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Wines from Martinborough International Media Showcase – Day Two

By April 29, 2011No Comments

The second day of the Martinborough Wine Experience continued the theme of the first. Joing the group was Sarah Mayo of Singapore, completing the coverage of the Asian market. With more wineries as members of the Wines from Martinborough association than could be comfortably visited in two days, it was obvious that another visit in the future was necessary to see a more complete picture…

Nga Waka – A Canoe in the Ocean Currents
Named after the canoes of Kupe the explorer, Nga Waka is a small family operation that has learned to flow with the currents of the market ocean. The stability that owner Roger Parkinson has enjoyed is based on a strong domestic presence supported by a long association with his distributor. The compactness of Nga Waka has enabled Roger to achieve ‘work-life’ balance. With vineyards on the Martinborough Terrace and one site near the town-end of Te Muna Road, classic Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are made from mature vines for the main label and the accessible Three Paddles tier. The tight business model adhered to has precluded any major commitment to export, but in keeping with these modern times, the channels of on-line communication and social media are being explored.

Taking us on a district tour, firstly with views of the iconic ‘three canoes’ of course, we could see at first-hand the subtle soil variations around the town,. It was a valuable lesson in geography. A tasting of three Pinot Noirs demonstrated the relative styles and quality of the 2009 and new 2010 vintage. The Three Paddles Pinot Noir 2009 (17.0+/20) showed firm, evolving savoury game and forest-floor flavours. The Nga Waka Pinot Noir 2009 (18.5+/20) darker, sweeter, richer with considerable structure to match. A lovely wine. And not to be outdone, the new Three Paddles Pinot Noir 2010 (18.5-/20) with vibrant, dark berry fruits on a supple, but generously endowed palate. A wine that punches above its weight.

Dry River – Fanatical and Detailed Approach
The Dry River team were about to crush Tempranillo when we arrived. These berries were sweet and crunchy, the pips well ripened. To get such quality fruit obviously requires empathy for the requirements of the vines and vineyards, and an understanding of what is necessary for good, characterful wine. Shayne Hammond, viticulturist at Dry River has that empathy in spades, and his scientific approach to guiding, nurturing and tweaking what nature provides is so intense and near fanatical, that he appears to be nearly spiritual in his work. One could see that living his life for the vines could take him on the path of biodynamics, however pragmatism remains his foundation. Dry River’s Napa Valley-styled, micro-managed viticultural approach is totally geared towards growing ripe flavours and fine phenolics without any excesses. Five full-time staff are required to work the 11 hectares of vines. Shayne’s wife Poppy has the task of preserving the quality that Shayne delivers to her at the winery.

Winemaker Poppy Hammond took us through a vinous selection. Tasted in situ, all of the wines displayed an intriguing and pleasing, ever-changing array of nuances. Were the wines ‘happier’ at home? A Dry River ‘Craighall’ Riesling 2005 (17.5+/20) was very taut and minerally, dry at 11.5% alc. and 5 g/L rs. No hurry and plenty of development ahead. The Dry River Pinot Gris 2007 (18.5+/20) very fine featured, combining richness with minerally complexity. 13.5% alc., and carrying a surprising 20 g/L rs. I’m a fan of the Dry River ‘Lovat’ Gewurztraminer 2010 (19.0/20), sheer class and super-subtle textures, but with great intensity of beautifully aromatic roses and mild spices. The Dry River Pinot Noir 2009 (19.0-/20) has a completeness of aromatic fruit expression on nose and palate, tightly bound, and seriously brooding, but with real refinement. From a cool vintage, the Dry River ‘Lovat’ Syrah 2004 (17.5-/20) was showing brown spices with savoury meat and herbs behind pepper. The acidity and liveliness indicated its ability to handle more time in bottle.

Cabbage Tree – The Artisan
‘Hands-On’ is the call at The Cabbage Tree Vineyard run by David and Winifred Bull. They have 4000 vines on 1.32 ha, planted half to Pinot Noir, one-quarter to Chardonnay, the rest to Merlot and Semillon. “I like to experiment” says David with his resonating voice, and this partially explains his artisanal, tinkering approach to the winemaking. This is supported by Winifred’s home-based catering, its deliciousness which I can vouch for. 90% of the 4000 bottle annual output (yes, one vine making one bottle) goes out the cellar door, all hand-sold, of course, so a visit is mandatory. There, one can see the building of the Bull’s new house with a tower on the third-storey and an entertainment area where they plan indulging their philanthropic love of opera. David is involved in the construction – he is ‘hands-on’ of course. They’ll move in at the end of the year.

The Cabbage Tree Semillon 2009 (17.5+/20) is ripe with subtle melon fruit flavours lifted with some oak spice, well-textured and harmonious. None of the greenness that mars the variety’s enjoyment in many other Kiwi examples. The star for me is the Cabbage Tree Chardonnay 2009 (18.5-/20), full with mealy, tropical flavours and enriched by 50% new oak barrel-aging. The Cabbage Tree Pinot Noir 2008 (17.5-/20) is still youthfully floral and vibrant on nose, but locked down at present on palate expression. Give it time. 5 clones are used, 5, 10/5 and Dijon, and by choice, no Abel. The Cabbage Tree Merlot 2008 (16.5-/20) combines mintiness and eucalypt with sappy notes on nose, but delivers fine textures and suppleness with cassis-laced fruitiness. The range is not mainstream, and better for everyone because of the difference.

Te Kairanga – The Machine Gearing Up
It’s been a tough time for Te Kairanga. A number of changes within the management and direction has resulted in the feeling of uncertainty among observers. But the word is that Martinborough’s largest player is gearing up and moving ahead. The vineyard resource remains the same, and at the ground level, the Te Kairanga team is as keen as ever to do their best. Leading by example is Wendy Potts, in charge of the winemaking for four vintages now. She took valuable time out to talk to wine media as the last of the 821 tonnes of fruit from the 2011 harvest was being processed. The wines in tank are truly her babies, and this was clearly seen and felt as she offered samples of the newly fermented Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

The Te Kairanga range of wines is rock solid as the production machine is a proven one, truly efficient and very capable. Current and new releases were tasted. The Te Kairanga Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (17.0-/20) was clear-cut gooseberry varietal in expression, with a little textural grip, good for food pairing. Three Chardonnays were a real strength. The ‘Estate’ Te Kairanga Chardonnay 2009 (17.0+/20) an elegant expression with stylish, mealy fruit with balanced oak, lively acidity and length. A step up was the Te Kairanga ‘Runholder’ Chardonnay 2008 (18.0-/20), bold and lush, with an oxidative, nutty face that provides real interest. The top expression, the Te Kairanga ‘Casarina Reserve’ Chardonnay 2008 (18.5/20) is an opulent, rich and full-flavoured wine showing ripe stonefruit flavours and an extravagant dose of new oak shine. I may have been hard on the Te Kairanga Riesling 2009 (17.0/20), soft, gently honied, and attractively accessibile. It is 13.0% and carries 26 g/L rs. To follow powerful Chardonnays with such a subtle wine can be difficult…

It is easy to see the rise in quality at Te Kairanga with Pinot Noir. The ‘Estate’ Te Kairanga Pinot Noir 2009 (16.5/20) is a lighter style, with good tannin backbone and sitting at $20.00 (or less) is a decent value wine. The step up with the ‘Runholder’ range was obvious. The Te Kairanga ‘Runholder’ Pinot Noir 2007 (17.5+/20) shows savoury, forest-floor and dried herb development complexities, firmly held, but with balance and harmony. The Te Kairanga ‘Runholder’ Pinot Noir 2008 (18.5-/20) entices with its perfumes, sweet, meaty, dark berry fruits on the nose. The still-to-integrate palate indicates potential. But there is sufficient richness to allow enjoyment now. The top tier, the ‘John Martin’ wines are best-barrel selections. The Te Kairanga ‘John Martin’ Pinot Noir 2007 (18.0-/20) is now savoury, secondary and truffle-like on nose, with a rich, oak spiciness on palate. This too can be seen in the Te Kairanga ‘John Martin’ Pinot Noir 2009 (18.5/20), spicy, cedary alongside ripe dark berry fruit exhibiting richness and length. The wines are “a work in progress, and you can see the progress”.

Concluding the tasting were the Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay fruited wines from the then-sister ‘Hatton Estate’ property. The Te Kairanga ‘Runholder’ HB Syrah 2008 (16.5/20) was savoury-peppery with dried herb aromas and flavours, showing cooler harvest characters. The Te Kairanga ‘Runholder’ HB Syrah 2009 (17.5+/20) more fragrant, and possessing a soft richness to its black-pepper flavours. A better vintage for sure, A trio of Bordeaux-varietal composed wines were also shown. A Te Kairanga ‘Terroir Select’ HB Cabernet/Franc/Merlot 2008 (15.5-/20) somewhat stemmy-stalky on nose, but light, easy and pleasing to taste. The Te Kairanga ‘Runholder’ HB Merlot/Cab. Franc 2008 (17.5-/20) showing sweet plum and earth Merlot aromas and lush, acid-tinged palate length eclipsed by the Te Kairanga ‘Runholder’ HB Cabernet/Franc/Merlot 2009 (18.0-/20) with its warmer complexion, sweeter, richer fruit and more serious extraction.


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