I’ve attended the Wairarapa Wines Harvest Festival four years in a row, this being the seventh time it has run, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it. The concept of a back to basics, grass-roots wine festival is bound to be a success, especially with a number of other events being so much more sophisticated, involved and expensive. For a start, there are only 2,000 tickets sold, so it doesn’t get too crowded. The venue, ‘The Cliffs Riverside Reserve’ at the end of Dakins Road, near Gladstone, is adjacent to vineyards that many of the wines offered come from, and is idyllic. With less than a dozen and a half wineries showing their wines, you can get around them all. While the wines arguably range in quality, more so than in other more illustrious wine festivals, the diversity is extremely pleasing and inviting, and the cost is considerably lower. Hearty country food, and good old-fashioned foot-stomping, danceable music completes the scene for what really is a great family day out in the country. This year, the festival came at the end of a glorious summer, and with warm days still around, the mood of the exhibitors and attendees was extremely positive and relaxed. The feeling was that this was the best Wairarapa Wines Harvest Festival held yet. www.wairarapawines.co.nz
This Year’s Tasting Approach
I took a different approach at this year’s festival, and instead of trying to taste every wine on offer from all of the exhibitors, I decided to taste only one wine from each stall. I asked the stallholder to select a wine for me to taste and enjoy. This way, I had a closer look at less wines, and was able to enjoy a little more conversation with the owner or winemaker, as well as some of the staff. Interestingly, the majority of the wines I tasted were whites, from a region that is strong on Pinot Noir! Maybe it was the warm weather that prompted their choices? I took a photo (or two) at each winery’s stall as well, and my comments following for each of the wineries includes one of the photos as well as describing the wine tasted.
Christine Kernohan – Gladstone Vineyard
Gladstone Vineyard ‘Reserve – Sophies’ Choice’ Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2011
Christine Kernohan has worked hard at getting the balance of oaking right in this wine, and in 2011, it’s spot-on. Wine show success has recognised it with gold. The fruit is the prominent feature on nose and on palate. Clean and clear, intense nectarine and greengage aromas and flavours are complexed by oak nuttiness and spice notes. Over the last few months this has settled down and now is more integrated than ever. A real line and core operates here, nearly soft and unctuous in mouthfeel, but lifted and cut by crisp acidity. This is a classy oak-influenced Sauvignon Blanc that fits in with some of the best in the country. What else would you expect from the greater Wairarapa’s senior statesman producer?
The Wycroft Men
Nicholas Bryant, Derek Hammond-Giles and Lawrie Bryant
Wycroft ‘Forbury’ Wairarapa Pinot Noir 2008
The 2008 ‘Forbury’ was introduced by Lawrie and son Nicholas Bryant to allow Wycroft to be competitive at the time of the GFC. This was a more accessible label and more affordable, thus it would have enabled greater cash-flow. The wine might not last as long as the more serious ‘Estate’ label. They needn’t have worried; it’s still going well. Pale garnet coloured, this is light and ethereal on bouquet with mushroom complexities and savoury red fruits. On palate, lovely sweet fruits, fine and silky, and hints of cedar. A delicate and beautiful wine. From the tiniest of sites outside Masterton. Sometimes small truly is beautiful.
Jane Cooper and Alastair Scott – Matahiwi
Matahiwi ‘Holly’ Wairarapa Chardonnay 2011
Made by Jane Cooper, this has always been one of the Greater Wairarapa’s top Chardonnay expressions. The rich fruit and stylish barrel-ferment creaminess is its feature. The 2011 release reflects the vintage, and is indeed a smaller scale wine than some of the earlier vintages, but it is all there. Pale and youthful, this is a little tight and shy on nose, but all the citrus fruits and barrel notes emerge in the glass. Classy, slender and refined in proportion, the palate is fresh, lively and has a combination of minerals, flint and citrus fruits along with nutty oak. The acidity provides the drive. I was reminded of a Fevre Chablis 1er Cru.
Nick, Jenny and Ian McGovern – Loopline Vineyard
Loopline Wairarapa Pinot Gris 2011
Ian and Jenny McGovern planted grapes in Opaki in 1995, and the fruit was purchased by Loopline Winery from, 1999. In 2002, the McGoverns bought the winery, and from 2002 started selling their wine in their own right under the Loopline label. It’s a bit like the Remington shaver story.The wine is like a fresh start too, pale straw in colour, with fresh, clean Nashi pear and white stonefruit aromas and flavours. I like the way some honeysuckle flavours appear and grow. It’s very fine-grained, softly crisp and refreshing, and delightfully youthful.
David and Coleen Boyd – Lynfer Estate
Lynfer Estate Wairarapa Pinot Gris 2012
As grapegrowers for Gladstone Vineyard, David and Coleen Boyd wanted wine of their own. Though professionals in their own careers, the wine industry has entranced them to set up Lyfer Estate, named after their two daughters Lyndsay and Jennifer. This is the first Pinot Gris under their own label, made at Gladstone Vineyard. The vines were planted in 2008. Pale in colour, this is soft and gentle, mellow and delicate. Textbook pear and honeysuckle flavours are expressed with purity. If this is the produce of young vines, then this is a label with some potential.
Toby James and Raymond Thompson – Tirohana Estate
Tirohana ’13 Rows’ Martinborough Chardonnay 2011
It’s great to see a number of Martinborough wineries at the festival. Tirohana is the former Voss Estate vineyard, purchased by Raymond and Linda Thompson, who employ Gary Voss to make the wine. The Thompson’s son-in-law Toby James tends the vineyard, and there’s a restaurant and accommodation on-site. This Chardonnay is made from Mendoza clone fruit from vines planted in 1990, and the oaking is minimal. Bright straw colour, this is pure with fruit-driven aromas and flavours and white stonefruits in classic Chablisienne style. Crisp and clean. Can you guess how many rows of vines the fruit for this wine comes from?
Jude and Peter Hudson – Hudson Vineyard
Hudson ‘Wharekaka’ Martinborough Dry Riesling 2009
Situated south of the Martinborough village and being a slightly cooler site has its advantages in producing fine aromatic whites at Hudson Vineyard. Peter and Jude Hudson have had a string of competition successes for their Rieslings. This wine shows the benefit of a little bottle-age with the degree of complexity in its bearing. Still slightly green in appearance, the intensity of fine citrus toast and honey aromas and flavours is its feature. Dry to taste, yet possessing a succulence of fruit, this has no sense of austerity which puts people off truly dry Rieslings, but rather, a soft richness allied to cleanliness and purity. It’s drinking well now and will continue to do so for a few years yet.
Bright and bubbly
Marion Deimling – Schubert Wines
Schubert ‘Tribianco’ Wairarapa 2012
Intensive global marketing takes Kai Schubert on never-ending trips around the world, but the importance of the domestic scene is not lost on him, and pouring and talking about the Schubert wines with partner Marion Deimling and friends Stephen and Lois Peters was the focus of attending the festival this year. The ‘Tribianco’ is a unique blend of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Muller-Thurgau in approx. equal portions, fermented dry and aged on lees, very much as a Chardonnay is handled. Pale and bright, it combines the attractive lifted florals and aromatics with creamy, spicy and nutty barrel-fermentation characters. Spiced pears, unctuous textures, matched by balancing acidity make this a wine with surprising body and ability to work with all sorts of food.
Jon McNab – Fairmont Estate
Fairmont Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012
One of the quiet achievers of the Wairarapa, Jon McNab’s profile is set to grow with the purchase of the 20 ha Mebus property in November last year, this adding Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Merlot to the 12 ha of established vines in the home vineyard. A new label is envisaged, but what form it will take is still on the drawing board. Though Pinot Noir is Jon’s forte, the whole range of Fairmont is smart. This Sauvignon Blanc looks green and lively, smells of fresh gooseberries, and has the vibrancy and succulence of tropical fruits, capsicums and limes that any self-respecting Marlborough version should have, only with a degree of restraint.
Sandra Leube-Sewell and Stephen Bates
Johner Estate Wairarapa Chardonnay Methode Traditionnelle 2009
It isn’t far for Johner Estate to travel to the festival venue, being less than a kilometre further on Dakins Road. Though Karl Johner wasn’t present as far as I could tell, his team with Stephen Bates, Sandra Leube-Sewell and Karen Fairweather were on hand to run the show with a selection from their burgeoning range. I’ve been truly impressed with this sparkler, with its balance and beauty of bready autolysis and floral and citrusy fruit. This is classical Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc finesse with very fine bubble and mouthfeel and a long yeasty finish. The wine is now on its second release, having spent a significant 40 months on lees.
Davina and Angus Thomson – Urlar
Urlar Gladstone Noble Riesling 2012
If vibes are anything to go by, then Urlar is in a really good space. Angus and Davina Thomson have worked hard to get established, and their vision embracing organic and biodynamic principles has no doubt helped them gain friends and credibility world-wide. Winemaker Guy McMaster is integral with the dream and fully-immersed in the philosophies, and together, some of the Wairarapa’s best wines are the result. The Noble Riesling’s light golden colour leads you to an array of responsibly decadent aromas and flavours of lime-like fruit, honeyed richness and botrytis talc-like complexities. It just fully satisfies the need for sweetness, without going overboard in excess.
Cottier Estate – Peter and Joe Cottier
Cottier ‘Emily’ Gladstone Wairarapa Chardonnay 2011
Cottier Estate’s vines overlook the festival site, and add to the faith in the Dakins Road area as being a particularly suitable area for quality grapes and excellent wine. Peter and Yvonne Cottier have their son Joe show a growing interest in the vineyard as well as the making and selling of the wine, so succession may be well in hand here! I felt the 2010 version of this Chardonnay was somewhat over-oaked, and very pleased to see the 2011 release pull back on the barrel work. There’s plenty of spice, nut and toasty influence, but the integration is superior, and the lush citrusy fruit has an equal say now.
Anna and Sue Darling – Julicher
Julicher Martinborough Pinot Gris 2010
One of the popular Martinborough additions to the festival’s exhibitor list is Julicher, from Te Muna Road. Wim Julicher and Sue Darling ware highly respected for their hard work which has resulted in one of the best cared for vineyards in the district. Winemaker Outi Jakovirta interprets the fruit classically, and the Pinot Noirs highly regarded, having won their share of golds and trophies. The Pinot Gris is far closer to the Italian Pinot Grigio style at its best, with clean and subtly rich pear and minerally fruit and a suggestion of sweetness, with excellent linearity, rather than the weighty and broader Alsace styles. This 2010 is still very tight and youthful, not really developed at all, and I can see it will age very well.
Party at Paulownia Estate – Mick, Robyn, Christine and Vaughan
Paulownia Estate Rosé 2012
The name ‘Paulownia’ has two references, one to the special Paulownia trees nearby the 9 ha vineyard south-east of Masterton, and secondly to the owners Vaughan and Christine Paul’s family name. The tree is featured on the label in silhouette form. The Pauls enjoy having wines that are different from mainstream, and the sweet wine is probably seen as their flagship. I went the other way with the Rosé 2012, a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Merlot. Very pale pink, this seduces with its delicately nuanced aromas and flavours of roses, soft red berry fruits, red currants and confectionary. Perfect for lunch on a summer’s day.
Braden Crosby – Borthwick Vineyard
Borthwick Wairarapa Riesling 2011
Paddy Borthwick’s right-hand man Braden Crosby has been in the news lately winning both Viticulturist and Horticulturist of the Year titles. Paddy has always talked highly of Braden’s skills in winery as well as in the vineyard, and the sound depth of quality of the Borthwick wines is a reflection of how well the team work together. The humility of the people is especially engaging. I’ve enjoyed this Riesling before, for its combination of mouthwatering lime flavours and crisp acidity, as well as hints of fresh herbs and apple. But there’s an underlying honeysuckle note, from botrytis, I’m told, and it is an extra layer of interest that is so appealing. Delicious!