on the way to visit Bilancia VIneyard in Hawke’s Bay
Hawke’s Bay hosted the Classic Reds Symposium last month, as well as a day in the area’s subzones of Bridge Pa and Gimblett Gravels, immediately following the Pinot Noir NZ event. The organization of the Classic Reds Symposium impressed me.
Producers in the region were quite willing to offer an honest presentation of their wines and discuss appropriate critique of their quality as well. Additionally, it was bold for the Symposium to immediately follow the Pinot Noir NZ event, even if that makes sense in terms of tasting order by palate weight. It’s a rather easy move, generally speaking, for a wine critic to like Pinot Noir these days – the variety’s lighter general weight and style is on trend compared to naturally fuller framed or more structured wines that so readily receive criticism these days. So, to follow an event of a popular wine type with a less celebrated weight category is a bit of a brave move. I felt the tasting of both Cabernet Sauvignon blends and Syrah wines from New Zealand, as shown at the Classic Reds Symposium, was among one of the more insightful tastings in which I’ve been able to participate. It is a rare thing to find a region so willing to be open to that level of discussion and it speaks well to their long term commitment to quality. By the end of the Symposium I felt genuinely excited for the quality of wines coming out of Hawke’s Bay and especially for where it feels the region is headed. Vineyards there have reached stable vine age and the winemakers are genuinely committed to incremental improvement. There are good wines from the region today and we are going to keep seeing better wines in the years to come as well.
The day following, where we tasted from Bridge Pa and Gimblett Gravels, was also fascinating and well done. The regional vintners’ groups came up with truly creative ways to show us the character and growing conditions of their regions. Their techniques are shown in the following photos, as shared at the time via Instagram.
Intense honesty getting pushed through the Syrah Masterclass in the Classic Reds NZ Symposium. Room full of wine experts from all over the world, 16 global examples of Syrah (though primarily NZ) and 5 regional winemakers equals rather blunt in depth discussion ranging from technical to stylistic interests. #nzwine #classicredsnz #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa
“It’s like Red Bull for plants […] a little nirvana.” Steve Smith MW explaining how the combination of ultra high UV in NZ in a relatively low stress environment for vines thanks to relatively high level humidity (not a desert) and good but not excessive heat (few days over 100 degrees F) means vines grow relatively easily. In his view the lower stress means the human aspect of terroir can be expressed more readily thanks to making choices in the vineyard for fine tuning quality rather than just compensating stress or reducing vigor. #nzwine #classicredsnz #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa
Master of Wine Steve Smith explaining how when you look at climate conditions from flowering to harvest – the growing degree days and conditions in that time period – three regions in the world have overlapping (similar) climatic characteristics, the Left Bank of Bordeaux, Margaret River and the warmer portions of Hawke’s Bay. A Cabernet & Merlot Masterclass focused primarily on New Zealand with world benchmarks included. #nzwine #classicredsnz #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa
Fascinating look at Bordeaux varieties and blends in Hawke’s Bay with world benchmark wines thrown into mix. The region is in a shift in vine age and the jump in quality from the overall balance that comes with it. Interesting to discuss questions of freshness, tannin ripeness, soil drainage to climate alongside examples now but I am excited to see where this region is going to go. It feels on the cusp of a new stage of insight into regional characteristics and winemaking clarity that comes with it and I look forward to keeping up with it. #nzwine #classicredsnz #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa
Funniest thing ever. During a quick afternoon break we went for a walk around Havelock North, Mister David Keck and I. While sipping our long blacks we got asked by the restaurant server if we’d blind taste a bottle of wine with no label to help her sort out what it was so she could find other wines like it. It’s her favorite wine she’s had in her life so far. Our best guess: a 2007 Merlot blend from Hawke’s Bay. #nzwine #hawkesbaywine #classicredsnz @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @yrmom_safoodie
Founding members of the curly girl and lipstick club with one of our honorary knights. (It’s a very high honor to be appointed knight. It means you’re one of our favorite people anywhere.) #nzwine #hawkesbaywine #classicredsnz @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa There has been a truly special group of people on this trip. We begin peeling off in different directions today and the truth is I am a bit heartbroken. I have never felt more at ease and happy while also able to study and work than I have here on this trip. Thank you again to @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa for including me. So glad to have a few more days here to study. @janeskiltonmw @yrmom_safoodie
OH MY GOD I AM SO EXCITED. Crazy steep terraced and wind exposed Syrah site full of wild fennel and lavender for Bilancia’s La Collina. Hard to show how steep it is and the vineyard keeps descending in terraces down the hill. I really love this wine. #nzwine #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @lacollinanz @bilancianz
Wine lover terroir prayer circle. This is what happens when a mess of Masters of Wine, a Master Sommelier and a wine dork (me) realize the dirt smells just like the wine (Provençal herbal while dusty) and they just can’t get enough. #nzwine #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @bilancianz @lacollinanz @winediviner @madsmw @yrmom_safoodie
Deft edge here of flint flash cut through sinewy flesh giving tension, subtlety, nuance and energy. Really nice example of the delicate flavors with ballerina-like power across the palate – all light feet and dancing with an innate strength that comes so gracefully you just see the movement. Nicely done. The not-yet-released 2015 gives a swish-swish-swish silken ball gown movement – elegant, lengthy while also serious – across the palate while at the same time carrying more power (though still subtle) compared to the 2014. I’m a fan. #nzwine #hawkesbaywine @lacollinanz @bilancianz @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa
There are moments in life that offer such a purity of presence joined with depth, affection, honesty. They are a blessing. Truly a special wine the Bilancia 2008 La Collina Syrah, such fine fine finely layered elegance carrying the dusty herbal Provençal earth of the vineyard, savory harmony of flavor, structure, length. I am built of gratitude. There is nothing else. #nzwine #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @lacollinanz @bilancianz @madsmw
Peter and Paul (where’s Mary?) explaining the geological history of Bridge Pa Red Metal Gravels. While New Zealand is quite young these free draining sand loam with gravel soils are the oldest on the Heretaunga Plains. The soils are incredibly shallow before hitting stones. The loam retains enough water from winter to sustain the vines till Christmas then it runs out of water and rains sprinkle through the region into the growing season. In drier years irrigation is lightly done. #nzwine #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa
Jennie Dobson describing the meandering changes of the Ngaruroro River through the Heretaunga Plains of Hawke’s Bay and how it has caused evolving advancements of gravel through the region moving from old ironstone gravels with topsoil of sandy loam in Bridge Pa to Greywacke Gravel with very little topsoil in the younger Gimblett Gravels. #nzwine #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa
As vine age has increased through the Gimblett Gravels region site expression has also increased with overall vine balance and natural harmony in the fruit. With the evolution of vineyards in this way producers have also gained confidence in their sites and thus have been able to step back in use of barrique, reducing overall oak signature and instead homing in on highlighting site expression more through the wines. The Trinity Hill 2014 Syrah a nice example. Oak spice still gilds the edges of the Syrah but it mimics the cinnamon bark naturally shown from the fruit itself. Stimulating stony minerality through a long finish. #nzwine #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa
Deep Greywacke gravel with a thin layer of wind blown silt top soil throughout the Gimblett Gravels ranging from almost non existence topsoils on the hills to the still little depth of about 50 centimeters shown here at Villa Maria’s Omaha Gravels Vineyard. The gravels are high draining, which increases aromatics and offers a distinctive structural form but also means vineyards are growing on the edge of ripeness not by temperature as is so often considered but by soil architecture and its water holding capacity. #nzwine #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @villamariawines
Nice freshness and structural focus on the Villa Maria 2013 Ngakirikiri Cabernet with floral and fresh pop just picked black currant aromatics followed by a linear palate of mixed herbs and a tear of dark tree bark. Good mineral length. Leave it in bottle a couple years before opening but then look for nice aging potential. Deft balance of elegance and power. #nzwine #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @villamariawines
One of the original 1982 Syrah vines rescued and planted own rooted by Allen Limmer here in Stonecroft Vineyard, now known as the MS clone or Mass Selection. The MS is believed to be the selection originally brought to New Zealand by James Busby, more famously known as the father of viticulture in Australia. The variety seems to have been throughout vine regions of New Zealand beginning with Busby’s arrival in the 1840s. Thanks to Prohibition it was greatly diminished and almost completely lost until in 1982 Limmer rescued the last canes of it in the country and brought it to what is now known as the Gimblett Gravels subregion of Hawke’s Bay. These vines as the mother block for the country. As other clones have been brought to the country vintners have experimented with the new selections but many say they return again to the MS. #nzwine #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa
The United Nations wine initiative for world peace continues (with just as much enthusiasm though a bit more fatigue). Delegates from China, Singapore, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Germany, England, New Zealand and the United States asleep on the bus to Martinborough …. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa
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