Authors Posts by Hawk Wakawaka

Hawk Wakawaka

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A wine drawing philosopher with a heart of gold. aka. #firekitten

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Dan Petroski, photo courtesy of David Bayless

In 2009 Dan Petroski launched the entirely white-wine-focused brand Massican, sourcing fruit from iconic Napa Valley vineyards. In 2012, fruit from Russian River Valley was added to ensure adequate quantities for the various cuvées. Although Massican relies on fruit from California’s North Coast, the inspiration for the brand rests in the fresh, aromatic whites of north-eastern Italy. Petroski lived in Italy making wine for a year after leaving a publishing position with Time magazine, and fell in love with the high-acid whites of the country. Massican’s core blend, Annia, recalls the classic white wine blends of Friuli, bringing together the Italian grapes of that region with Chardonnay.

Since 2006 Petroski has also served as the winemaker for Larkmead Vineyards, one of north Napa Valley’s heritage wineries. There the wine programme centres more typically for Napa on red bordeaux blends, although it is also a source of old-vine Tocai Friulano. (In the United States the TTB still requires the variety be called by the full name, Tocai Friulano, even though international labelling laws demand it be called simply Friulano – see Farewell Tocai Friulano.)

Petroski’s decision to produce white wines only under the Massican label is unusual for Napa Valley. It hints at the potential diversity in a region that has so strongly aligned itself with Cabernet Sauvignon and structured reds. While Massican’s blends focus on Friuli’s characteristic white wine varieties, Petroski’s Sauvignon Blancs are also a stand out. His 100% varietal expression offers an example unique for the region, using just enough oak to give it pleasing palate texture, while in the end delivering a harmony of savoury notes, balanced by just enough sweet stone fruit, and just enough spice. The result is a serious but delicious example of Sauvignon that avoids its excesses or stereotypes.

At the end of April, Petroski opened complete verticals of every wine he has made for Massican. It provided a unique opportunity to taste his current 2016 releases and to revisit previous vintages to see how they have aged. While the earlier vintages of 2009 through 2011 show a sense of…

To keep reading this article, including tasting notes, head on over to JancisRobinson.com

Here’s the direct link: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/massican-italian-inspired-napa-whites

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Remi Leroy

From my recent adventures in France I mentioned wandering my way into Antic Wine shop in Lyon. It’s a wonderful place, a sort of mecca for wine lovers from outside Europe. At least, if like me, it just feels good to be near bottles of wine of that quality. (One of my early experiences in a really mind blowing wine cellar I remember the strange restorative comfort I took just from standing near irreplaceable bottles even if I was unlikely to taste them. I have also long had a strange sort of empathetic encounter where if I turn my attention to another person or a thing in a certain way I’ll get taste-flashes of what that person is tasting, or taste what a thing is like. So, to stand near amazing bottles sometimes feels as though I am experiencing the wine even when it hasn’t literally been opened and poured for me.)

Quite quickly into my multi-hour visit with Georges at Antic it was clear our wine interests overlapped enough and that I respected his palate enough that I would readily take his advice on wine. So, when he found out I love Champagne and had tuned into the kind of wine I like he recommended I buy this bottle of Rémi Leroy Blanc de blancs, and I immediately did.

Getting the bottle back home I was torn. I could feel through the glass the kind of wine it would be. To truly enjoy it all I wanted to do was stay home, drink it on my own, and fall asleep in low light wearing a silk negligee – I just knew it was going to have that sort of silken, delicate, ethereal-with-substance sort of feel to it that can only be captured by such an experience. But as a wine lover in a community of wine lovers it is also important to share unique wines with people that can appreciate it and so too can understand its importance. So, I brought the bottle with me on a recent trip to Canada and drank it with friends on Vancouver Island while visiting them all in Victoria.

The Remi Leroy Blanc de blancs grows, uniquely, in the Côte des Bars of Aube. The area is predominately planted to Pinot Noir, but it is also full of Kimmeridgean soils, which many believe are better suited to Chardonnay. So, some brave souls have risked planting the white grape even as it grows surrounded by the red. Leroy is one. He farms organically, with a focus on cover crops to encourage the health of the soils and then takes a more minimalist approach in the cellar while keeping the focus on clean, stable cuvées at the same time. It would be ridiculous to call a methode traditionelle wine program anything like natural or non-interventionist, as so many steps are integral to just making sparkling wine, but Leroy aims to reduce cellar techniques or inputs that would otherwise be unnecessary. It’s a kind of balance I admire.

So, what of the wine itself?

It is unbelievably beautiful. My original sense of falling asleep in low light, perhaps candles, in a silk negligee captured the feel of the wine. It’s a slower paced, end of the day sort of wine. That softened glow one gets from candles with their flickering light cast across the walls and ceiling resembles the mouthfeel and presence of this wine on the palate.

Candle light, without doubt, has a delicate nature to it but at the same time the mood it casts is powerful. It can change the feel of an entire day, regardless of how things have gone. There is intimacy to it and a calm, sensual openness. Candle light in its qualities resembles the feel of silk used for negligees or nightgowns – soft and smooth, while thin and satiny, exactly what we mean when we use the word silken. It is light, delicate, sensual, and, again, carries its own unique mood.

The Remi Leroy 2009 Blanc de blancs sits in the center of this family of feeling.

If I was to turn to regular tasting notes I’d have to admit in a strange way I don’t remember its flavors – they were chalky and pale yellow, high tone ethereal notes, without being shrill, like what one would hear at high voice from a choir singing in a well-tuned cathedral – the wine was so much more about its texture, mouthfeel, and mood. It’s finish was long.

When I bought the wine from Antic, there were few bottles left of this 2009, it turned out, and it doesn’t get exported from France. The Remi Leroy brut does make it to the United States, for those wanting to try some of the Leroy wines, but I confess I haven’t had it yet. Based on the Blanc de blancs I would be shocked if it isn’t wonderful and I intend to taste it as soon as I can.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Oregon’s Renascent Riesling

Photo by Andrea Johnson Photography, courtesy of Brooks Winery

In the last 10 to 15 years there has been a small resurgence of interest in Riesling in Oregon. Today around 40 producers work with the variety, meeting as a group a few times a year to taste each others’ wines, both before and after bottling. They also host public tastings once a year in conjunction with the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration in July. Together these producers hope to support and improve the overall quality of winemaking for the variety, to preserve and establish quality sites and to raise awareness of Oregon Riesling more broadly. Their efforts are not insignificant. While the Willamette Valley and even the Umpqua Valley in the south are both well suited to the variety, Riesling has faced challenges in the state.

The variety found its way to Oregon in the modern era in the 1960s when it was first planted in the southern portion of the state. Though much of Southern Oregon is quite warm, the Umpqua Valley is a cool zone that suits the variety and producers such as Brandborg continue to grow it.

By the 1980s, Riesling played a significant role in the Willamette Valley as well. For a time it was the dominant white wine grape constituting around 23% of the state’s plantings, but challenges in wine quality led to many of those vineyards being pulled out. Interest turned instead towards Pinot Gris. Wineries such as Chehalem, Elk Cove and Brooks kept…

 

To keep reading this article, including tasting notes on all of their 2014 wines, continue to JancisRobinson.com

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/oregons-renascent-riesling

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Drinking Niepoort

My few days in Lyon included the unbelievable experience of drinking the first port Niepoort ever made, the Imperador made from a blend of vintages from 1842 to 1850. Beginning in 1842, Niepoort operated as a negociant style port house, as is typical for the region, buying port from families throughout the Douro and then blending, until the last two decades when Dirk Niepoort took over leadership as the fifth generation leading the family owned house.

At the end of the 1980s, Dirk began making table wine with grapes from the Duoro, sparking controversy through the region by breaking its mold, but Dirk’s still wine also inspired other winemakers to follow suit, with table wines from the Duoro now a relatively common practice. Since, Niepoort Vinhos has continued to produce some of the best still wines in Portugal, not only from the Duoro but also in small quantities from other key regions. Dirk has also shifted the house style on port away from being negociant-only to instead making the port wines from vine all the way to bottling as well. The shift in focus has brought incredible clarity to the style and an admirable elegance.

The Imperador was an unusual style for what the house would become – sweeter than what they went on to make after, and less robust, with less core palate density than wines that followed as well. Even so, it was a treasure to taste a wine not only of its age but its provenance. I have great admiration for the history of Niepoort so to enjoy a nip of their very first wine is irreplaceable.

Niepoort Garrafeira – a style Niepoort is one of the very few to make – proved to be not only the finest port I’ve ever tasted but also one of the finest wines I’ve ever had as well. Two years ago I was able to shadow Dirk through harvest in the Duoro for five days. Half way through the visit he had a special dinner to thank his winemakers and friends and I was also invited. Thanks to the longevity of the family house, his collection of aged ports is, of course, remarkable. Half way through the dinner he blinded us on two special bottles.

The first was a beautiful wine, elegant and concentrated, wonderfully aged and savory with an incredibly long finish and fully integrated sweetness – the experience was more about texture and mouthfeel, savor and well-aged spice than sweetness. It’s something Niepoort is known for – a less sweet style of port. There was a very light sense of angularity to the structure of the wine but it was pleasant, like the weave of shantung silk, with the more textural component integral to the delicate strength of the fabric. I was grateful for the wine and enjoyed it but in truth it wouldn’t have such strong place in my memory except for then tasting the wine that followed it.

The first of the two wines was a 1952 vintage port put into 5-gallon glass car boys in 1955 and aged that way until 1974 when it was bottled in a standard port bottle for market. The aging in car boy is integral to Garrafeira port, and Niepoort is one of the few to do this. Dirk told us the provenance of the wine only after we had also tasted the second.

Dirk then poured us the second wine blind. Tasting it, I couldn’t believe the experience. As soon as we sipped, we all fell silent. To this day it is the most exciting wine I’ve ever tasted – savory, palate stimulating, somehow glittering in its presentation. The wine was such a perfect experience it struck me as impossible to describe in regular terms. Later I told Dirk it felt like drinking mother of pearl – that iridescent, shimmering, metallic and pastel, sea blue inner layer of a nautilus shell. The wine was seamless, elegant, other worldly, the epitome of what we mean when we use the phrase fine wine.

Only after we tasted and discussed both wines did Dirk reveal to us what they were. The second wine had started its life as the exact same wine as the first – a vintage port from 1952 put into 5-gallon glass car boy in 1955. But while the first bottle was moved from car boy to bottle in 1974, this second remained in car boy longer, then bottled in 1987. Incredibly, the two wines had each spent exactly the same amount of time in glass, only the size of the glass had changed. The contrast between the two wines considering such a seamingly small change, and the discovery of their provenance and history was remarkable. It’s an experience I still reflect on often today – the importance of simple choices, the details, in relation to what develops later, the second wine such a testament to both experimentation and patience.

Returning all the way back to the very first Niepoort port, the Imperador, this week was inspired and charming. I’ll admit that while I admire the Imperador, it didn’t reach a place in the Pantheon for me as the 1952-87 Garrafeira did – one of the god heads of wine – but even so, it’s an experience I treasure. I learned about the history of Niepoort from tasting it, and it gave me great palate sense for how a wine like that ages – easily.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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Tasting at Antic Wine in Lyon

Georges and I taking a picture to send Dirk Niepoort

These days it’s rare that when I’m traveling it’s not for work and work trips are thick with scheduling. So, when I do happen to have a day or two on my own I prefer not to plan anything and instead take the time to do whatever happens to happen. I’m in France for the week and ended up with a day and a half on my own in Lyon here at the start of it. So, all day yesterday I spent just walking around the city until I happened upon a wine shop that looked interesting. It turns out my spontaneity unexpectedly hit gold.

Georges Dos Santos hosts what at first glance looks like a little shop, Antic Wine, in the heart of Lyon only a few hundred meters from the Saône River. The shop is brilliantly designed with all the choicest, affordable, quick grab morsels – this time of year that’s a lot of rosé – near the entrance, moving to progressively more esoteric wines further back. The whole upper floor though (at first glance) stays rather affordable with wines for the most part below 40 €. (It turns out at the very back there is a bit of a specialty room with old Sauternes, and often asked for higher end wines from the Rhone, Burgundy, and Bordeaux.) In the midst of it I found myself a favorite Chablis producer that does go into the United States but in such small quantities it’s almost impossible to find. It turned out my selection impressed Georges, which then led to our chatting for a moment. He invited me to look downstairs where serious treasure is kept.

The basement of Antic wine is full of Grand Cru, Premiere Cru Burgundy, magnums of Champagne, and select Rhone wines. Stepping back upstairs we chatted a bit more, which led to our realizing we know some of the same people in the wine world (see the photo above we sent to Dirk Niepoort as one such example), and the next thing I knew we were deep into an impromptu tasting of wines Georges likes and thought I would enjoy. That led to our then tasting through sample bottles he is deciding whether to carry in the shop, and then we were onto Champagnes that don’t enter the United States, obscure sake he hand carried back from Japan, 170 year old port, 70 year old sherry. Eventually I discovered the tiny shop also has a big storage room with some of the hardest to find bottles in the world. He doesn’t always open so many wines but my timing was perfect as he was also going to be hosting friends later who could help drink the wines.

The whole experience was a great example of the friendliness of the wine world and the benefits of being open to spontaneous experience. Though we tasted an impressive amount of wine over the course of five hours there are three I want to be sure to mention.

As many of you know, the last couple vintages in Burgundy have been brutal leading to some producers losing 100% of their fruit. In Chablis, Thomas Pico of Pattes Loup was one such vintner who lost all of his fruit in 2015/2016. To compensate slightly for the financial hardship of the lost vintage, he created a special small production, declassified cuvée made with fruit from other parts of France. Friends supplied him with what they could and he cofermented Chardonnay, Chenin and Clairette. Though the label says Chardonnay the wine tastes anything but – it’s fresh, energetic, herbal and naturally spiced with the viscosity of Chenin but the bones and length of Chardonnay. Utterly fascinating wine and absurdly affordable at less than 20 €. Unusual wines like this occur from necessity and are well worth supporting. It turns out Polaner brings it into the States in small quantities.

Dirk Niepoort has joined forces with his son Daniel, and winemaker Philipp Kettern to make Riesling from Mosel under the label Fio Wines, and it’s awesome. The Cabinett is, as it sounds, inspired by Kabinett style wines with just a hint of sweetness to balance the midpalate on an unbelievably long fresh wash of pure, bright acidity. That sense of purity is the real hallmark of both of the Fio Rieslings (there is also a third but I didn’t taste it here). The Cabinett is utterly drinkable and begs you to run down the street to grab spicy Thai food as it would keep that palate of yours sparkling alongside lemongrass, lime, and basil flavors with the touch of residual sugar balancing the heat. The Fio, the top end of the three Rieslings, is a mind bender – it’s utterly flinty on the nose and then full of slate minerality on the palate. Totally dry with an impressively long finish – you could run down the road, order your Thai food to go with the other wine, wait till they make it, then slowly walk back to eat it at home as if you haven’t a care in the world and so much time, and the Fio finish would still be going – but most of all it’s the purity. The Fio is one of those wines I’ll be thinking about for a while. The Cabinett was 28 € and the Fio around 40 € but in case you’re looking for it Antic is the only shop that will have it in France and distribution outside Germany will be minimal.

Next time you’re in Lyon be sure to visit Georges at Antic. It’s one of those finds that’s so good I’m probably breaking some kind of industry secret by telling you about the place. If so, that just reconfirms it’s worth the visit.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Decanter June Issue: Travel Washington State

The June issue of Decanter has just been released. It includes a look at the Bordeaux vintage from 2016, an in depth interview with Jean-Louis Chave considering the history and evolution of the Rhone, and also offers this year’s buying guide for Chablis. Smaller features include a look at what it means to make wine with a 100-point score – to what extent is it really about site versus cellar? – but also a glimpse at Corsica and of course the on going regular columns from the likes of Steven Spurrier and Andrew Jefford. It also includes a four-page wine travel article I wrote on Washington State.

The article takes a quick look at wine country across the state of Washington beginning in Seattle then moving East. While it starts with a look at Woodinville and Seattle’s big wine events, it turns quickly to life across the Cascades, the various wine appellations on that side of the state, and culminates in a focus on Walla Walla with key wineries, restaurants and places to stay.

The June issue is just out now online. It is also starting to arrive in subscriber mailboxes and will be in newsstands momentarily. Check it out!

 

 

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Rippon

Nick Mills at Rippon on the shores of Lake Wanaka

On the shores of Lake Wanaka in Central Otago stands Rippon. While the property hosts what is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful (and most photographed) vineyard sites in the world, Rippon itself is importantly not just a vineyard. The site is owned and operated by the Mills family, with today the fifth generation beginning its stewardship of the land under the philosophy of the place as a complete farm.

It was Rolfe and Lois Mills who originally established vineyards at Rippon becoming, alongside Ann Pinckney and Alan Brady, the first to both plant vines and successfully release commercial wines from the region. Together Rolfe, Ann, and Alan worked to solve the viticultural challenges of a genuinely cold climate at a time when not only had no one grown modern vines there (and the world thought it impossible) but also none of the supplies typically associated with vineyard life were readily available. Once the vines were established, the three of them also set about solving the logistics of how to make wine. As a result, Rolfe and Alan were the first to make Pinot Noir commercially from Central Otago while at the same time Ann focused her efforts on Gewurztraminer.

Today, Lois Mills continues to work with Rolfe’s and her children to steward Rippon. Her grandchildren, while still young, are being raised into the farming life as well. The original vines established at Rippon in the early 1980s continue today – seen in the photo above near the lake – and go into both the original vine single vineyard bottling, Tinker’s Field, as well as serve as a portion of the Rippon Old Vines Pinot Noir.

Nick Mills serves as lead winemaker for the estate and helps to guide the overarching business as well. As he explains, the idea of a complete farm is one of the core guiding principles for Rippon but it also reaches back in inspiration to historical necessity.

It was Nick’s grandfather, Percy Sargood who originally purchased Wanaka Station in 1912, naming it for his grandmother Emma Rippon. The remoteness of the site meant supplies that would otherwise ease the farming were not readily available and work had to be done not with machines as much as horses and hand. But employing animals and your fellow man to help with farm work also meant farming the food to feed them, and build the facilities to house them too. Wanaka Station, then, operated as not only its own farm but in a sense a complete village growing and producing all the aspects needed for life in a remote region. In the midst of it all was the community hall where everyone of Rippon would eat together.

While transportation and technology have lessened the apparent remoteness of Wanaka, the vision of a complete farm has persisted at Rippon. Nick describes ideas of biodynamics as further inspiration for how they interpret this vision of farming today but the sense of community and camaraderie implicit in his description also proves consistent with stories in the region about his father Rolfe. For those that knew and worked with him, Rolfe is often described as a thoughtful man, and even a kind of spiritual figure, not in the religious sense but instead in his care for encouraging people to work together. The collaborative efforts of the region’s founders are one such example.

As Nick describes, Rippon is not merely the vineyard but a place with its own personality or identity, as well as its own voice. The influence of the surrounding geography, the soil architecture, the overall climate, the people that steward the land, the flora and fauna already growing there all operate as part of that unique place. By seeing the property in this way from the start the place must be respected as a sort of individual with its own needs, health, character, and forms of expression. Such an idea can also be seen today more broadly percolating through New Zealand culture. The country recently granted one of its major rivers the same legal rights as a human being.

In practical terms, such an approach means not just a shift in perspective – the place or the river are not just for any person’s selfish use but instead is something one has a relationship with that must be cared for – but also turning ones farming choices into parts of a bigger picture with a longer term goal of sustainability. At Rippon, farming is thought of in terms of a complete annual cycle.

Farming vines to produce wine, for example, is asking of the plants a type of production that would not occur otherwise in nature, but even so is also part of sustaining the overall farm. The vineyard, then, is a form of compromise or reconciliation between the needs of the vine and the needs of the farm. In asking the vines to produce grapes for wine they must also be provided with the nutrients, care and support they need to not only grow fruit but also begin the next growing cycle with the same health, nutrients and energy with which they started the previous. Farming, then, turns from a form of depleting the plant until it cannot give any more, as is seen in much commercial agriculture, to an investment in the long term health of the vine. Such health is sustained, for example, through annual practices such as compost, homeopathic teas for the vineyard, and cover crops.

As Nick explains, Rippon was started with a love for the land first. As a farm it had to be asked again and again what the best use of the land was for the place. The ongoing love for the land inspires that process of continuing to reconcile asking something of the land with returning to it what it needs.

Walking Tinker’s Field, the section planted by the Mills in the early 1980s, and tasting fruit a few weeks ago, the Pinot Noir was not yet ready for harvest. It would be another two weeks before they would pick. But even so there was something wonderfully satisfying in biting into the seeds of the grapes. They were toasted and woodsy, earthy and flavorful without being aggressively astringent. It’s a description rarely appropriate to the seeds of not-quite-ready fruit on the vine. Later, in tasting last year’s vintage from tank of the same block, and then later a few vintages of Tinker’s Field I suddenly recognized that same flavor and feel layered into the wine. It’s what Nick would call the voice of Rippon echoing there from vineyard to wine, the seeds one unique expression of the place of the farm.

Rippon “Rippon: Mature Vine” Pinot Noir 2013 Central Otago 13%

Savory and earthy aromatics with impressive complexity and depth – hints of crushed, dry cocoa, a mix of forest and bramble notes, mixed fresh berries, earth – are followed on the palate by firm, chalky tannin that gain suppleness and pleasure with air, mouthwatering palate stimulation and nice length. With air, that chalky tannin marries to the fresh, high tone acidity of the region for a long, pure finish. There are flavors of cocoa, gunmetal and a mix of dark fruits – black plum skin, fresh black currant, and a squeeze of fresh blackberry – but the wine is more about earthy, woodsy (as in forest and dried grasses) notes than fruit. There is pleasing depth and natural concentration here coupled with a fresh, purity and energy that feels distinctive and expressive of Rippon. This is still a profoundly young, while also complex and beautiful wine. It will no doubt age and develop nicely with time in bottle. If opening now allow it plenty of air, and time in decanter – would be best enjoyed slowly over the course of the evening or meal as there is plenty to compel you as the wine continues to evolve, and that palate stimulation will do well with food.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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Drinking Saint Bris

To the Southwest of Chablis, along the cut of the River Yonne, in the heart of Auxerrois sits the darling appellation of Saint Bris – darling because of its uniqueness, darling because of its smaller size, darling because the mere idea of it carries ineffable charm. The subzone of Saint Bris proves to be the only AOC in Burgundy to grow Sauvignon, the presence of which in that celebrated region is a surprise to many.

As if the idea of Burgundian Sauvignon isn’t enough, make sure to place it in Kimmeridgian limestone, near its eponymous medieval city of Saint Bris that includes what are apparently the most intricate and remarkable limestone cellars in the region of Burgundy (I haven’t seen them personally but how I’d love to).

A mere 133 hectares grow in the Saint Bris AOC. It’s been a recognized appellation since 2003. The variety found its way to the area sometime after the phylloxera blight devastated the now-obscure white varieties then growing in the region. Until that time the village of Saint Bris was actually part of Chablis but the radical change to viticultural health as a result of the louse infestation led to geographical reassignments as well, even with the still Chablisienne soils. Enter Sauvignon. By the 1970s it was being officially recognized for quality.

With its relatively small size and moderate obscurity, the area still hosts smaller production, hands on, family farmers. The Goisot family is one such example. Father and son farmers, Jean-Hughes and Guilhem, dedicate their time to the viticulture then keeping a less interventionist approach, to beautiful effect, in the cellar. The wines are stunning.

While Goisot also produces Bourgogne blanc – a Chablisienne Chardonnay, and also a classic while friendly Aligote – it was their Saint Bris I had to get my hands on. The wines are simultaneously charming and serious, full of refreshing minerality and impressive complexity. It was exciting too to taste the side by side.

Goisot 2014 Saint Bris: Exogyra Virgula and Corps de Garde

The aromatics of these wines carries the chalky signature of its region while the palate on both is mouthwatering, sophisticated and full of length. In both there is an impressive natural density to the core of the palate and a luscious mouthfeel full of mineral freshness and mouthwatering while delicate acidity. They are both impressively elegant wines with delicious length.

The Exogyra Virgula focuses on Sauvignon Blanc vines of the family estate with half approaching 40 years of age, and the other half around 15 years thanks to replanting. The vines grow entirely in Kimmeridgian lime, and are farmed biodynamically. Once in the cellar the wine is vinified in stainless with ambient yeast fermentation and a focus on freshness, then aged on fine lees also in stainless.

The nose hints at Sauvignon Blanc aromatics with a flash of fresh, pure fruits accented by wispy hints of fresh floral greenery but on the palate the wine feels like rolling river rocks through the mouth – full of not-quite-salty palate stimulation – with a satisfying balance of mouthwatering acidity and enough flesh to let the wine have presence across the palate from open to close. The elegance with texture, sophistication with easiness of this wine really impressed me. Definitely enjoy it alongside food as it would love white seafoods.

In the best vintages Goisot also produces the Corps de Garde bottling made from the family’s vines of Fie Gris, an ancestor of Sauvignon Blanc also referred to as Sauvignon Gris. The variety apparently naturally produces lower yields than its Blanc relation, which reduced its popularity among farmers, while also more readily retaining freshness. The Goisot family remains one of the few to preserve the variety in the region. They grow it too in Kimmeridgian lime, biodynamically, then vinify it in stainless steel with ambient yeasts and full malolactic conversion. The result is beautiful.

More savory, and intense compared to the more delicate Exogyra Virgula, the Corps de Garde offers wonderful complexity with elegance and an impressive detailing of flavors. There are inherent exotic spices, hints of wax, wispy floral greenery and a lot of mineral persistence throughout. Most of all I love the mouthfeel, the chalky accents, and the mouthwatering length. It’s a lovely and special wine that would enjoy more time in bottle to age.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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Driving Gibbston Valley with Alan Brady

walking Monte Rosa Lodge Vineyard in Gibbston Valley, the highest elevation vineyard in Central Otago

When he started planting vines in Gibbston Valley at the start of the 1980s, not only was Alan Brady establishing the first vineyards in the subzone, he was one of the first outsiders to move into the area in generations. Gibbston Valley had been populated by sheep farmers who farmed their flocks on expanses of land passed on to the next generation and then the next. Local crops were just that, local, generally used simply to feed the families that also farmed them. Alan’s goal, on the other hand, was to grow grape vines that could become a commercial venture, wine that could be enjoyed not only by he and his family but perhaps even abroad.

When she’d started planting in Dalefield several years earlier, Ann Pinckney had asked farmers throughout Central Otago what they’d noticed about weather and ripening patterns in the region. They told her crops in Gibbston Valley were generally ready ten days sooner than closer to Queenstown, where she’d planted, and crops in Bannockburn or through the Cromwell Basin were ready ten days sooner than Gibbston Valley. Queenstown was colder than Gibbston Valley, and Gibbston Valley colder than Bannockburn, in other words. She’d managed to ripen vines in her area near Queenstown so Gibbston Valley would too.

Even with Ann and Alan’s work, today many producers disagree. Subsequent generations of winemakers tend to say the area adequately ripens fruit only one out of three vintages. The other years, common knowledge goes, the fruit is too green and high acid, underripe due to colder weather.

Alan disagrees. The area ripens fruit. It is instead, he says, a matter of patience. In colder vintages, he explains, vines simply take longer to ripen but they always do. While many more people have since established vines in Gibbston Valley and the subregion is now full of outsiders, in truth, no one else has more experience with the area than Alan Brady.

On the day Alan and I drive and walk vineyards together, most producers have just finished picking Pinot Noir in the Cromwell Basin. In Gibbston Valley, we walk the highest elevation vineyard in all of Central Otago, at 470 meters it is one of the colder sites in a colder growing zone. Here Alan sources fruit for his small production wine label, Wild Irishman. Clusters in the rows we walk are all hens and chicks – differing sized berries – and the seeds are not yet lignified. As we taste through the rows I ask how long he thinks until he picks. A week to ten days, he says, the same timing as Ann Pinckney’s farmers’ expectations. When I ask he confirms, the site has successfully ripened fruit each of the several years since he started working with it. It’s also never been frosted.

Alan Brady with a bottle of Pinot from the site he first planted in Gibbston Valley and the first Pinot made there

It is also clear Alan’s claim that Gibbston ripens every year is at least partially a stylistic one.

The first Pinot of Central Otago came from its cold outer reaches of Gibbston Valley (through Alan’s first winery named for its valley home) and Wanaka (via Rolfe and Lois Mills Rippon). Along with Ann’s Taramea, these earliest wines first proved Central Otago could successfully grow grape vines and make commercially viable wines. When the area’s wines managed to gain attention as far afield as the United Kingdom in the early 1990s, outside investors began moving in to establish new vineyards not only in Alan’s Gibbston Valley but also further inland first into the Bannockburn subzone of the Cromwell Basin. Thanks to these outsiders, today, there are numerous tasting rooms in Gibbston Valley. It’s closer proximity to Queenstown makes it prime real estate for tourists. Even so, thanks to its warmer temperatures, there is more vineyard development in the Cromwell Basin

It was there, in the comparatively warmer Cromwell Basin, the wines that gave Central Otago its more substantial global reputation in the late 1990s and 2000s were grown. Through these newer plantings, Central Otago made its reputation with wines of generosity, Pinot with plenty of extraction and size. The earliest vineyards of the region were also established in its coldest spots. As the region grew, newer winemakers tended to make wines using techniques to increase the fruit’s natural palate presence relying on ripeness, plenty of oak, proportions of whole cluster and work during fermentation to pull more substance from the grapes. Alan’s own Gibbston Valley wines in the 1990s and early 2000s included 100% whole cluster and 100% new oak with plenty of ripeness.

Even so, in the coolest of years, wines grown in Gibbston Valley don’t readily lend themselves to balance at larger size. Earlier in the region, balance with bigger size tended to be gained by blending fruit from multiple sites. Vineyard designate wines have only become a more common venture in recent years.

As Central Otago has evolved, the stylistic range has also diversified to include fresher wines with more site transparency. But even for those that avoid over extraction, some producers simply prefer the natural roundness or darker flavors of warmer temperatures. The best from Gibbston Valley tends towards a more lifted and lighter palate presence with more pixelated flavors of mountain plants. For producers wanting fuller styles in single vineyard bottlings, then, such size can be grown more reliably further inland.

Alan recognizes his historical part in the pursuit of bigness. Some of his earlier wines depended on it. (It should be said they’ve also easily aged twenty years. Even still carrying the oak and stem signature they were made to celebrate, they also offer fresh acidity and supple tannin.) After forty years of vine growing and winemaking, he explains, he has gained confidence in nature and come to recognize that if we let it, it will do things for us. The fruit will get ripe and if we pick it in good condition, without much work in the cellar, it will make good wine. But on top of that confidence there has also been a change in perspective.

With a lifetime in wine, and having turned 80 last year, Alan says, he no longer feels he has anything to prove. At the same time, he recognizes it is a great privilege to make wine and share it with friends. Tasting his current wines with him it is also clear he means it. There is an easiness coupled with intelligence and relaxed sophistication to the wines that is pleasing.

We taste through several examples of his newest label, Wild Irishman. For a time he used the winery to explore regional diversity making single vineyard designate wines from sites in Bannockburn and Gibbston Valley. It’s fascinating to see the contrast in flavors between his Bannockburn wine and the Gibbston. Though they’re treated the same in the cellar, and both with a rather light touch, the Bannockburn bottling is deeper purple and rounder on the palate to the lifted, herbal blossoms and spindly tannin of the Gibbston wines. Both carry the fresh, diffused brightness of the region’s acidity.

Though he has retired now multiple times, Alan has found he simply likes making wine. After selling his part of Gibbston Valley, the winery he started in the valley of the same name, he founded and briefly led a second winery in the same valley, Mount Edward. There he intended to build a project he could manage single handedly. After several years he realized he was instead ready to step away from wine and sold. Eventually wine called him again and he founded Wild Irishman.

After exploring Bannockburn for several years he returned his focus only to Gibbston Valley. The region is, he says, his love. You can see it too in the naming of my favorite of his wines. His 2014 Macushla Pinot has little extraction but still plenty of flavor. The wine is lifted with notes of mountain thyme and tiny alpine flowers. On the palate the wine is beautifully integrated and complete, elegant with still plenty of presence. Through it all the wine is mouthwatering and savory, full of a rocky, mineral crunch with an ultra long finish. I ask him about the name, Macushla. It is gaelic, he explains, as he is Irish, and it translates as my darling, or more literally, my pulse. The name, he says, represents his life these forty years with Pinot noir.

For more on the founding history of the first vineyards in Central Otago, including those of Alan Brady in Gibbston Valley, as well as Rolfe Mills in Wanaka, and Ann Pinckney’s in Speargrass Flats: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2017/04/24/ann-pinckney-vine-legend-the-start-of-central-otago-wine/

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

 

3

Meeting Ann Pinckney, Vine Legend

In the car with Ann Pinckney and some of her pets

We’re driving up a steep and winding driveway to a plateau at the top of her property, Ann Pinckney and I, where some of her original vines – among the very first ever planted in Central Otago – from the early 1980s still grow. In the back of the car with us are three dogs clearly used to car life. They hopped in the back and got into their seats side by side without discussion as if they’ve always sat this way. When I comment to Ann about her dogs she responds that they’re usually back there with a goat she also has as a pet. Today the goat is out grazing one of the paddocks. When we get to the top of the hill and step out of the car we’re quickly surrounded by a flock of pet chickens.

Ann Pinckney was the first person to plant vitis vinifera vines commercially in Central Otago in the modern era. The very first vines in the region were actually established in the 1860s by Jean Desire Feraud, a French settler to the region, for his Monte Christo winery in Clyde, in a different valley of Central Otago than Ann’s Speargrass Flats. The region had grown significantly thanks to the gold rush and Feraud saw it as an opportunity to serve the area with quality wine. When he sold his property in the late 1880s the site included over 1200 vines, planted from cuttings he imported from Australia, as well as orchard fruits, several thousand mixed berry bushes and a half acre of strawberries. He used the fruit to make various sorts of cordials, distillates and vinegars for cooking. His original vines were propagated in multiple locations on the South island. Walking beside his original winery, unidentified, dark-berried, old vines still wrap and climb sections along the side of the stone building.

the Monte Christo Winery building, still intact in Clyde

Even with Feraud’s previous successes, at the time Ann began her work with vines in the mid-1970s, it was universally understood that Central Otago was too cold to grow grapes. Vineyards had been established further north in New Zealand and viticultural research stations were even in country but Otago’s cold semi-continental climate was viewed too extreme for vines. Asking Ann about her determination to try anyway she explains that Central Otago already had an established, albeit small, orchard industry. She was certain that if the region could ripen tree fruits it could also ripen grapes.

We walk from the car to where the trees surrounding her house open up near the edge of the hill. On the way the ground is covered in horse manure where she explains she kept her pony until recently. The plan has been to use his droppings to help enrich the health of the soils so she can begin planting again organically.

We step around the corner, just past the pony’s recent home, and there are vines so full of canopy they look like bushes. They’re surrounded by fencing to keep out Otago’s infestation of rabbits. From her original 1980s vineyards established on this plateau, Ann managed to save these few hundred vines of Riesling and Gewurztraminer, as well as one rogue Chasselas. Up here at around 1100 ft, she says, the vines have never been frosted. Even so, they have sat unwatered and uncultivated for the last several years but still produce fruit. In a desert climate with very little rain that is a testament to their hardiness, at least partially thanks to vine age. In 2016 she managed to harvest 17 kilograms of fruit and made 10 liters of wine with it as an experiment. With such little volume it was easy to forget about so the wine was left unattended. She shows it to us. The amber-gold colored wine has been oxidized. Its aromas are muted but in the mouth it so clearly tastes of the ginger and rose blossom spice of Gewurztraminer and the finish is mouthwatering. You can see from it the site could grow interesting fruit.

Ann Pinckney beside her Gewurztraminer vines

Ann’s comment about the site’s lack of frost is not insignificant. Frost proves one of the biggest challenges in Central Otago’s marginal growing climate. One of the most important factors to consider when establishing new vineyards in the region is not just soil or sun exposure but its natural frost protection. Lower elevations sites are more likely to suffer damage from cold, but higher sites can be hit just as easily if poorly situated. Most locals make the point though that no site is truly frost free. Huge weather systems occasionally blow north from Antarctica creating a genuine freeze through the region that can’t be avoided by anyone regardless of elevation.

Along with a series of personal setbacks, frost proved the demise of Ann’s previous career in viticulture. While her still existing high elevation vines have survived every frost in the region, she had expanded her vineyard plantings to include a site down below. At the end of the 1980s the region was hit by a deep freeze and the lower elevation site lost its vines. Her production was cut in half. Even so, Ann explains the set back wouldn’t have been enough to stop her work in viticulture except that in the same year her mother’s health declined. Ann chose to step out of farming and step into taking care of her mother. It was her mother’s generosity that first helped Ann begin growing vines.

Her very first vineyard was planted in a deeply cold subzone in Dalefield on her mother’s home property. Ann explains she knew it was unlikely to do very well by grapes but it was the land she had access to at the time and her thought was that if she could get vines in that area anywhere close to ripening it meant vines could ripen essentially throughout the rest of Central Otago. Her intention was to test the far outer limit for cold. The experiment worked. At the end of the 1970s she found the 250 vines she planted on her mother’s property in Dalefield could grow. So, a year later she found property in the slightly warmer area of Speargrass Flats and propagated own root vines with cuttings from the original site. As she explains, even then she knew the site wouldn’t be as warm as further inland near Bannockburn but it was where she had the chance to establish vines so she took it. She gave herself ten years to prove not only that vines could successfully grow in Central Otago but also that they could produce commercially successful wine. Then she set about traveling around the world to work in vineyards and learn more about how to grow vines in a cold climate region.

looking into uncultivated Gewurztraminer vines at Ann Pinckney’s Taramea vineyard

Ann’s determination proved pivotal for Central Otago. To gain more insight she worked and studied viticulture in Australia, France, Italy, Alsace, and Germany, eventually befriending Dr Helmut Becker, a professor of viticulture at Geisenheim University in Germany. Once she returned to her vineyards he served as a long-distance advisor to dealing with everything from frost setbacks to pruning to selecting best varieties. Her global studies helped her establish not only her own vineyards but also advise others being planted in the region.

Soon after getting started, Ann met and befriended two other viticultural pioneers of Central Otago, Alan Brady and Rolfe Mills. The three of them planted in three distinct subregions of Central Otago, each placed along the outer edges of the region – Ann first in Dalefield and then at the site where she still lives in Speargrass Flats near Queenstown, Alan in Gibbston Valley, and Rolfe on the opposite side of the region on the shores of Lake Wanaka. Through the isolation of spearheading an industry in a region otherwise unrecognized and so remote they’re shared community would keep them going in the venture. Together they would also problem solve vineyard issues.

The three growers would also make their first wines together on Ann’s Speargrass property in a several year process of trial and error. The area had never even seen fermentation tanks, a traditional wine press, or barrels and there were very little supplies available generally. Central Otago was a region essentially near the bottom of the world. It was so remote life in general, let alone winemaking, was a process of making due with what could be found. Their first fermentation vessels were food-grade safe milk tanks used in farming of the region. It turned out the acidity of the wine leached unpleasant flavors from the rubber in a way that wasn’t an issue for milk. They lost that vintage. Grapes were pressed by hand, and, at the end of the process, wines were filtered before bottling using clean women’s knickers. It would take ten years of trial and error from when Ann established vines until the first commercial bottling would be released.

In 1985, the group made the first successful wine on the property from Ann’s Gewurztraminer, as well as a Chasselas from Rolfe’s vines in Wanaka. In 1987, the winery would finally be bonded and the first official commercial wines would be made on the property – a Gewurztraminer from Ann’s vineyard bottled under her winery label Taramea, and a Pinot Noir from Alan’s label Gibbston Valley. The same year Rolfe also successfully made his first Pinot Noir under his label Rippon though it was held a bit longer before release than Alan’s wine.
The success of these first wines would finally change people’s minds on Central Otago. By 1988, the group’s wines would already be featured in an international cool climate symposium in Auckland grabbing the attention of international professionals like Jancis Robinson. Rolfe’s Chasselas bottled for his Rippon winery would be among the first wines to prove Central Otago could successfully make quality wine. By the early 1990s, wines from Central Otago were already being sold in the UK. Among the first to be recognized commercially there was a 1989 Taramea dry Gewurztraminer. A 1990 Gibbston Valley Pinot would also find its way to London where Jancis Robinson tasted it during dinner with a friend alongside a wine from Alsace and another from Burgundy. The experience increased her interest in New Zealand wine. By the early 1990s outside interest turned its attention to Central Otago and new plantings began to go into the central areas of the region in what is now known as the Cromwell Basin or Lake Dunstan subzone beginning first in Bannockburn.

Though Ann Pinckney has not made commercial wine since the mid 1990s she explains that her intention is to use cuttings from the vines still growing on site to reestablish a vineyard in the same spot she once planted on the plateau near her house in Speargrass Flats. The site down below where her vineyard suffered frost damage has since been sold for houses. With its proximity to Queenstown, it’s a part of Central Otago where residential land prices standout. For most developers the higher prices for residential land mean vineyards have not been a worthy venture. Even so, Ann explains, the value of land cannot be thought of only in relation to short term gain. For her, the upper plateau is an area worth investing in vines.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.