Greywacke Marlborough Riesling 2017 – 2009

25-Oct-2018
Kevin and Kimberley Judd recently celebrated a decade of winemaking under the Greywacke label. It has been a very quick 10 years for the Judds, with the label experiencing phenomenal growth and recognition, and success in varied export markets as well as domestically. Kevin has long left the name he’d made for himself with 25 years at Cloudy Bay; the Greywacke wines with their distinctively rich personalities and layers of complexities that put them among the leaders of style evolution in Marlborough for me.

Best known for the Greywacke ‘Wild Sauvignon’, I personally enjoy the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir just as much, with Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling on their heels, but there’s not much in it, as they are all of a very high standard, each offering their positive traits. The Riesling is very distinctive in that it incorporates a degree of funkiness in its expression through the use of partial barrel-fermentation, indigenous yeasts and some time on lees in old oak. They are a departure from the traditional sleek, pristine and pure floral examples which are usually seen as accepted benchmarks. After a period of investigating some of the more ‘way-out’ Rieslings which employed botrytis and skin contact, I remember asking Kevin if he would consider using these techniques in his Riesling. His answer was classical: "aren’t these Greywacke Rieslings funky enough already?” He is absolutely correct in his philosophy, as many of the more funky Rieslings are just not liked by consumers, and the degree that Greywacke is introducing complexity is already on the edge. Most of the exciting and ground-breaking Rieslings around the world are where Kevin has taken his wine. www.greywacke.com

A Vertical Tasting
It was a privilege for me to have Kevin ask if I’d review all of the Greywacke Rieslings he has made and released to date, these being from 2009 to 2017. The wines are all essentially from the same vineyard source and made in an identical fashion, with slight differences to account for the different growing seasons. The fruit comes from the ‘Ashmore’ vineyard in Fairhall, adjacent to the mouth of the Brancott Valley, the soils being gravelly clay-loam, which is similar to that of the Southern Valleys more so than that of the Wairau plains. The vineyard is now 20 years old and certified organic. The fruit is hand-picked, WBP and usually half fermented in tank with cultured yeast and half fermented in seasoned French oak barriques by indigenous yeasts. The wine spends 4-5 months in oak and the finished wine has approx. 20 g/L RS and a pH just under 3.00. The tasting review notes following will have more exact details. I asked Kevin about his thoughts on botrytis and this wine. His pickers are allowed the leeway of including a little dry botrytised grapes, but no ‘slushy stuff’. In the final analysis, due to low pressing, any influence of botrytis is probably insignificant in the wines.

Vintages
One of the remarkable things about the Greywacke Riesling is its consistency. This is no doubt due to the vineyard and its terroir, but also Kevin’s applied winemaking style. The vintages do have their say, and the growing conditions come though adding their own impact on the expression of the wines. Here, I run briefly through the growing conditions for each of the wines tasted.

2017: A cool growing season with two cyclonic rains in April forcing picking. The shortest and most challenging vintage for Marlborough and Greywacke. An average sized crop. Slightly warmer than average, 1330 GDD.

2016: Generous crop requiring thinning, the temperatures well above average. The warmest season since 1998. 1387 GDD.

2015: A cool start with variable flowering followed by hot, dry conditions mid-summer season, falling away at the end. 1357 GDD.

2014: Perfect flowering set up one of the earliest and potentially largest harvests on record. Harvest began 2 weeks early, but cyclonic rains finished of the season. Warmer than average at 1340 GDD.

2013: A cool November and with flowering for an average sized crop. High sunshine hours but lower mean daily temperatures. The most compressed harvest on record. Slightly above average heat summation at 1302 GDD.

2012: Cool, overcast early season with very poor fruit set. The second coldest season since grapes planted in Marlborough, with a warmer, rain free finish. A very cool and low yield harvest. 1162 GDD.

2011: Very good fruit set with generally fine and warm conditions necessitating crop thinning and canopy management. Dry and windy with warm night conditions. Ripeness achieved at lower sugar levels. An excellent vintage with 1316 GDD.

2010: Flowering gave an average sized crop with small bunches and berries. The growing season ran two weeks late, put perfect weather at the end of the season gave wines of great concentration and excellent acidity. A superb harvest, 1300 GDD.

2009: Good flowering meant high potential yields requiring crop management. Warm sunny and dry weather followed by wet conditions resulting in disease pressure, but excellent conditions at harvest giving ripeness and balance. A great vintage with average 1282 GDD.

Some Conclusions
It was very instructive to see all the wines in a line-up. Previously I had made notes on 5 of the 9 vintages, with two notes on one vintage. The tasting together of all the wines at one time allows a better perspective of the relative similarities and differences.

The Greywacke Riesling is a remarkably consistent wine in style. As noted above, this is no doubt primarily due to the vineyard terroir and Kevin Judd’s consistent winemaking approach to making this wine. This holds for all the wines despite vintage variation and age.

Vintage expression was a noticeable and important difference between the wines. The cooler vintages of 2017 and 2012 showed in their more slender and acid characters, and it is probable these wines will mature more quickly than the wines from the warmer seasons. None of the wines showed over-ripeness, but the fruit richness indicated proper ripeness and certain vinifiication techniques.

The wines from 2017 – 2015 were still youthful, while those from 2014 – 2012 showed emerging secondary honied and toasty detail. The 2011 - 2009 showed definite secondary development and maybe the beginnings of tertiary character, especially with the cream-custard textures. Interestingly none of the wines were past their best, and all had time to go. I have been cautious in my recommended times to drink the wines, knowing they will all, including the lesser vintages, last a decade easily.

It is a testament to the nature of the Riesling grape, and Kevin Judd’s understanding and interpretation of the variety that has resulted in an excellent collection of Greywacke Riesling made to date. They are wines that are different to the vast majority of other Marlborough Rieslings, and show a possible future for others to follow to build more sophistication into the region’s wines.

FEATURED WINES IN THIS REVIEW

  • Greywacke Marlborough Riesling 2017
  • Greywacke Marlborough Riesling 2016
  • Greywacke Marlborough Riesling 2015
  • Greywacke Marlborough Riesling 2014
  • Greywacke Marlborough Riesling 2013
  • Greywacke Marlborough Riesling 2012
  • Greywacke Marlborough Riesling 2011
  • Greywacke Marlborough Riesling 2010
  • Greywacke Marlborough Riesling 2009

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