Gibbston Valley 2013 and 2012 Pinot Blanc, Gris and Noirs

The Gibbston Valley winery can be considered the most influential in Central Otago. Established by pioneer Alan Brady and releasing the region’s first commercial wines in 1987, the winery, cave cellar, tasting room and restaurant complex is the most visited wine destination today. The wines made over the years figure among the best in the vignoble and have inspired many others to emulate them resulting in the spectacular growth well beyond the Gibbston sub-region. There are now many outstanding producers in the region who have taken Central Otago Pinot into the realms of the cutting edge for the world, and I’m pleased to say that Gibbston Valley remains part of the innovative and leading group.

In September last year, I had the opportunity of visiting Gibbston Valley where I met winemakers Christopher Keys, Sascha Herbert and Matt Swirtz. There, I tasted a range of their single vineyard Pinot Noirs from 2009, 2011 and 2012, as well as barrel samples of 2013 wines (click here to see my report). Although I’d tried a number of the wines from various vintages before, the comparison of all the wines on one occasion made the expression of their unique terroirs much more understandable and obvious.

Christopher has sent to me a full selection of the best of Gibbston Valley Pinot wines from 2012 and 2013 for review. These are the white Pinot Blanc and ‘La Dulcinee’ Pinot Gris; and the Pinot Noirs, starting with ‘Gold River’, the ‘regional house’ bottling, the Bendigo single vineyard ‘School House’ and China Terrace’, the Gibbston single vineyard ‘Glenlee’ and ‘Le Maitre’, and the flagship ‘Reserve’ wines. The obvious connection and theme is that all are members of the ‘pineau’ family, genetically identical, and requiring the same viticultural work and low yields to attain quality, and their similar behaviour as wines in expression. I summarise the characteristics and styles of each of the Pinot Noir bottlings, and offer a description of the single vineyard sites:

The Gibbston Valley Pinot Noir Bottlings
Gold River: A blend of fruit from the Bendigo and Gibbston sub-regions, the wine showing a Central Otago style "for affordable and everyday consumption”.
Gibbston Valley: A blend of predominantly Bendigo fruit with Gibbston fruit in support, the wine showing the ‘Gibbston Valley’ house style.
School House: A Bendigo single vineyard wine. Vines at 400 m.a.s.l., on fine loess and sand over gravel and schist. This shows elegance, perfume and minerality.
China Terrace: A Bendigo single vineyard wine. Vines at 300-350 m.a.s.l., on loess and sand over glacial outwash and schist. This shows red fruits, opulence and savouriness.
Glenlee: A single vineyard Gibbston district wine. The ‘Glenlee’ vineyard, established by Gary Andrus, is close-planted, 6,000 vines her hectare. Vines from the highest corner on the eastern perimeter, on gravel outwash and river gravel soils. The wine shows Gibbston clarity.
Le Maitre: A single vineyard Gibbston wine, named as a tribute to Alan Brady. From mature mixed clone vines in the ‘Home Block’, planted from 1983, showing older vine character and Gibbston transparency and elegance. The soils are a mix of loess, schist and gravel.
Reserve: Limited production, the very best wine.

The Tasting and Conclusions
The aim of the tasting was to compare the same wines over the 2013 and 2012 vintages, the former yet to be released, and the latter the currently available wines, though some are sold out. Chris Keys describes the years: "2012 was not a vintage for fruit bombs…(with a) demure inner tension… and a thread of mineral tannin”. The 2013s are "more forthright, more comprehensively structured” The other purpose was to investigate the consistency of expression from each of the single vineyards, and the different other labels.

The Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris wines were clearly expressive of variety and vintage, as well as handling. The Pinot Blanc variety is more direct and straightforward in flavour, whereas the Pinot Gris wines show a softer richness with more aromatics, along with a rounder texture. The 2013s are fresh and pure, and still youthfully undeveloped, with an elegance and lighter weight than the 2012s, which show a riper outlook. The 2012s are now exhibiting some bottle development. The Pinot Blanc has been made dry, but the oaking very subtle, whereas the sweetness of the residual sugar was obvious.

The overriding impression from the Pinot Noir wines is their high quality. Across the range from the ‘Gold River’ to the ‘Reserve’ wine, all showed very good expression and offered exactly what the consumer could expect for the price. These are an outstanding range of wines which stand alongside the best in Central Otago.

Another very strong finding was the consistency of style of each of the labels across vintage and relative to the other wines, showing the maintenance of a house style, or the continued expression of site and terroir.

The four single vineyard wines stood separate from the other three in that they displayed characters that emanated from the site and region. The Bendigo wines were darker fruited and more structured than the Gibbston wines which were cooler in expression with red fruits, lighter body and higher acidities. Within each sub-region, the vineyard similarities came through. The ‘School House’ wines incorporated a high whole cluster character, more savoury fruit aromas and flavours, and powdery tannins. The ‘China Terrace’ wines were more aromatic and blacker in fruit, with sweetness. The ‘Glenlee’ was also made with significant whole bunches, lending more savoury complexities and a fuller mouthfeel, than the ‘Le Maitre’ which was cooler and less expansive, but more detailed in fruit nuances. The old vine influence didn’t make itself manifest to me, or I was unfamiliar with it.

Interestingly, the ‘Reserve’ wine was more in line with the ‘Gold River’ and regular ‘Gibbston Valley’ labels, being house styles. These were all more fruit expressive and based on a completeness and balance, clearly the ‘Reserve’ taking the wine to the best of these parameters. It is a wine that is of very high quality, richness, and longevity, but not one of terroir. The question could be made: Is this the ultimate expression of Pinot Noir for Gibbston Valley? Their decision to make it and price it accordingly says "yes’. But is it what the enthusiasts of Pinot Noir want to see as the ultimate? Do they want terroir, with its imbalances and unevenness?

And on vintage, my findings are that the 2012 wines are more complete. They are richer, more structured, more weighty, and strong in their personalities. I see the terroir of the single vineyard wines clearly, in a generous style. I feel that Christopher Keys and his team had an outstanding vintage, and the ‘School House’ Bendigo Pinot Noir is a truly great wine, but the ‘China Terrace’ and ‘Reserve’ bottlings are practically as good. The 2013 wines are obviously more fruity and primary. They are also lighter, and expressions of a cooler vintage with less ripe tannins and more marked acidity. The Gibbston wines from a cooler district reinforce the nature of the vintage. They are more clear-cut in their fruitiness, and it could be said in their terroir expression because of better transparency. Does this make them better than the 2012s? I say no.


  • Gibbston Valley Central Otago Pinot Blanc 2013
  • Gibbston Valley ‘La Dulcinee’ Bendigo Central Otago Pinot Gris 2013
  • Gibbston Valley ‘Gold River’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2013
  • Gibbston Valley Central Otago Pinot Noir 2013
  • Gibbston Valley ‘School House’ Bendigo Central Otago Pinot Noir 2013
  • Gibbston Valley ‘China Terrace’ Bendigo Central Otago Pinot Noir 2013
  • Gibbston Valley ‘Glenlee’ Gibbston Central Otago Pinot Noir 2013
  • Gibbston Valley ‘Le Maitre’ Gibbston Central Otago Pinot Noir 2013
  • Gibbston Valley ‘Reserve’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2013
  • Gibbston Valley Central Otago Pinot Blanc 2012
  • Gibbston Valley ‘La Dulcinee’ Bendigo Central Otago Pinot Gris 2012
  • Gibbston Valley ‘Gold River’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012
  • Gibbston Valley Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012
  • Gibbston Valley ‘School House’ Bendigo Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012
  • Gibbston Valley ‘China Terrace’ Bendigo Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012
  • Gibbston Valley ‘Glenlee’ Gibbston Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012
  • Gibbston Valley ‘Le Maitre’ Gibbston Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012
  • Gibbston Valley ‘Reserve’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012

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