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West Brook – Waimauku Style

By May 7, 2012No Comments

There’s nothing wild out west at the West Brook winery on Ararimu Road just out of Waimauku. Anthony and Sue Ivicevich run a very tidy operation making very stylish and considered wines. From a winemaking family background, Anthony and Sue moved from Henderson to their 8 ha site out at Waimuku 12 years ago planting Malbec then Chardonnay and Merlot over the next three years. The home vineyard is just under 4 ha, now with 1.2 ha of Pinot Noir, 1.12 of Chardonnay, 0.9 of Pinot Gris and 0.6 of Malbec, reflecting the modern trends and preferences of the market as well as the suitability of the varieties to the site and climate. West Brook’s Waimauku-sourced wines make up only 20% of the production, the rest coming from Marlborough, the fruit coming primarily from Charles Wiffen’s well-tended vineyards. The immaculate winery has a processing capacity of around 500 tonnes, equating to around 40,000 cases output, but around half of the crush is contract work.

The West Brook winery and cellar door setting is an appealing and peaceful one and overlooks a little lake where one can enjoy a picnic. Something about the Waimauku countryside and fresh air must be conducive for a good outlook on life, for the small team at West Brook have a great deal of fun with humour, laughter and smiles everywhere. It’s a family concern and family values clearly rule. Anthony and Susan’s son Linton is involved in all aspects of the business, and has a special affiliation with ‘the land’. Anthony has had James Rowan in the winemaker role for 8 years and the two have an excellent rapport, with Anthony’s experience providing a wise overview. James is the detailed man and his thoughtful and considered outlook is more cutting edge. The result is a range of very high quality, contemporary wines that have won numerous awards. For me, the wines seem a little under the radar, especially considering how good they are, but the comfortable atmosphere at West Brook is an indication of successful sales and production not quite keeping up with demand.

I’ve been impressed with what I’ve tasted from West Brook recently. A vertical tasting of the Riesling from 2006-2011 was especially eye-opening. (Click here to see my report.) I sense that the team are particularly proud of their home vineyard Waimauku wines, which are a major point of difference to the vast majority of other wines on the market, and they are appreciative and very supportive of others in the region, such as Kumeu River, who promote the north-west Auckland vignoble. As most of the Waimauku wines are small production wines, the best way to source them is direct and at the cellar door.
2012 Tank and Barrel Samples
James took us for a tasting of tank and barrel samples of wines just made. Three2012 Omaka Marlborough Rieslings fermented with different yeasts were shown; the first crisp in texture and sherbetty in flavour, the second with more solids, quite tight, dense and wheat-beer like, the third beautifully fine and classical with lime/lemon flavours expressed, these three all excellent components for a final blend. A 2012 ‘North Block’ Marlborough Riesling was sweeter with attractive lemonade characters. Then onto a 2012 Marlborough Pinot Gris, still quite pink at this early fermentation stage, but very creamy with lovely pear flavours.

Two2012 Waimauku Chardonnay barrel samples were equally diverse. A clone 95 component showed complex flintiness and was very sinewy in structure. This normally grows in richness and is the backbone of the wine. A Mendoza clone sample was richer and rounder, less flinty, more fleshy, with greater fruitiness. A 2012 Omaka Marlborough Chardonnay was softer again, with rich citrus and peachy characters, somewhat more fruit-expressive.

Onto reds, a 2012 Waimauku Pinot Noir destined for method base, was tight, delicate and crisp, yet very varietal with its subtle red fruits. It was easy to see how useful this will be. The 2012 Marlborough Pinot Noirs looked excellent. 10/5 clone particularly rich, textured and strong; it was a complete wine. The 667 clone was darker in character, with less dimension, but had attractive, lifted florals. A wild yeast fermented 115 component was simpler and lighter, but had intriguing ethereal aromatics. 2012 was a challenge in Waimauku, but Marlborough looks very strong.
Waimauku Wines
Anthony and James them took us through a tasting of a selection of their Waimauku fruited wines. Chardonnay is definitely the strongest wine for West Brook, the variety consistently winning gold medals. A super-premium ‘Ivicevich’ label was introduced with the 2004 vintage. The ‘Ivicevich’ Chardonnay 2004, golden in colour with strong ‘lime on toast’ flavours, quite Australian-like in power, with plenty of cut and background oaking, complexed with nutty elements, and lovely creaminess of texture. No MLF was employed. The ‘Ivicevich’ Chardonnay 2006 was paler, more refined, tighter, beautifully fruited, and sensitively oaked. This had greater finesse and subtlety. The ‘Ivicevich’ Chardonnay 2007, with only 6 barrels made, was light golden, intensely concentrated and well-textured, being rich, with very complex citrus fruits, nuts and a little oxidative white burgundian interest. The texture is reckoned to be derived from the clay soils. The ‘Ivicevich’ label was then put on hold and the fruit has since been used to develop the regular West Brook label. We tasted the results of this decision. The West Brook Waimauku Chardonnay 2008, again, very elegant, not too dissimilar to the ‘Ivicevich’ 2006, had layers of flinty nuances, though lighter and finer again. This is a classy expression indeed. The West Brook Waimauku Chardonnay 2010 is an undeveloped number, quite shy in expression, but the fruit depth and layers of interest are clearly built-in. A noteworthy saline character is evident. This seems to be a wine that will develop slowly. Finally, the West Brook Waimauku Chardonnay 2011, this is a lighter, more elegant and refined wine, probably a little more forward. But it is still crisp, fresh and lively, showing sufficient layers of flinty interest, all in balance. It appears the West Brook Waimauku Chardonnay is developing real interest and style, and this is coming through consistently.

Pinot Noir has been a surprising success for West Brook in Waimauku. Based on clones 777, 667 and 115, Anthony and James are pleased with the results from young vines in the home vineyard. The West Brook Waimauku Pinot Noir 2006, made from 3 y.o. vines, is a light and simple wine, but has bright, though delicate fruit, with some sweetness. It is in the cooler spectrum, but it is well-handled. The West Brook Waimauku Pinot Noir 2007 stunned many critics with its ANZWA gold medal. This possesses excellent richness, the fruit well-ripened, the wine with proper texture and structure, now developing secondary complexities. It’s an answer for those who consider Pinot Noir can’t succeed in the northern districts of the country. The West Brook Waimauku Pinot Noir 2008 shows the lighter vintage with its delicacy. Florals, herbs and the faintest herbal touch, the tannin structure does show through. As with the Chardonnay, the West Brook Waimauku Pinot Noir 2010 displays an idiosyncratic note provided by the vintage. Unusual saline, dark herb and liquorice aromatics are present, but the wine is much more conventional on palate, with fruit juiciness and fine, supple tannins. And again, reflecting the lighter vintage, the West Brook Waimauku Pinot Noir 2011, quite a delicate and smaller-scale wine, but with striking dark red florals that blossom forming a ‘peacock’s tail’. Anthony and James describe the Waimauku Pinot Noir a “work in progress”, but clearly it is a work well-worth persevering with!

The final Waimauku wines tasted were sparkling. The West Brook Waimauku Methode Traditionnelle ‘Blanc’ 2009, made from Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay is a gold-hued wine with plenty of nutty aromas and a floral-fleshy palate with complexing lees and a steely edge. This is paired by a delicious West Brook Waimauku Methode Traditionnelle ‘Rouge’ 2009 made exclusively from Malbec. Bold with good black and boysenberry fruits, the 30 g/L rs will appeal to a wide range of drinkers, but astute palates will see the harmony of the wine.

There are other Waimauku fruited wines made, notably Pinot Gris, but the wines tasted justify the belief West Brook have in the quality and style of the fruit from the district. Keen wine enthusiasts should put West Brook on the agenda to visit or obtain wines from. www.westbrook.co.nz 

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