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Woollaston – A Visit with Shane Munn

By February 27, 2014No Comments
A visit to Woollaston Estate in Upper Moutere, Nelson confirmed that this is one label that is on the up. I’ve been reviewing the wines regularly and see the gradual, but sure improvements in the last couple of vintages. Philip and Chan Woollaston with Glenn and Rennee Schaeffer have established and provided the building blocks for a significant modern winegrowing enterprise that has been lifted to another level by the work of vineyard manager Julian Coakley getting the vineyards to BioGro organic certification in 2011. Soon after, Shane Munn arrived as winemaker, and this is the final piece to the jigsaw. On this visit Shane took us for a look at the home ‘Mahana’ vineyard, a tour in the gravity-flow winery and then onto a tasting of barrel samples of the yet-to-be-released 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Along the way, he gave a detailed overview of all aspects of the operation.

Shane Munn – talking vines and vineyards

The Two Estate Vineyards
After two years, Shane is still coming to understand the facets and nuances of the fruit he is receiving from the estate’s two vineyards. The Upper Moutere ‘Mahana’ vineyard is approximately 25 ha in size, sited on undulating hills around the winery, flanked by the homes of the owners, the Woollastons and the Schaeffers. This is essentially the red wine source with 24 individual plots of vines, 19 to Pinot Noir, now 12 y.o., planted in the richer, clay-influenced soils. The Pinot Noir is supplemented with Riesling and Pinot Gris, some 1.2 ha of the latter variety top grafted with Mendoza clone Chardonnay, from which they are expecting their first crop this vintage.

The other estate vineyard, ‘Burke’s Bank’, is situated on the ‘Waimea Plains’, near Hope, and is the source for the white wines. 25 ha of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Gris are on greywacke riverbed soils. The two vineyards are thus complementary in the styles and wines for the Woollaston brand overall. If one were to compare the wines of Upper Moutere with the Plains, the former would be richer and plumper, whereas the latter would be leaner and more minerally. Interestingly, Shane is seeing vineyard character beginning to prevail over clonal expression, such that his approach to blending, particularly with Pinot Noir, is changing.

A discussion of viticulture revealed how closely Shane works with vineyard manager Julian Coakley. The organic regime is clearly a vital part to the performance of the wines. Looking at the bunches of clone 5 Pinot Noir in block ‘MVB’ in the ‘Mahana vineyard, the grapes had undergone veraison, and along with the leaves were very healthy and clean. Moderate berry size variation was present, and the bunches were quite tight. They aim for around 17 or so bunches per vine, the yield smack centre for quality parameters. Picking was still a few weeks away. For Shane, understanding the vineyard properly might take 10-15 years! On biodynamics, Shane was positive, but not quite sure if he and the Woollaston team would make that next step into a different way of thinking and life, though already, many methods were already adopted. It’s a major step, and Shane should know, coming from his tenure as James Millton’s right-hand winemaking man.

Clone 5 Pinot Noir – Mahana Vineyard B

The Woollaston Tiers
Woollaston has three tiers; the main label being ‘Woollaston’, representing the styles and varieties from the two estate sites. Shane is building in greater textures and detail, and this is what I am noticing in the most recent releases. Shane doesn’t like calling the more accessible ‘Tussock’ wines ‘second tier’, as the fruit quality for all the brands is of high quality, just different in expression, the ‘Tussock’ wines being bottled for their fruitier expression. Likewise, Shane doesn’t think of the ‘Mahana’ wines as being ‘reserve’ status, preferring to call them ‘progressive’ wines, which are bottlings showing his work in evolving the styles made. These can show greater complexities from the winemaker input.

The wines are made in one of the more modern and sophisticated wineries in the country. The sophistication is ironically in the simplified flow of grapes and juice, all done by gravity. Shane believes in the detrimental effects of pumping wine to its expression, especially with Pinot Noir wine. The design of the winery enables the wine to be made in five movements. On the inside, it’s all concrete and stainless steel, with barrels neatly apportioned to certain areas. On the outside, it’s eco-friendly in appearance, with tussock and native shrubs planted on its roof. From a distance, the building blends into the Upper Moutere hillside.

Inside the winery, Shane drew barrel samples of 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, the two varietals he is working with wood influence, and the wines that show his direct and personal input and decisions.

Concrete fermentation vats with stainless-steel wall inserts

2013 Sauvignon Blanc Barrel Samples
Shane is delving into the effects of skin contact and different wood handling to produce a more interesting and textural style of Sauvignon Blanc. In one corner of a barrel room was a group of seemingly mis-matched wood vessels. New and seasoned wood, oak and acacia, of different capacities, the wine destined for the ‘Mahana’ label.

The first sample was Sauvignon Blanc on skins 16 days in a new 350 L acacia barrel. Green golden coloured, tight and spicy nectarine aromas, and very refined and tightly held together on palate. Still very varietal with stonefruits and herbs, as well as a distinctive wood linearity.

The second sample, Sauvignon Blanc, on skins 72 days, drawn from a new 350 L acacia barrel, and full MLF. Golden green hued, much broader, open, with riper flavours and savoury interest. Complex layers of yellow rather than green fruits, with no evidence of undue phenolic textures, yet possessing excellent acidity. Quite remarkable. The final blend will have a total of 30% new wood, 10% in oak and 20% in acacia. There will be 225 dozen made.

2013 Pinot Noir Barrel Samples
The different blocks of the ‘Mahana’ vineyard are kept separate for as long as possible before blending. These blocks are manifesting interesting traits, and along with clonal expression, oak maturation and whole cluster inclusion, there’s plenty of blending options.

First up, a sample of ‘MVA’, clone 777, with 55% whole bunch, in a 4 y.o. barrel. Very dark coloured, the whole cluster savoury herb aromatics trong, along with dark berry fruits. Rich and textural, quite up-front. To go into the ‘Tussock’ label. Then a ‘MV R/S’ blend, Abel clone with 10% Pinot Gris! Dark purple, clearly Abel fruit with wild herb and a touch of game to the black berries. The core showing liquorice and a combination of fresh acidity and a firm, granular texture and line. This will probably make up part of the ‘Tussock’ label.

Moving along, if not up, was a ‘MVB with C/D’, 70% clone 5, with 30% 667 and 115, with 40% whole bunch. Black-red n colour, and surprisingly elegant. Lovely ripe black fruitiness on nose and palate. Lusciously supple and attractively lifted in expression, fragrant, revealing spices and liquorice. Then a Selection of ‘MV B and C’, clone 667, with 25% whole cluster. Dark coloured, with beautiful fragrances of violet and an array of dark red florals, intermixed with bright dark cherries. The palate features refined, cutting acidity, enhanced purity and a clear-cut expression. Some liquorice and spice notes emerge in the glass.

Some more interesting variations, led by ‘MV P&Q’, two batches of clone 5, 40% whole cluster and 45 days on skins. Deep purple-red, with plenty of savoury and complexing whole bunch and game-like aromas and flavours. On palate, showing considerable texture and density. Impressive interest, bordering on too much? This followed by a ‘Hillside’ sample, 50% each Abel and 777, with 25% whole bunch, the fruit from the very middle of the ‘Mahana’ vineyard. An attracting blend of violet perfumes and savoury dried herbs, beautifully refined in structure, with lovely textural finesse, spice notes and length. Underlying acidity is present for freshness and vibrancy.

The final sample was part of a project with Michael Glover of Bannockburn Vineyards, in Geelong, Victoria, Australia. Michael is son of the local wine family of Dave and Penny Glover on Gardner Valley Road, nearby Woollaston. Both Michael and Shane are thinking deeply about whole bunches, and this sample was from 11 barrels, being 100% whole cluster, the wine having no additions. Lighter colour as is often the case, but full, dense and pungent, yet aromatic, and not dominated by whole bunch. On palate great density and depth, with layers of flavour, some of which are funky. While high in extract, the tannins are very soft, adding to the smoothness and high pH character on palate. The surprise is the integration of the whole bunch aromatics and flavours. Shane will have 7 barrels of the 11, and they will in all probably be blended into the ‘Mahana’ Pinot Noir, rather than being bottled separately. www.woollaston.co.nz

Pinot Noir barrels amidst stainless-steel tanks

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