In its fifth year, the Wairarapa Wines Harvest Festival just gets better. The organisers led by the indefatigable Liz Pollock just keep on polishing the running of this event while retaining all the features that makes it such an enjoyable wine celebration. It is no secret now that it is a return to ‘grass roots’ and is everything that wine festivals were in the beginning, before they morphed into more sophisticated affairs. The venue is ‘The Cliffs’ a beautiful riverside area at the end of Dakins Road, Gladstone, the site set among native Totaras and Kahikateas up to 1000 years old. The numbers are limited to 2000 attendees so that there is very little congestion or queuing. The emphasis on family attendance means that the atmosphere is genuinely friendly and personal. As noted, the logistics are seamless and efficient, making everything relaxing and fun. It is a community supported festival, with businesses and organisation from around the greater Wairarapa area involved in sponsorship and the management.
Forming the heart of the festival are the exhibitors and entertainment. The Wairarapa can turn it on. This year, we had great jazz from Fran Barton and the Kevin Clark Group, foot-stomping Celtic tunes from the Shenanigans Irish Band and classic rock ‘n roll from Xray Catz. The food ranged from offerings from Sushi Planet in Masterton, Cornucopia in Featherston, Café Mirabelle in Carterton, the Gladstone Vineyard Café in Gladstone, Super Coffee from the Hutt Valley and plenty more! However it is the range of greater Wairarapa wines that is what nearly all of the attendees come for. The wines are truly diverse in style and variety, and can offer superb quality that stacks up with that of any other region, as well as real value, making them worthwhile seeking out. I tasted wines from all 16 exhibitors and each had something that took my interest.
There were three wineries that I had never tasted wine from before, this year’s festival the first time they had participated. It was instructive tasting the 2010 and 2009 Pinot Noirs from Paper Road, located in Opaki, Masterton. They could be representative of what the greater picture will be. The 2010s are obviously fresher than the 2009s, but I see them as being lighter and a little crisper than the accessible 2009s. And also with the Pinot Noir wines from Blairpatrick Estate, a tiny boutique with vines overlooking the festival site. The 2009 is fruity and aromatic, while the 2008 has more depth and structure, this seeming to be the case throughout the Wairarapa. Lynfer Estate also has their 11 ha vineyard on Dakins Road in Glasdstone, and the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc and 2009 Pinot Noir showed classic varietal character and elegance. They will be worth watching too.
The festival was an ideal opportunity of seeing more from people I had become acquainted with only in recent times. Joseph Ryan, on Dakins Road seems to be making a name with white wines. This year they introduced their new, value-oriented ‘Tiffin Hill’ range, but I had the crisp 2008 Pinot Gris and 2008 Viognier as my preferred picks. Cottier Estate, also on Dakins Road had their two ranges of Pinot Noir on offer, the ‘Terra Nova’ 2009 as an introductory label and the ‘estate’ Pinot Noir 2008, more substantial, but both exhibiting the fresh, racy house style. Trialling a different approach with their Pinot Gris was Paulownia of Masterton. The drier, riper 2009 had depth, but I was taken by the 2010 Pinot Gris – seduced by sugar? – surely not me! I must admit their 2009 Noble Sauvignon was deliciously harmonious.
A number of white wines from well-respected and well-established producers showed the depth of quality of the Wairarapa region. Mebus Estate was showing their archetype 2008 Pinot Gris, and it is good to see them adding the ‘Waipipi’ range to their portfolio. Borthwick Vineyard has been bolstering their range with a good 2010 Pinot Gris, but I’m happy to say Paddy’s 2010 Chardonnay is as good as any he has made to date, and pretty smart, even after only two weeks in bottle!
The Wairarapa region is best-known for Pinot Noir, and not just from Martinborough. The following wineries had for tasting some excellent examples which would stand tall in any company. Fairmont Estate’s ‘Block One’ 2008, Johner Estate’s ‘Reserve’ 2007, Loopline Vineyard’s ‘Reserve’ 2008, and Wycroft Estate’s 2009 as a collection are absolutely first-class. They all have ripeness, richness, intensity, structure, and degrees of complexity that lift them into the top league. I’d love to put these up alongside Pinot Noirs from anywhere else in the country!
As always, each winegrowing region has a number of wineries that have reputations that make them fine ambassadors. Gladstone Vineyard’s highlights for me were the new ‘Bubbles’ NV, the beautifully pure 2010 Riesling and Pinot Noir 2009. Under Matahiwi’s banner, the Alexia Pinot Gris 2010 is a crowd pleaser and the ‘Holly’ Chardonnay 2008 is a super-star. The ‘Holly’ Pinot Noir 2009 just keeps on coming together. Urlar has the right ‘look’ and the Sauvignon Blanc 2010, 2009 Pinot Gris and 2009 Pinot Noir just carry on from their very smart earlier efforts, and that is saying plenty for the all-important factor of vintage-to-vintage consistency. And I’m amazed at what Schubert can do across the board. The beguiling ‘Marions’ Vineyard’ Pinot Noir 2008, superbly spicy Syrah 2008 and decadent ‘Dolce’ 2009 all wonderful and showing their commitment to the finest quality. It was fortuitous that our table was situated very near to the Schubert stand!