It was a logical decision to have all of the Villa Maria groups’ Hawke’s Bay production conducted on one site. The Vidal Estate, Esk Valley, and Te Awa wineries were all functioning well, but the Villa Maria wines had no ‘home of its own’ apart from the Auckland winery. A significant amount of vinification was also conducted in Gisborne, so it made sense to bring that to Hawke’s Bay, and base it at the Te Awa site, close to the company’s Gimblett Gravels vineyards. There have been concerns about each of these labels losing their identity, something that the Villa Maria group has worked hard at attaining over the years. The Esk Valley winery had its unique concrete fermenters, and for the more geeky, the micro-fauna and yeasts at each winery site are considered to contribute something unique to the styles of the wines.
The call for the preservation of brand style and individuality has been heard, and special concrete tanks have been imported to replicate the fermenters used at the original Esk Valley winery. This has appeased many of the concerns that Esk Valley fans have had. Probably more importantly, the fruit sources for each of the different wines, especially at the top level have been maintained. Over the years, each of the winemakers for each brand – at Villa Maria, Vidal, Esk Valley and Te Awa have had certain parcels of fruit committed to them to make their wines individual. So in a very large winery, small parcels of fruit are able to be kept separate, vinified and elevaged to suit the condition of the fruit and towards the style required by each winemaker. As a wine enthusiast, I await the new wines with great interest to see if individuality has been preserved!
On this trip to Hawke’s Bay, I felt it important to catch up with Hugh Crichton of Vidal Estate to shake his hand and congratulate him being awarded my ‘Winery of the Year’ in 2017 (click here to see my report). Although in the throes of the tail end of the vintage, Hugh made time to show my partner Sue Davies (a former Villa Maria girl) and myself around the winery. He apologised for the construction nature of the site, but we could easily see past such things and see the scope of the winery.
Hugh took us for a tasting of a few 2018 vintage samples, some from barrel and some from tank. At this young stage, it didn’t really matter what type of vessel the juice was taken from. However, what was obvious was the quality of the fruit. It was ripe and healthy, with plenty of componentry for making very smart wines. I’m not too experienced in assessing such young juice, but it was very clear this had quality. The samples tasted supported the impression of very high quality for 2018 from samples I tasted earlier at Trinity Hill and Elephant Hill (and to a degree at Red Barrel). Hugh was particularly impressed with Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. I can’t wait to try the 2018 vintage wines in due course. Here are my impressions on what we tasted.