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Wither Hills – Big Shoes Filled

By July 13, 2011No Comments

Those close to the wine industry knew that Ben Glover would have big shoes to fill at Wither Hills. For a long time the understudy of Brent Marris, the signals were sent when Lion Nathan acquired the growing wine brand in 2002, and Brent eventually leaving in 2007 to focus on his new venture. Taking the role of chief winemaker Ben Glover, with a top team around him, has carried on, seemingly effortlessly through the transition to the current day.

Wither Hills has continued to grow, and is indeed a global brand, bigger than ever, the international reach of the ownership opening and expanding markets throughout the world. With this has come the multi-channel distribution, and the inevitable degradation of margins, and more dangerously image. The quality of Wither Hills wines has never been better, nor more consistent, this achievement in the face of the pressures to react in the opposite direction. Part of the focus on quality has the addition of new varietals, Pinot Gris and Riesling (this being essentially cellar door), to the core range of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and the introduction of limited production single vineyard expressions.

There is considerably more to Ben’s role at Wither Hills, and he and his team are intimately involved in the production of the Daniel Le Brun sparkling wine enterprise, acquired by Lion Nathan in 2007, and now works in conjunction with the Indevin team in the production and marketing of the Lindauer portfolio. I thought I’d have trouble catching up with Ben, especially with his expanded responsibilities. Instead I found a man who was very comfortable in his own skin, having stepped into big shoes, and then again into even larger boots. I think having the likes of winemaker Matt Large and Wine Operations Director Geoff Matthews in support is significant.

We enjoyed a relaxed and entertaining lunch at the Wither Hills restaurant, which I might add served a sensational pork belly dish. Ben in his very personable manner showed a number of wines through lunch which confirmed the continuing progress that Wither Hills has made under his direction. Two single vineyard Rieslings were fascinating, the ‘Kersley’ Riesling 2009 with its complex honey, toast and waxy development and the more minerally, tighter ‘Rarangi’ Riesling 2009. Two expressions of Pinot Gris were just as interesting. A special ‘Cellar Release’ Pinot Gris 2010 was classical stuff, whereas the ‘Taylor River’ Pinot Gris 2010 funky and special, yet in no way over the top for me. The regular release Chardonnay 2010 is another perfect Marlborough expression, with clean-as-a-whistle citrusy fruit and perfect oaking, an exceptional bargain when on promotion out in the market, but my outstanding wine was the ‘Rarangi’ Chardonnay 2008, wonderfully complex with gorgeous barrel-ferment textures. We didn’t get on to the single vineyard Pinot Noirs, running out of time. That’ll be on the agenda next visit to the restaurant.

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