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Wines From Martinborough Vintage Trade Day 2014

By April 1, 2014No Comments
For the second consecutive year, I was invited to participate in the Martinborough Trade Day, an event designed by the ‘Wines From Martinborough’ group to enable the local hospitality trade to get close up and dirty, if wanted, to the activities going on at harvest time. As Susan McLeary of the association said: “You’d be a fool not to want to come!” referring to the 1st April date. Last year I visited Big Sky, Nga Waka and Martinborough Vineyard (click here to see my report). It was a pleasure to be taken around a new selection of wineries, big and small, well-established and new, and see and hear the reactions from people at the ‘pointy end’ of working with the final consumer. This year, it was to Ata Rangi, The Elder Pinot and Te Kairanga, followed by a fuller tasting of current releases and dinner at Coney Restaurant. Our group was ferried by Paul Rayner, cellar door manager at Te Kairanga, who gave insights on the district, township, history and vineyards throughout the day. Here, I offer some perspectives of the visits. www.winesfrommartinborough.com

Chris Reid, assistant winemaker Ata Rangi with Pinot Noir

Ata Rangi
Befitting the pioneer status of Ata Rangi, founders Clive Paton and Phyll Pattie with their talented winemaker Helen Masters gave us a run down on the geographical, climate and geological features of Martinborough, that make it a special area to grow grapes. They pointed out the weather patterns that are eastern seaboard focussed, the lower rainfall and the wide diurnal range of temperatures, as well as the soil types as represented.

Clive and Helen took us over the road to look at two vineyards, with a focus on Riesling. The ‘Craighall’ vineyard is one of the district’s most venerable, planted in 1984-1985. It has a wonderful reputation for its fruit, and the portion under Ata Rangi ownership (the other part owned by Dry River) has been certified organic since 2013. The vineyard management regime includes cultivation in every second row to encourage vegetation and micro flora growth, to include the presence of the beneficial native wasp which predates on leaf-roll caterpillar. The Riesling vines are now 27 y.o. and this fruit goes into the relatively new ‘Craighall’ Riesling label. The winemaking inputs for the wine are consistently minimal, with Ata Rangi wanting the wine to reflect the growing season in a drier style. They avoid botrytis and pick on acidity. The wines need time to show their character, so they are not averse to releasing the wine with some bottle age, the current vintage on the market being the 2009.

Neighbouring and only a few meters away is the ‘Kahu’ vineyard owned by the Hensley family. This was originally planted by Chris Lintz, and is the source for the ‘Kahu’ Late Harvest Riesling wine. The fruit that it provides is very different to the ‘Craighall’, due to different clones, the more sheltered situation which is more suited to the development of noble rot, and the greater prevalence of botrytis spores there. The vineyard also supplies high quality Syrah, the vines top grafted onto Cabernet Sauvignon. To enhance the ripening process, there is reflective mulch matting which not only reflects light and heat back onto the fruit, but also controls weed growth.

At the time of visiting, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir had been picked, with Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot then Syrah, followed by Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon to come in last.

Ata Rangi ‘Craighall’ Riesling 2009 – 2012

Putting the field trip in vinous terms, Helen, Clive and Phyll took us through a vertical tasting of the dry ‘Craighall’ Riesling, followed by a look at two Syrahs. The ‘Craighall’ Riesling 2009, from a warmer season is now entering its plateau, with lovely maturity and secondary toasty flavours, but still with fine lime-like fruitiness. Texturally soft and integrated, there is a refined phenolic line that carries the palate, 18.5/20. The ‘Craighall’ Riesling 2010 is from a cooler vintage, still pale in colour, with bright and zesty lime fruit, and beautiful honey and subtle toasty layers, the fresh and racy acidity a positive feature. It has it all, 19.0+/20. Then onto the ‘Craighall’ Riesling 2011, an average growing season, pale coloured and extremely elegant. Less volume and very dry, near austere, and clearly backward, but with beautiful, razor-sharp precision, 18.5/20. Finally the ‘Craighall’ Riesling 2012, another cool vintage, piercing with its intensity, lime fruit clarity, and hints of toasty interest. The freshness of this wine is its calling card, and it will develop well, without any doubt, 18.5+/20. On this showing, I seemed to favour the cooler years.

The two Syrahs were not fully comparable. Firstly the ‘Juliet’ Syrah 2013 Barrel Sample, the fruit solely from the Hensley’s ‘Kahu’ vineyard. Bright purple red, with gorgeous fragrance and seductive dark red and black fruit and peppery, floral aromatics, this is rich, supple and fine-featured on palate. This is sure to develop into a wine of great accessibility, finesse and beauty, (18.5+/20). Then the Syrah 2009, made from fruit from multiple sites. Dark garnet red now, with layers of sweet and savoury aromas and flavours, game with spices and pepper, all well-integrated. This still has a deep and concentrated core and its fulsome nature suggest plenty of life ahead. I know this wine look a long time to open up, and it has richness and length now, 18.5-/20. www.atarangi.co.nz

Ata Rangi ‘Petrie’ and ‘Craighall’ Chardonnay 2012 in barrel two weeks

The Elder Pinot
It’s acknowledged that Mike and Margaret Hanson’s vineyard on the terraces at the southern end of the Te Muna Valley is one of the most beautiful in the district. They purchased the property in 1996, originally for olives, but under advice from the late Bill Brink planted grapes in 1999. Driving to the Hansons, past the banana bridge, and onto their driveway, one can see the soil profile clearly, the silted gravels on top, going down 5 to 6 metres to limestone. The earth is ideal for drainage and not particularly fertile. It didn’t take long for the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris fruit to become recognised as of high quality, with Martinborough Vineyard taking it.

Margaret Hanson, The Elder Pinot

Nigel Elder was viticulturist at Martinborough Vineyard during the Hanson’s early days, and he noted the distinctiveness of the fruit, so 10 years later, in different circumstances, the Elder and Hanson families decided to make their own label – The Elder Pinot, with the inaugural vintage being 2010. Paul Mason of Martinborough Vineyard is the contracted winemaker, and that winery still takes a portion of the vineyard yield.

The vineyard is small, measuring only 3 ha, planted in the ratio of 5 to 1 in Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Of the 6 clones of Pinot Noir planted, Margaret Hanson sees clones 5, 115 and Abel as the best for the site. Over time, Abel clone is gaining favour, and this will be increased by top grafting. The surprise success has been Pinot Gris and another quarter of a hectare has recently been established. The production is around 320 cases of Pinot Noir and normally 125 cases of Pinot Gris, but the low crop in 2013 saw only 90 cases of Pinot Gris made. Walking through the vineyard, Margaret looked very pleased, if not proud, and the 2014 vintage looked very promising, very balanced, with a return to good yields for the Pinot Gris. Picking was due to commence in the next 4-7 days. Being more southerly and at a higher altitude than the Martinborough township, ripening is invariably later, around a fortnight or so.

The Elder Pinot Noir 2010 – 2012
Bunches of Pinot Gris and three clones of Pinot Noir
Margaret Hanson and Bridget Elder (and new arrival Sylvie) put on a vertical tasting of the Pinot Noir wines made to date. I’d done this a year ago on a visit (click here to read my report), so it was good to see how the wines had progressed. The Elder Pinot Noir 2010 is still dark red in colour with hearty, ripe, dark red berry fruit aromas and flavours. There’s some complexing savoury secondary character now, alongside the sweet fruit, and the robustness is beginning to soften. This was an impressive debut wine, and still looks to keep well, 18.0+/20. On its last showing, The Elder Pinot Noir 2011 looked very elegant. This time, there’s a lot more substance, texture and depth. There’s no doubting the wine has put on weight. It has fine-grained tannins, a silky texture and fragrance, lifted by fresh acidity. A year has done wonders, and there’s more to come in this wine, 18.0/20. I think the fruit exuberance really lifted the barrel sample of The Elder Pinot Noir 2012 when I saw it over a year ago. Now that it has settled, the 2012 vintage is much more obvious. A lighter wine than the 2011 now, but with greater aromatic volume and more lifted and sweet fruit. The wine has a herbal underlay and more acid drive, displaying the cooler vintage traits, 17.5+/20.

A fabulous country lunch was served with two vintages of Pinot Gris, the 2010 and 2011. These behaved in a similar fashion as the Pinot Noirs. The Elder Pinot Gris 2010 rounded with good weight and presence, and some attractive savoury, secondary complexities. Drinking beautifully now, 18.0-/20. I was taken by The Elder Pinot Gris 2011, finer and fresher, with brighter white stonefruits, florals and a touch of honey with minerals. A refreshing wine, now rated 18.0/20 on this showing. www.theelderpinot.co.nz

Craig Fryett, assistant winemaker Te Kairanga

Te Kairanga
Since Te Kairanga became part of Foley Family Vineyards in 2011, there have been changes brought about by the injection of capital. The arrival of John Kavanagh from Neudorf Vineyards in 2012 and then viticulturist Dave Shepherd from The Escarpment Vineyard last year, has also brought an air of excitement and expectation. New labels have been designed, and the new release wines show more clarity and purity of fruit. The potential that Te Kairanga has always shown flashes of seems set to become more consistently expressed. These steps have added to the revitalisation and optimism at Te Kairanga. Gauging the reaction from peers and locals, it’s all a good thing for the Martinborough vignoble.

Optimism about the 2014 vintage was plain to see in the tired, but smiling faces of winemakers John Kavanagh, Craig Fryett and viticulturist Dave Shepherd at Te Kairanga. The quality of the wines may surpass that they made in 2013. The weather to date had been fantastic, with the worst being some overcast conditions. The fruit was in superb condition, the sugars not too high, and though an early vintage, the ripening for the different varieties spread out, not causing any undue processing pressure in the winery. With around 100 ha of estate vineyards around the district, there’s a lot of fruit to work through, 60% of it being Pinot Noir, weighing in at around 350 tonnes.

Press at Te Kairanga with Chardonnay

At the time of visiting, the TK team were handling the Chardonnay, having picked Riesling and Pinot Gris, and the last of the town blocks had come in. Next was the Springrock fruit, 10 ha of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on limestone soils, behind the oyster shell hill visible from the winery. It’s a cooler site, and the 12 y.o. vines are providing premium fruit for the premium labels. Last will be the even cooler 46 ha Ruakokoputuna vineyard, also with vines around 12 y.o., established at the same time the existing winery was built. With the different sites come different fruit profiles, which open the blending options and possible complex nuances. The other route, not exclusive to blending, is the development of single vineyard terroir expressions.

John took us through some 2014 vintage white wine must at various stages of fermentation. First was clone 6 Chardonnay at an early stage, destined for the ‘Estate’ label, cloudy and brownish, still sweet and grapey, but with discernable concentration, acid balance and some length. Then Riesling in mid-ferment after 5 days, around 9° Brix, already fruity with lime and floral varietal clarity, very fine-textured on palate with linearity. The Pinot Gris from well-thinned bunches, indigenous yeast fermented, with bold pear fruit aromas and lovely exotic florals, near Gewurztraminer-like. Finally Sauvignon Blanc, from vines beside the winery, tight and elegant, more minerally than expected, light and stylishly presented.

The whites were followed by a selection of Pinot Noir. Firstly some ‘Sutherland West’ clone 667, tight and fine-grained with firm line, showing black and violetty florals, revealing aromatic raspberry notes. The acidity a feature here. This still needed time before pressing. Then some ‘Sutherland West’ Abel clone, with 20% whole cluster, much more savoury, game-like with greater textures and mouthfeel. This is thick in the mouth and exudes seriousness. Thirdly some ‘Sutherland West’ clone 777, a wine of finesse with fruit purity and clarity. Not heavily extracted in any way. Very pretty indeed. Moving to ‘Sutherland West’ clone 115, with a combination of red and black fruits, full and fleshy, low acid, and with good density. The final sample was ‘McLeod’ Abel clone, vines 15-16 y.o., low planted, showing a combination of pure florals with fine savoury line, tight and elegant, quite refined, and very different to the ‘SW’ Abel tried earlier. www.tkwine.co.nz

Pellenc picker/sorter – sophisticated tractor at Te Kairanga

Tasting and Dinner at Coney Restaurant
Tim, Margaret and Lisa Coney are great hosts. The restaurant, under the direction of Margaret serves excellent fare, home-cooked for sure, but with flair and interest that makes it a worthwhile destination. Before the end of the night, Tim and daughter Lisa sang to the group. It’s not an uncommon occurrence as can be seen from their confidence and ability to have fun. Our dinner was accompanied by a selection of wines from many of the ‘Wines From Martinborough’ association. However, before the meal, there was the opportunity of tasting a large selection of wines, most of which were not tasted by the visiting groups during the day. Here are my brief impressions of what I managed to get through:

Palliser Estate
Ever-consistent and always at the top level. The Methode Traditionnelle 2008 is looking the best I’ve seen it to date, fresh with bold yeasty autolysis characters, with good body and lovely integration on palate. Another excellent release is the Sauvignon Blanc 2013, showing pungent passionfruit flavours cut with ripe herbal notes, mouthfilling and seamless on palate. The Pencarrow Pinot Noir 2012 is up-front and shows ripe red berry fruit aromas, revealing the cooler 2012 vintage traits with its lighter, supple and easy palate.

Coney Wines
These show a lighter, finer and more small-scale style, and we know size isn’t everything. The ‘Rallentando’ Riesling 2010 is dry, refined and delicate with the classic Aussie toastiness. Also classic is the ‘Piccolo’ Pinot Gris 2012 with a stonefruit and pear amalgam in an off-dry style. ‘The Ritz’ Riesling 2012 is a little more golden in colour, with honied richness and some nutty development, the palate still zesty and lively, this a medium style. And a rare ‘Que Sera’ Syrah 2010, showing some secondary savouriness to the white pepper, quite open and accessible.

Dry River
I recently tried these at their mail order tasting. The Pinot Noir 2012 has a robust, voluminous and fruity nose, a little less concentrated than other years, needing a little bottle age to come together and become richer. But it’s all there and a credit for the vintage. The Pinot Gris 2013 looked even better than last showing, exotic, concentrated, honied, the flavours unfolding in waves. A great wine. I love the finesse and intensity of pure florals of the ‘Lovat’ Gewurztraminer 2013. This time, it seemed even more refined. Outstanding.

Nga Waka
Roger Parkinson builds in power that just opens up on drinking. The Sauvignon Blanc 2013 combines limes, passionfruit and minerals with lush gooseberry notes, but this is dry to taste. Recently looking at a 14 year vertical the Dry Riesling 2011 is even more beautiful, with intense lime, toast and kero suggestions, the detail and nuance quite sensational. I like the Chardonnay 2013 also, for its tightness and obvious oak infusion, the wine smooth flowing. And the Pinot Noir 2012 is a beauty with richness, spices and finesse allied to good concentration, excellent for the year.

Martinborough Vineyard
A big range with older wines and offerings. Always done well, as with Palliser Estate. Firstly the ‘Jackson Block’ Riesling 2006, still very alive and now harmoniously settled, with a fusion of lime, honey and toast. The ‘Te Tera’ Sauvignon Blanc 2013 is punchy, deep and strong on bouquet, but lighter and tighter on palate. The estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013 has a very smooth and evenly rich palate of passionfruit flavours, softly present and very approachable. The Chardonnay 2012 is as good as ever, with a real core and concentrated palate that unfolds soft layers of citrus fruit and oak. Similarly, the Pinot Noir 2011, appearing lighter, just unfolds lovely volume and layers of detail, the fruit now showing some secondary dried herb complexity, the mouthfeel supple and gentle. Outstanding is the Pinot Noir 2006, the depth and concentration softening, revealing waves of savoury red fruits, dried herbal complexities, smoke and a touch of cedar. Still no hurry with this wine.

Burnt Spur
Part of the Martinborough Vineyard portfolio, from vines south of the township. Don’t overlook them. The Sauvignon Blanc 2013 is a mix of gooseberries and pungent herbs, blossoming in volume and with fruit sweetness. The Pinot Gris 2013 is a crisper, minerally style, with herb notes and a slippery mouthfeel. While the Pinot Noir 2011 is lighter than the Martinborough Vineyard, the flavours of savoury red fruits, dried herbs and toasty oak form a good core and the wine is instantly accessible.

Ata Rangi
One of the pioneers of the region, still making consistently the best wine. The ‘Lismore’ Pinot Gris 2013 is a wine of finesse, penetrating intensity, with fine mineral-infused stonefruits, and the perfect texture and line carrying the subtle richness. It’s great to compare the two Chardonnays, both outstanding in their own right, but very different. The ‘Petrie’ Chardonnay 2012 possessing the contemporary gunflint complexities that are hot on the show circuit, quite bold and up-front with plenty of fruit sweetness to match the matchstick, this has great energy and drive. More restrained, tight and more concentrated is the ‘Craighall’ Chardonnay 2012, a wine of great refinement and in-built complexities, stonefruits, flint, oak toast all in perfect proportion and just waiting to bloom. And one of the best releases yet of the ‘Crimson’ Pinot Noir 2013, dark crimson in colour, with utterly pure cherry fruits, quite sweet and luscious, quite succulent, but all with style and restraint.

Te Kairanga
The presentation is in a bit of a transition at present, but as with the new labels, it’s brighter future for sure. The Riesling 2013 is a lime explosion on nose, the fruit with beautiful purity and depth, softly dry, with ever-so fine mouthfeel. The Sauvignon Blanc 2013 is a wine with elegant proportions, but there’s plenty of depth and pungent fruit, revealing lime and cutting minerals. The Pinot Gris 2013 is another dry expression, with bright aromatics and a core of exotic stonefruits and florals, as well as fresh herbs and a touch of spice. The ‘Estate’ Pinot Noir 2011 is a lighter wine, clean with fresh cherry fruit, slightly lean, but the ‘Runholder’ Pinot Noir 2012 is a step up, being vibrantly juicy and sweet, showing good depth and matching structure. A great effort for the vintage too.

A strong and sound range from the immaculate vineyard in Te Muna Road. Looking good is the Chardonnay 2011, with lovely savoury citrus fruits combined with barrel work and some toastiness. The Riesling 2012 shows excellent lime zest and a zesty palate, tightened up by fine phenolic textures. It’s elegant for sure, but should age well and with grace. There is some secondary development appearing in the Pinot Gris 2011, the wine being a steely, flinty style, closer to Pinot Grigio, than say Alsatian in style. The Pinot Noir 2012 shows a more funky side with cooler herbal notes, savoury red fruits, a touch of reduction, but there’s a good heart and core, with sweetness and volume. The ’99 Rows’ Pinot Noir 2012 is yet another fruity, up-front, fleshy and all-together style, plump and easy to drink. More classical in proportion is the Pinot Noir 2011, showing good depth, elegant concentration, and the all-important sense of balance.

Even though Larry McKenna arrived late, his Chardonnay disappeared rapidly, hence no notes. The Riesling 2011 has a spectrum of aromas and flavours, limes, sherbet, honey and toast, smooth and gently rich. The Pinot Blanc 2011 still tightly bound, with steely white stonefruits and great acidity. This is remarkably fresh and pure. Then the Pinot Noir 2011, wine of structure, substance weight and mouthfeel, but with the fruit to fill the textures.

The Elder Pinot
The wines on offer were what we tasted on our visit and lunch, so see above for my impressions.

Dinner menu at Coney Restaurant and a few bottles on the table

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