notes emerge, the brightness and vibrancy resulting in deliciousness. 19.0-/20
Paul Pujol in the Rocky Point Vineyard – Prophet’s Rock

Prophet’s Rock

I’d visited Prophet’s Rock before, in early days, soon after it was founded in 1999. The ‘Home’ vineyard was spectacularly sited in the northern Bendigo region, with fabulous views, especially to the north, but also all around overlooking the Cromwell Basin and with the Pisa Ranges as a backdrop. It is said the anywhere vines are planted, it is going to be a beautiful place. It’s certainly a truism with Prophet’s Rock. www.prophetsrock.co.nz

On this trip, winemaker and general manager Paul Pujol took us to view the ‘Rocky Point’ vineyard, which became part of Prophet’s Rock when its owning syndicate purchased the Prophet’s Rock business in 2013. This is a substantial vineyard with 17 ha, planted in 2005 to 12 ha of Pinot Noir, 4 ha of Pinot Gris and 1 ha of Riesling on schist soils with a steep aspect. The fruit goes towards the ‘Rocky Point’ wines. It is in the southern Bendigo region, next to Misha’s Vineyard’s blocks, overlooking Lake Dunstan with Pisa in the background. It has great views.
Later, we went to the ‘Home’ vineyard, established on the elevated clay and chalk soils of Chinaman’s Terrace. This has 7 ha of Pinot Noir and 0.5 ha of Pinot Gris. The site rises from 320 metres to over 380 meters. The alkaline chalk was one of the main reasons why it was chosen to plant Pinot Noir.
Paul Pujol clearly enjoys the differentiation of the two sites which has enabled the consolidation of the two styles of wines he makes, the ‘Home’ site giving more ageworthy and nuanced wines, and the ‘Rocky Point’ vineyard more conducive to fruit expression and accessibility, from what I can see to date. Paul adds that the ‘Rocky Point’ wines still appear to have the ability to keep well, and that the ‘Home’ vineyard wines ‘require’ some time in bottle to show their potential.
Domenic Mondillo – Mondillo Vineyards

Mondillo Vineyards

Dom and Ally Mondillo have some of the most immaculately tended vines in Bendigo. On arrival, the row ends have bright and striking red roses planted. Though Dom and Ally live in Queenstown, they also spend plenty of time on site in a very smart apartment above the tasting room there. Like the vineyard, the tasting room is stylish and welcoming. You know you are at a pretty serious place, and straight away, you know the wines are going to be high quality. I was struck by the large format bottles on display; the Riesling 1.5 Magnums were particularly elegant, so Sue (who distributes Mondillo Vineyards) and I ‘needed’ to have a couple of bottles in our cellar! Visits are by appointment. www.mondillo.com

Dom and Ally took us through a tasting of the new wines coming on stream, as well as a trio of barrel samples of Pinot Noir 2017. Here are my brief notes with tentative scores. I have already reviewed the Rosé 2017, and I’ll be reviewing the other wines properly in due course:
Riesling 2017: 12.8% alc. and 6 g/L RS. Very pale straw, near colourless. Very elegant on the nose with finesse and delicacy, showing limes and florals. Gorgeous purity, but with detailed nuances. Dry to taste, the lime fruit and white florals are beautiful. A touch of the exotics too. Taut and tightly bound, but with fruit richness. This is smooth and seamless flowing with poised acidity. Very long and lingering. 19.0-/20
Rose 2017: 48 hours skin contact. Bright pale-pink colour with some depth. This has lovely fragrance showing strawberries and cream and raspberries and cream, with watermelon and lifted florals. Bright, juicy and succulent, dry and thirst-quenching, the bright acidity enhancing the fruit vibrancy. Raspberries, cherries and red floral lift. This is fragrance at its best. 18.5/20
Pinot Noir 2016: 14.0% alc. Dark, deep ruby-red and youthful in appearance. This has a soft density with intense, ripe aromas of dark-red and black berried fruits, with complexing herb detail and hints of liquorice. Not over-ripe at all. Medium-full bodied, the palate has dark-red and black fruits with spice and liquorice interest. Luscious and with a solid core, the fine-grained tannins giving great structure. Fine acid cut lends balance and the wine has spice interest on the finish. 19.0/20
‘Bella Reserve’ Pinot Noir 2015: Deepish ruby-red with a strong heart. The nose is full, rich and solid in presentation, packed with ripe dark-red and black fruits, along with spice and liquorice elements. Rich and lusciously fruited with dark-red and black berried fruits. Lots of detail with spices, plums and liquorice. Very Bendigo in expression. Excellent structure and very fine acidity, the oak shows a little, adding a degree of decadence. Through and through richness carries to a long finish. This is a special bottling. 19.5/20
Pinot Noir, clone 5 2017 Barrel Sample: From a third fill barrel. Deep ruby-red colour. This has a firm nose of dark-red berry fruit along with thyme herb notes. This is fresh, bright and full of vitality, with fresh acidity. Tight and firm on palate, showing wild red berry fruits, a little herbal, but sweet. Fine tannin grip, the acid in balance here.
Pinot Noir, clone 777 2017 Barrel Sample: From a second fill barrel. Dark purple-red colour, youthful. On nose, this is a wine of finesse and elegance, and lovely harmony. More dark-red berry fruits and subtle herbal nuances. Lively floral aromatics. Very refined, sweet and lush with layers of rich fruit flavours, with good ripeness, Fine, supple tannin extraction. The balance is the feature.
Pinot Noir, clone 115 2017 Barrel Sample: From a third fill barrel. Deep ruby-red colour. This has a beautifully fragrant nose of red berry fruits and florals with notes of liquorice and fennel. The palate has lovely vibrancy and vitality, very fresh and bright with dark-red and black berried fruits and florals, and subtle herbs underlying. The palate has very fine powdery tannin extraction with fine acid cut.
37 y.o. Gewurztraminer vines, transplanted to Bendigo in 2002
Following the tasting, we headed out into the vineyard. The property is 22 ha in size, with 12 ha planted, 10 ha to Pinot Noir and 2 ha to Riesling. It covers three north-facing terraces, the soil being sandy, silty loam over alluviale gravels. On the top terrace is one row of Gewurztraminer vines, established in Gibbston by Alan Brady, and transplanted to the Mondillo site in 2002. The fruit going into the Riesling, which explains to a degree the exotic nature of the Riesling wines. The view from the top terrace is panoramic and awesome.
Matt Dicey – Mt Difficulty

Mt Difficulty

Mt Difficulty occupies a most significant place in Central Otago winegrowing. Not only is it one of the larger operations, but it is strategically placed on Felton Road in Bannockburn, with an excellent cellar door, and excellent restaurant. And to cap it off, the Mt Difficulty portfolio is broad and deep, offering great value, but also some of the best wines in the region. Mt Difficulty is about to be bought by Foley Family Wines (FFW), the transaction still going through due process. This will give FFW a Central Otago presence that will give the portfolio a wonderful spread. I believe that it will very much be business as usual with Matt Dicey and his staff continuing to operate it. I’ve a lot of respect for FFW, and how they’ve grown the other New Zealand estates it owns. Not that Mt Difficulty really needs it, but there will be further growth and indeed fine-tuning. www.mtdifficulty.co.nz

Sue and I had a lovely platter luncheon with Matt Dicey at the Mt Difficulty restaurant. The view from the restaurant over the Cromwell Basin is simply drop-dead gorgeous and enhances the visit and the food! Matt presented several wines to accompany the food platter. I couldn’t help it, but made some notes. They were made casually, so they are not added to my database:
Roaring Meg Pinot Noir Rosé 2017: Light peach-pink colour. The nose is fresh with lifted red florals along with strawberries and cream and some confectionary notes. On palate dry to taste and quite up-front with red berry fruits, some food-friendly savouriness, quite mouthwatering, a tad light on the finish. Does the job very well. 17.0+/20
Mt Difficulty ‘Growers Series’ ‘Station Block’ Gewurztraminer 2015: From Pisa, 14.0% alc. and 19 g/L RS Very pale coloured. This is quite tightly bound showing florals, spices and minerals rather than overt opulent fruitiness. Medium-dry to taste, this is taut and refined with floral lift. This shows lovely intensity and linearity. It fulfils a classic Central Otago style expectation with its clarity and cut. 18.0/20
Mt Difficulty ‘Growers Series’ ‘Lowburn Valley’ Chardonnay 2016: Light straw colour. Distinctive citrus fruit with creamy barrel-ferment band buttery MLF to match. Rich, but quite elegant in proportion with intense citrussy fruit and stonefruits, along with creamy barrel-ferment and unctuous MLF notes with the oaking sophisticated and detailed. Lovely integration, but with fine acid cut. 18.5/20
Mt Difficulty ‘Growers Series’ ‘Chinamans Terrace’ Pinot Noir 2015: Bendigo fruit, 30% whole bunch. Deepish ruby-red with good depth. This has a full, firm nose with black fruits, liquorice and whole bunch nuances. There is savoury Bendigo terroir here. Rich-fruited on palate with high acid tension. Tightly bound black and red fruits with whole bunch stalk complexities along with liquorice and black minerals. The tannins fine-grained but firm, bestowing linearity. 18.5+/20
Mt Difficulty ‘Long Gully’ Late Harvest Riesling 2013: 10.5% alc. and 90 g/L RS. Pale straw-yellow colour. Elegant and tightly bound on the nose with fresh lime and floral fruit, along with honeysuckle, unfolding toasty secondary development nuances. Medium-sweet to sweet in taste and lighter bodied, the fruitiness is soft and elegant with honey and toast interest to the lime fruit. Lovely acid cut, and a little taut and drier on the finish. 18.5-/20
Matt Dicey – with ‘bronze’ egg fermenter
Matt then took us to the winery, where we saw some tank samples. Matt also showed us a concrete egg fermenter – bronze colour ordered, but turning up more orange in colour. He is aware of the properties that these eggs confer upon the resultant wines and is keen to incorporate the wine vinified in them in up-coming releases. We tried a ‘Ghost Town’ (Bendigo) Pinot Noir 2016, with dark purple colour, black fruits, liquorice and mineral aromas and a firm, well-structured palate with savoury black-berried fruitiness, this a serious wine indeed. Then a ‘Ghost Town’ Syrah 2016, also dark coloured, black-hued, along with black florals and black berried fruits, along with noticeable whole bunch (30%). Plenty of ripeness on the palate, such that it could be North Island! Lifted florals, firm tannins and bright acidity complete the picture. The egged Chardonnay was from Wanaka fruit, from the 2017 vintage, the wine destined in all probability to the Roaring Meg label. Clone 6 and Mendoza. A little cloudy, and quite firm in intensity, quite savoury, leesy, and yeasty, with mineral notes on the nose. Elegant stonefruits with some textural grip, a touch of fresh steeliness, fading on the finish. This has very interesting blending potential.
Steve Davies – Doctors Flat

Doctors Flat

Since going out on his own, Steve Davies has continued to raise his profile as a serious and thoughtful winemaker that produces some of the region’s most interesting and high quality Pinot Noirs. Talk to Steve, and it’s the vineyard first. His Doctors Flat vineyard is on Hall Road, Bannockburn, and measures 3 ha, planted in 2002 in five blocks to clones 114, 115 and 777. It’s on particularly old soils which lend considerable finesse and amplitude to the tannin profile of his wines. Soil health, and flora and fauna diversity are also crucial to the quality of the wines. And of course, Steve is continuing to fine-tune his winemaking to the fruit and the site, his latest actions aimed at a greater degree of elegance and finesse in the wines. www.doctorsflat.co.nz

After a walk in the vineyard, Steve showed us a selection of 2017 Pinot Noir barrel samples. He was very keen to hear our thoughts on his trials on the number of punch downs of the expression of the wines, Steve wanting to reduce these to attain greater elegance. Here are my thoughts on what was shown. I may have missed relevant detail here, but hopefully, Steve found our on-the-spot feedback useful. On overall impression was the dark colour and no lack of ripeness:
Pinot Noir 2017, 60% clone 777 and 40% clone 114 in 3-4 y.o. oak, 4 punch downs: Very dark, black-hued purple-red colour. Very tight and densely packed on nose, real concentration the 30% whole bunch showing stalk perfumes to the vibrant dark-red and black fruits. Very tightly bound black fruits with herb and stalk notes, fine-grained tannins, and slippery mouthfeel.
Pinot Noir 2017, 60% clone 777 and 40% 114, in 3-4 y.o. oak, 12 punch downs: Very dark, black-purple hued red. This has a refined, tightly bound fragrant nose with attractive violet and red florals, very elegant. A more slender wine on palate, vibrant fruits, bright outlook and also slippery mouthfeel with zesty acidity.
Pinot Noir 2017 clone 115 in 3-4 y.o. oak, with 15% whole bunch and 12 punch downs: Dark, deep, purple-ruby colour. An amalgam of dark-red and violet florals with black plum fruit, quite a savoury overlay. The palate is similar with savoury black fruits and dark herbs, the tannin extraction in good balance, tending a little firm and with growing grip.
Pinot Noir 2017 Lot 2 in a new Cadus barrel: Very dark purple-hued ruby-red colour. Lovely aromatic intensity with dark-red and black plums along with violet florals, lifted by the oak. This has considerable structure allied to sweet and aromatic fruit. The tannins are very fine-grained.
Pinot Noir 2017 Lot 2 in a new barrel, 10-12 punch downs: Very dark, black-purple hued ruby-red. This has an amalgam of savoury dark-red and black fruits with violet florals, and some oak lift. Savoury black fruits, a touch resinous, with violet florals, some oak. Very firm tannin extraction. One of the lesser samples for Steve.
Pinot Noir 2017, Lot 2, #7: Black-hued purple-red colour. The nose and palate have a mix of savoury black berried fruits with dark herbs, some stalky whole bunch elements, unfolding liquorice and spices. Oaking quite balanced and harmonious. A lot of good in this.
Pinot Noir 2017 Lot 1, in a new barrel: Black-red colour with deep purple hues. Real depth and density on the nose. Quite solid in presentation on palate, a robustness without any coarseness, with ripe black fruits and dark herbs. More classical fruitiness without any funky diversions.
Following the barrel tasting, Steve showed a trio of finished wines, demonstrating recent vintages. My notes follow. Again, due to the more casual approach, I have not added these notes to my on-line database:
Doctors Flat Pinot Noir 2015: Not yet released, 30% whole bunch, 25-27 days on skins, 12 punch downs, 25% new oak. Moderately deep ruby-red with a garnet hint. A little shy on nose initially, with black and dark-red berried fruits at the heart, unfolding violet florals and a little oak. Rich and luscious on palate with fresh underlying acidity, showing ripe black fruits, and up-front tannin grip, still to settle, a tad ungainly. The sweet fruit prevails, and the wine is long and persistent. This should come together very well with a little more time. 18.5+/20, maybe 19.0-/20
Doctors Flat Pinot Noir 2014: Dark ruby-red colour. This is elegant in expression with very good intensity. The dark-red berry fruit unveils savoury dried herb complexities. The palate is rich and vibrant. Some dried herb and whole bunch stalk complexity adds detail to the dark-red berry fruits. The tannins are fine-grained and the acidity enlivens the mouthfeel. This has an attractively sweet-fruited finish. 18.5/20
Doctors Flat Pinot Noir 2013: Dark, deep ruby-red colour. This has a full, voluminous bouquet with excellent depth of dark-red and black berried fruits and fragrant bred and violet floral edge, and a touch of herbs. Beautifully rich and sweet-fruited, this has real power and drive, the extraction very fine-grained. The acidity is soft and integrating. This shows lovely ripeness and style. Plenty of seriousness here. 19.0/20

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