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Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Looking over vineyards in the Riverlands area of Marlborough

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has a clear reputation for quality and expression globally. Winemakers through the region are impressively skilled at creating reliable wines that are both technically sound and on point. It’s near impossible to find a faulty Marlborough Sauvignon. The precision and consistency has served them well on the world stage ensuring that people know what to expect from the category. Consumers have responded enthusiastically. Even winery names that are otherwise unrecognized can benefit from the power of the regional brand with consumers having a sense of what to expect from the wine simply because of the region and variety association.

The strength of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has its disadvantages too. Such an established type can become entrenched with those same consumer expectations limiting producer options while closing consumer expectations to the idea of being surprised. I’ve always admired how effectively vintners from the area established their wines so powerfully on the world stage. At the same time in a US context the repetitiveness of the style has been challenging for me. Those same expectations of knowing what I’m going to get from Marlborough Sauvignon has made me less likely to seek it out rather than more.

These last two days, then, here on the ground tasting in Marlborough have been a wonderful surprise. I’ve actually gotten progressively more excited by the wines as we’ve tasted more. My enthusiasm has been peaked by the range of other successful wines from varieties such as Riesling, Pinot Noir, and even a solid Bordeaux blend as well. The sparkling wines from the area too include some of the nicest I’ve had recently. I’ll be writing more about both the Methode Marlborough sparkling wines and the various other varieties that have been stand outs here separately. Most of all though I’ve been relieved to find quite a range of styles on Sauvignon Blanc. It’s been refreshing and has reinspired my interest in the region. Additionally, we’ve been able to taste quite a few older vintages of Sauvignon, even going back to 2008, that has proved insightful. It’s been good to see how elegantly the wines can age.

While the US market (and others worldwide as well) has tended towards a rather narrow expression of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, a broader range of styles from the variety has always existed here in Marlborough. Smaller, boutique level grower-winemakers doing the work from farming to cellar are to thank. Their work too helped ignite the now international category by recognizing what the region has to offer – vibrant acidity combined with aromatic intensity – and so attracting the larger producers with the marketing capital to move wines worldwide.

Cool climate viticulture combined with the elevated UV levels of the area mean vines retain their acidity while still developing intensity on both the nose and palate. The area hosts a preponderance of high draining sedimentary soils ranging from sand to clay but throughout the region lifted aromatics remain the focus. Where sandy soils encourage those aromatics even further they also tend to create more supple phenolics. Clay, on other hand, creates more muscle and concentration. The wines here, then, of course cover that range.

Here are a handful of stand out examples of Sauvignon Blanc from the last two days.

The Seresin Marama captures an elegant while friendly expression of Sauvignon Blanc aromatics, rounding the edges of the ample acidity generated by the region through the palate. The result is a surprising and pleasant Sauvignon Blanc that carries sophistication in subtlety and a more casual though not unthought feel on the palate.

Giesen wines are all about sophistication with power. The Fuder Sauvignon Blanc delivers intensity through graceful concentration and a brilliantly executed use of oak. It’s a barrel fermented style that seamlessly weds the two – oak and variety – and is a good reminder of why the cellar approach became so popular. Delicious and elegantly done.

Catalina Sounds has captured subtlety from the variety through their Sounds of White Sauvignon Blanc. It ages beautifully becoming progressively more elegant with time in bottle. The 2013 vintage showed off nuance with delicate layers of aroma and flavor while still offering mouthwatering acidity and plenty of presence. I really enjoy the subtlety here.

Approachable and friendly, the Staete Landt Annabel uses oak for texture through the palate as well as a kind of textural layering to the aromatics. It brings depth to the wine. This is charming, and crowd pleasing while retaining nuance and avoiding the bore factor.

Brancott delivers a solid example of the Fume Blanc style with good integration of variety to oak hitting that midnote of the two seamlessly. Approachable quality. Nicely done.

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

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Central Otago Pinot Noir Vintage Tasting

Producers in Central Otago pulled older vintages of their Pinot noir as representatives of previous vintages going back to 2001. The tasting served as both an opportunity to discuss the peculiar conditions of each vintage and the history of the region’s winemaking. While the tasting did give insight into the aging potential of the region it also revealed how much winemaking styles have changed for the producers poured. There was clear difference from the older vintage wines to the more recent vintages we’d tasted in other part of the two days in Central Otago. There was only one wine from each year presented so the tasting experience was limited to a single wine set alongside the insights of the winemakers on how that year went. Even so, the discussion was very insightful and it was fascinating to taste through the wines. It provided an interesting introduction to the quite varied growing conditions year to year in Central Otago.

The Wines 

Quartz Reef 2001 Pinot noir

Opening with tertiary aromatics of oiled leather and hints of tobacco the Quartz Reef 2001 transforms on the palate to a youthful, still jaw-tightening Pinot bright with acidity. Even so the flavors are more of fruit leather with accents of oiled leather than fresh, though they have not fallen off the plateau of drinkability. That said, it seems best to drink this wine now if not two or three years ago. The quartz crunch sapidity native to the region shows through the length of this wine, while supple tannin is met by balancing acidity.

Mt Difficulty 2002 Pipe Clay Terrace Pinot noir

Snug, dense aromatics of cherry bark and cherry blossom are followed by a dense fruit-built palate spun through with spice and quartz mineral crunch. With air the flavors open into powdered baking spices of nutmeg, ginger and clove. The wine is lightly angular while still showing fine tannin balanced by acidity. Lightly tactile mouthfeel. Drink now.

Felton Road 2003 Block 3 Pinot noir

With aromatics of cherry and earth lifted by a fresh fir tree note the palate turns to dried red fruits – plum, cherry and raspberry – full with spice and a finish of herbs and leather. Tertiary flavors mix here with bright acidity and that Central Otago crunch that stimulates the palate carrying the wine into a long finish. The palate opens fresh then shifts to fruit leather on the midpalate and finishes with a spiced, herbal and leather close. Drink now or in the next couple years.

Amisfield 2006 Pinot noir

Spiced alpine berries move nose to palate and mix in the mouth with notes of fresh picked tobacco dressed on a structure of succulent, firm tannin with balancing acidity and a wash of sapidity. With a quick, clean finish the flavors close followed by a persistent feeling of palate stimulation. Energetic and stimulating.

Prophet’s Rock 2007 Pinot noir

Subdued aromatics lead to a compact and concentrated palate with mineral depth and length. With air the wine opens to a mix of dried red berries with dried blackberry and currant. A dense midpalate and compact presentation offer still fresh acidity and firm, ample while non-aggressive tannin.

Mount Edward 2008 Pinot noir

Spiced dried fruits on the nose reveal fresh acidity through the palate with flavors of dried fruits and fresh picked herbs all spiced and zesty. Again that mineral, quartz crunch palate stimulation shows here bringing an energetic element all the way through the finish where a lift of cedar and cherry powder suddenly appear. This wine gains freshness with air after opening with notes of fresh melon and spice appearing in the midpalate and nose.

Talking through the Vintages and the Region’s Wine History

from left: Paul Pujol, Rudi Bauer, Matt Dicey, Duncan Forsyth at Prophet’s Rock in Bendigo

Prophet’s Rock hosted our tasting and for the discussion Duncan Forsyth of Mount Edward, Rudi Bauer of Quartz Reef, Matt Dicey of Mt Difficulty and Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock were present. In discussing the vintage conditions through the wines, the quartet also discussed their understanding of the history of wine in Central Otago.

While the region’s first vines and first commercial release wine in 1987 came from the Gibbston subregion, it was vineyards being established in the Cromwell Basin that really established the future success of Central Otago. Reasonable yields were more easily achieved in Cromwell, allowing vintners a better shot at the economic viability necessary to chase true quality.

Gibbston sits in one of the most marginal sections of Central Otago with fruit from the vines in the subzone sometimes decimated before it can be brought in by cold, sometimes unable to get truly ripe. But, like any truly marginal growing region, the vintages it works produce some of the most exciting wines of Central Otago.

As the winemaker quartet described, wines coming out of Cromwell Basin for the first time helped show that Central Otago could make riper style wines in comparison to the austerity first shown from Gibbston. The revelation led to a planting boom in Central Otago and a shift in the epicenter of viticulture to the younger region. Cromwell Basin still holds the highest concentration of vineyards today.

Before 2002, winemakers in the larger region were used to finding austerity in their fruit and struggling to get extraction in the cellar or fruit weight from the vines. Then in 2002 the area was hit with a hot vintage, which on the young vines of the region led to exuberant fruit expression and a ripe, fruit forward, approachable vintage style. As the quartet explained, the 2002 vintage changed the perspective of Central Otago wines and brought more attention to the area at a time when people wanted big wines. At the same time, winemakers in the region were relatively young and excited for the possibility of such expressive fruit after expecting they would always struggle to go beyond austerity of expression. As the winemakers claim, in their youth, most of them happily went with the ripe fruit presence of the vintage and tended towards that style for a few years after as well. At the same time, as they explain, the success of the 2002 vintage also eventually created a new issue of having to show people that the region could do more than just deliver fruit forward wines.

The winemakers describe 2003 as a more even keel vintage in terms of weather, with steady temperatures, leading to more elegant wines.

Both the 2004 and 2005 vintages were cold, showing a return to the growing conditions more typical to those prior to 2002, and giving winemakers a revisit of what they were previously used to working with in terms of fruit expression.

In 2006, warmer conditions led to higher levels of extraction but on fruit that was also more structural. As a result, many people made bigger wines with more rusticity. As the winemakers explain, the combination also led to an interest in cleaner wines overall with a desire to find more finesse in the cellar.

By 2007, the region had been well enough established, and there were enough vineyards surpassing juvenile vines that winemakers began to find the familiarity with the region needed to begin shifting into personal expression of style. At the same time, 2007 was an almost devastating vintage. Paul Pujol, whose wine represented the year described it as the most traumatic vintage of his winemaking career. Snow fell every month of the growing season bringing cold temperatures especially through the early season. Even more, there was ample precipitation during flowering, leading to painfully low yields as well as serious concentration in the wines from the utterly small clusters and tiny berry size. Even so, many of the berries came in without seeds, making it possible to make ultra concentrated wines, not from extraction but from the innate fruit character, without overly assertive tannin.

The 2008 harvest was marked by rain creating huge berries and bunches with less overall concentration in the wines as a result.

The Winemaker Quartet: from left: Paul Pujol, Rudi Bauer, Matt Dicey, Duncan Forsyth

As the conversation continued, Jamie Goode pointed out that with the older vines present in the region today we have begun to see more definition and distinction from the vines, thereby also making the winemaker’s individual intent more apparent through the wines. Duncan Forsyth agrees, stating that he sees a wider fan of variation in styles from winemakers throughout the region. This is also the mark of a region that has begun to find its maturity. While young regions can often show great variation in quality, the exuberance of young vines tends to dictate style (allowing for site discrepancy of course). Central Otago, on the other hand, has an exciting base level of quality that allows for both the particularities of site and the winemaker’s stylistic interest to be more apparent in the wines overall.

Conversations with Central Otago winemakers over the two days we were there also revealed a base level of curiosity that is rather high for any region. There is a lot of experience working abroad showing from many of the winemakers as well as a clear interest in tasting global examples of wine and considering where the wines of their region stand alongside others of the world stage. This speaks well to the likely continued quality growth of the region. It is also admirable considering how geographically challenged Central Otago proves to be. In literal distance it is one of the most, if not the most, remote regions in the world from any other major region, facing, then, simple logistical and so also economic challenges in getting their wines distributed globally. The passion expressed by the Central Otago winemakers, and the persistence they show in such marginal growing conditions makes it well worth facing such difficulties to make sure the rest of us can get their wines in our glasses.

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

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Tasting through Central Otago

Central Otago master class on Pinot noir of the region, hosted by Lucy Lawrence of Aurum and Grant Taylor of Valli

Aurum winery hosted a Central Otago Pinot noir master class for us with panelists Lucy Lawrence of Aurum and Grant Taylor of Valli. In attendance too were winemakers from each of the other wineries represented. The class focused on structure in pinot noir with a look at climate variation between the subregions as well as vinification techniques in the cellar.

Soils within Central Otago are largely schist based, an unusual characteristic for any subregion in the world. Few are dominated by schist to the extent this area is. Within the schist soils there is still significant variation with some sites showcasing gravel while others feature such rock more pulverized into sand. In some areas(generally at lower elevations) clay has mixed with the two to bring a more robust, muscular quality alongside the intense sapidity of the schist soils. What I found common among the Pinot noirs we tasted was a persistent quartz crunch palate stimulation to the wines. In some it was so intense the palate was ignited by these enlivening sparks while others it felt like more of a light sprinkling pop-pop-pop through the wines. It’s a sort of stimulation I greatly enjoy and in the best wines it brought another level of depth and energy to their overall presentation.

Central Otago proves to be a complex region defined by a central curving valley that follows a series of mountain lakes carved on either side by mountain ranges. So while the center of the region runs north-south along the line of lakes, the area continues over the mountains east-west as well. The variation, then, of climate subtleties between the subregions is significant even if subtle. What ties them all together is the overall marginal nature of the climate and the mountains of schist. Snow fall can be seen in the region’s mountains throughout summer and we even witnessed it accumulating in a snow storm at higher elevations, rain at lower during our two days there. As a result the diurnal shift has a healthy impact on the vines though day time temperatures remain moderate.

The master class was delineated by paired wines discussed side by side to offer greater insight into the climactic conditions of their subregions, as well as considerations of winery technique. All wines selected were from the 2013 vintage.

Flight 1

Both wines were aged in around 1/3 new oak, and fermented on about 30% whole cluster.

Quartz Reef 2013 Bendigo Single Vineyard Pinot noir Bendigo

With bright fruit friendly aromatics and an underlying savory note on the nose, the Quartz Reef moves through the palate with red fruits and a savory crunch. There is a massive push of sapidity here intensified by angular tannin and balancing acidity.

Valli 2013 Gibbston Vineyard Pinot noir Gibbston

While the Valli opens with earthier, spiced and more savory aromatics it flips on the palate to spiced red fruits in a deeper register than seen on the Quartz Reef, still carrying a focus first on acidity and then finer tannin.

The Quartz Reef had the acidity to balance its tannin but the tannin clearly won in the combination and came in a bit angular and tactile, though not aggressively so. It turns out Bendigo tends to bring more tannin to its wines as the area receives very little rainfall, so in its desert climate clusters tend towards thicker skins and smaller clusters. Gibbston, on the other hand, has a cooler climate and seems to be the edgiest subregion with the lowest overall yields of Central Otago. Wines from Gibbston tend to wash the mouth with acidity while the tannin slips in easily beneath.

As the winemakers present described, Gibbston tends towards more floral spice and apparent acidity while Bendigo offers more cherry fruit and can tend towards greater ripeness and higher potential alcohol in comparison.

Flight 2

Felton Road 2013 Block 3 Bannockburn

The vines here are 97% own rooted, planted in 1992. All biodynamic and organic since 2002.

Savory, dark red fruit aromatics come in a bit muted on the palate initially then become more cherry fruited with air. There is a vibrant sapidity throughout with a compact range of flavors highlighting dark herbs and spice character and loads of palate stimulation. Floral notes lift through the back of the palate as the wine opens with air. Finer tannin here with balancing acidity.

Maude 2013 Mt Maude Vineyard Wanaka

Vines here were planted in 1994.

With midtone cherry blossom on both the nose and palate the Maude Pinot offers a bit lighter, more feminine expression with plenty of palate stimulation and just a bit of angular tension through the finish. Small pixelated flavors carry through persistent acidity and tannin both.

The older vines of Central Otago have shifted the overall expression of the wines. As the vines have settled in with age the wines have also become less fruit centered and deeper toned. Central Otago’s initial reputation in Pinot rested in powerful, fruit forward wines with plenty of midpalate. Those wines originate primarily with the verve of a younger region. Winemakers over the couple days we were present described their own exuberance as well as the ripening power of younger vines as being behind that style. Such wines can still be found through Central Otago but as the region has gained maturity the styles have fanned into a greater range of expression. At the same time older vines that handle climactic variation through vintages have given winemakers an easier time for making lighter bodied wines.

As Blair Walter of Felton Road explained, older vines get more stable both in harvest size and also in their ability to self-regulate through weather changes. Young vines on the other hand tend to race to ripening, with sugars often outpacing the chemistry of the rest of the wine. In many cases, to better balance the tannin and acidities of the younger vines winemakers need to let the fruit hang longer, thus creating wines with comparatively higher alcohols. As vines age they also tend to offer a more harmonious relationship between flavor and structure, alcohol and finesse.

The oldest vines in Central Otago are around 25 years of age. The first commercial release from the region was in 1987. Since the earliest vineyards were planted many have gone through replants thanks to frost or freeze but also from the process of dialing in best varieties for the area.

As described by the winemakers at the tasting, Bannockburn as a subregion tends towards simple fruits in young vines but develops more depth of flavor and earthiness with age. Bannockburn also has the highest vineyard concentration currently of the subregions of Central Otago. Wanaka has a long, dry growing season. It is cooler than many of the other subregions and receives more rain as well thanks to the nearby Lake Wanaka, but vineyards closer to the lake also benefit from its moderating influence avoiding genuine frost concerns.

Flight 3

Domaine Thomson 2013 Surveyor Thomson Lowburn

Showing a bigger aromatic footprint than the previous wines and a rounder palate presence as well. The Domaine Thomson carries notes of dark red fruit lightly spiced throughout with a more open, wider reaching weave and a bit less concentration than the previous wines.

Ceres 2013 Composition Bannockburn

Notes of cherry and plum spiced with black tea move through the palate to a clean close with a dry finish. The tannin here is smooth through the mouth while certainly apparent and give a snug, complete finish to the wine. The acidity continues to persist long after the flavors while still lingering with savory spice and the mineral sapidity of the region.

As described by the tasting’s winemakers, Lowburn tends to create quite distinct wines in its youth that become more synchronous with the region overall as they age. Claudio Heye of Domaine Thomson explains that Lowburn Pinot noir tends to be richer with more fruit forward flavors. In his view the higher proportion of gravel in the area includes reflected light to increase ripening without higher ambient temperatures. Even so, as the region gains older vines with deeper roots they tend to be more expressive of soil type and drainage while younger vines tend to show off clone and climate. So, with the preponderance of schist through the region, as the vine ages it tends to be more expressive of schist and the architectural differences of gravel to sand to clay through the subregion than of the microclimate distinctions between subregions. Because of the relative youth of the area’s vineyards winemakers feel they are still very much getting to know the peculiarities of Central Otago’s subzones.

Winemaker Matt Dicey of Ceres and Mt Difficulty has found that younger vines in Central Otago tend to not give more structure from more cellar extraction, so instead winemaker efforts to pull more from the fruit contributed to the bigger wine reputation of the region. As the vines have aged, though, he finds that the clusters are also giving more structure innately to the wines. In this way, he says, it is easier to focus on the texture and elegance of the wine rather than on trying to build its form on the palate.

As Dicey explains, his biggest lesson in the last 15 to 18 years has been letting go of the science to embrace the art of winemaking, thinking more holistically to allow the flow in the process of winemaking to happen. Integral to that process has not been ignoring the science as much as simply knowing the individual steps within the process more intimately. As the basics become more familiar there is less of a need to focus on them.

Flight 4

Prophet’s Rock 2013 Home Vineyard Bendigo

100% destemmed and grown on a glacial terrace of chalk and lime.

Really pretty with notes of wild cherry and cherry bark and light forest accents this wine offers richer complex scents that carry from the nose then lifted through the palate. The palate offers pleasing density while still feeling delicate with deep red violet fruits sprinkled through with spice and a savory element through a long finish. Supple, lightly tactile tannin comes in with balancing acidity for a nice sense of delicacy and persistent.

Aurum 2013 Madeline Lowburn

100% whole cluster.

With lifted aromatics of cultivated rose blossom, bush and bramble and a body of savory depth, this wine opens with an expressive nose and follows with a taut, firm palate. It needs time in bottle to show all it has to offer but there is a lot of depth and substance here with an underlying sense of pure fruit and a nice purity to the wine overall with pleasing palate tension. It is simultaneously feminine and strong in its expression with ample tannin that is still succulent and not aggressive. Notes of rose bloom carry throughout.

In this flight the conversation focused around cellar choices as they relate to growing conditions primarily in relation to the choice to do whole bunch fermentation or not. Winemaker Lucy Lawrence of Aurum explained that she made the Madeline whole cluster Pinot originally as a cellar experiment and was fascinated to find the approach did not simply change something like tannin structure but instead the entire form of fermentation. As she described, the kinetics, temperature changes and arc of fermentation were all entirely different when done with full clusters included. Then in the end she also liked the overall presentation of the wine. While most of the Aurum wines are not done 100% whole cluster the Madeline is.

Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock points out that the choice of whole cluster depends too on the climate and drainage of the site as differing growing conditions impact the lignification of the stems. The elevation and intensity of the soils – underlying chalk and lime – at the Prophet’s Rock site in Bendigo, Pujol expains, mean the wines can easily revolve around structural intensity or extraction and his experience there over time has been much more about taking away techniques to find harmony. In other words, while the more valley floor growing conditions of the Aurum vineyard support a lovely expression of whole cluster fermentation in Pinot it is not clear the mountain conditions of the Prophet’s Rock do as well.

To read and see (he got more photos than I did) more about the Master Class tasting in Central Otago, check out the venerable Jamie Goode‘s write up here: http://www.wineanorak.com/wineblog/new-zealand/central-otago-pinot-noir-masterclass-focusing-on-structure

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

 

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I’ve flown to New Zealand to attend and speak at the New Zealand Winegrowers annual Pinot Noir NZ event. People fly in from all over the world to attend and this year is no exception. There are speakers and attendees arriving from all over Europe, the United States and Canada, Australia and of course New Zealand. Many of us too have flown in in advance to tour the wine regions of the country getting to know the geography and unique growing conditions, and how they express through the various wines. The first couple days have several of us in Central Otago studying primarily Pinot noir from the area’s subregions. I’ll be posting about a Central Otago Master Class on structure in Pinot as well as a vintage study for the region in the next couple days.

We’ve also gotten to taste a peppering of white wines with meals and there are some lovely Chardonnays and Rieslings from Central Otago. While I didn’t manage to get a photo of either bottle, I quite enjoyed the Chardonnays from Felton Road and Maude. Felton Road has of course made a substantial name for itself world wide. They have some of the oldest vines in Central Otago as well as a long standing serious commitment to quality in both the vineyard and cellar. Maude, I’ll admit, is new to me. This is the first trip I’ve encountered the wines. Their Chardonnay offers just enough of a reductive edge to bring tension and a nervy cut to the shape of the wine. The flavors are all fresh and full of sapidity.

The Riesling of Central Otago has turned out to be a stand out for me and I’m hoping for more. In a few days we’ll do an Aromatics seminar in Nelson that will include a wash of Riesling, I’m guessing. I’m especially looking forward to it.

Our first night in Central Otago a bottle of Rippon Riesling was snuck into the middle of dinner. It was a refreshing surprise and one of my stand out wines for the first day of tasting. The 2011 offers an elegant gravitas – a wine with nice purity and precision that avoids austerity while still being restrained. The age offers just enough flesh on the palate to carry its wash of acidity with pleasure.

Rippon is one of the celebrated producers of Central Otago for both the quality of their wines and the beauty of their site.

Rippon is a family owned and run project. We were able to meet them on the last night in Central Otago while sharing dinner with the family at their winery. Winemaker Nick Mills, shown here, works with his mother, and siblings to produce the wines and run the business. I’m sorry not to have a portrait of his mother, who is an inspiring presence. She made dinner for several ten of us and was a pleasure to hear speak as well.

The other Riesling stand out from Central Otago was Prophet’s Rock, made by winemaker Paul Pujol, shown here. He’s also utterly charming – one of those thoughtful, jovial, and kind people I can’t help but want to spend time with. Originally from New Zealand Paul’s career had him making wine for a few years each in both Alsace and Willamette Valley before returning to Central Otago to make wine.

His 2010 Dry Riesling carries the glittering acidity of Central Otago housed in fresh stone fruits but most of all it opens the palate with purity and that sort of clarity that comes from glacial mountain water – if you’ve ever lived or traveled in a cold mountain region you know that pleasurable shock that comes from a cold glacial stream. It’s some of the purest flavor too on the planet – but then through the midpalate the wine opens to a kiss of apricot peach sweetness that closes the palate. It’s a lovely wine.

The 2014 Prophet’s Rock Dry Riesling comes in lighter and more finessed right now than the 2010, following a tighter arc across the mouth than the 2010. Some of that comes from age, I suspect, but there also seems to be a difference in vintage expression – less fruit focus on the younger vintage that I don’t think will turn into the level of apricot peach flavors of the 2010 though the younger wine offers fresh stone fruits too. Again, its gift is that purity.

The apricots of Central Otago are almost shocking in their vibrancy. They’re utterly high, bright acid like putting a light bulb in your mouth but then the fruit notes that come just after the shock are lovely. My first bite of one jolted me but then I couldn’t get enough. I’m a fan of that feeling of food or wine lighting up the back of my head. The apricots of the region share that sense of mountain glacial purity that I find in the Rieslings mentioned here, and while the wines aren’t shocking in the way the fruit is there is a spectrum of commonality between them – light touch flavors of stone fruit, glacial mountain purity, and an ultra long finish of pleasing acidity.

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

Post Edit: This article will be available Tuesday, January 24, 2017, rather than Monday, January 23. Sorry for the confusion!

This autumn I was able to spend time with Antoine Donnedieu de Vabres, general manager of the Eisele Vineyard, previously known as the Araujo Estate, in Napa Valley. Together we walked the site, and discussed what changes the Artemis Domaines team has made since taking ownership of the property from the Araujo family in 2013. We were also able to taste the current-release 2013 vintage Cabernets, the first made by the new team, alongside previous vintages of Araujo, and take a look at their new Sauvignon Blanc programme.

In the summer of 2013 the Araujo family sold their famed Calistoga estate to French business mogul François Pinault, who also, through his holding company Artemis Domaines, owns Château Latour, a property on Bordeaux’s left bank, Domaine d’Eugénie in Vosne-Romanée and Château-Grillet in the northern Rhône. The 160-acre (65-ha) property included 36 acres of vines, historically known as the Eisele Vineyard. Donnedieu was made general manager with Hélène Mingot as winemaker. Steve Matthiasson, who began working with the vineyard under the Araujo family, stayed on as viticulturist. At the same time, previous vineyard foreman Victor Hernandez, who has been with the estate for years, was promoted to vineyard manager, working with Mingot and Matthiasson. Most of the vineyard crew, who have each been with the property for over a decade, also remained the same.

In 2016, Artemis Domaines decided to change the name back to its original, Eisele Vineyard, named for the family that established Cabernet Sauvignon on the property at the end of the 1960s. As a result, all wines from the estate bottled from 2016 onwards will be called Eisele Vineyard. Donnedieu’s explanation is that the vineyard name emphasises the site as the focus and source of quality for the wines, rather than any particular owner. It is also a way of celebrating the history of the site, which in turn emphasises their long-term vision for the property.

The rest of the article gets into the details of what changes the Artemis Domaines team has made since taking over the Eisele Vineyard, what their primary goals are for the wines, what made they decide to buy the estate, and how the wines from the new team compare to the previous Araujo wines. 

To keep reading, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues. You’ll need a subscription to read it.

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/eisele-vineyard-pinaults-california-outpost

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

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View from Mission Hill

This summer Jamie Goode and I converged on the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys in British Columbia and spent a week there touring wine country together. The trip then culminated in a few additional days serving as International Judges for the annual National Wine Awards of Canada.

Combining the two events – touring some of British Columbia wine and the National Wine Awards judging – gave a great opportunity to both dig deep into the local region’s wines and then get an overview on the state of Canadian wine as well. There were so many great people along the way I even felt home sick after leaving. It’s a special and strange thing to feel right at home with people so easily.

Okanagan and Similkameen really impressed me. Parts of both valleys are so beautiful it is almost shocking. About half way through the trip, for example, I woke up in the middle of the night of a full moon. I was turned towards the open windows and awoke to a full panorama of the moon lighting up Okanagan Falls – an incredible valley largely undisturbed by industry, carved on each of four sides by young mountain peaks. It was overwhelming to go from full sleep to that scene at first view. What a treat.

Though far smaller than the Okanagan, Similkameen too hosts a range of beauties. It’s one of those regions that feels like suddenly falling back in time to something closer to frontier explorations just by driving around one last corner and popping into the valley. It also hosts the highest concentration of organic farming in the entire country of Canada. A couple hours into our day there we even got interrupted by cowboys driving their cattle up the highway. It’s one of those things that in a movie or television show would look far too staged to believe but in real life reminds you of the incredible diversity of this planet.

One of the other special moments came in meeting Justin Hall, assistant winemaker at Nk’Mp also in charge of the white wine program, the first aboriginally owned winery in North America. Justin is also the first indigenous winemaker in North America, and I’m the first Alaska Native/Native American wine writer. Justin and I had so much fun chatting and laughed a lot about contemporary realities of Native life. Later when I tried to recount parts of the conversation to some non-Natives they had no sense of what I was talking about whereas when I called my mom a couple days later and recounted the conversation to her she couldn’t stop laughing. Indian humor. Whatya gonna do?

The wines from the region cover a real range. It’s a relatively young region with vitis vinifera really only taking hold in the late 1980s, though modern planting started in the 1960s and 1970s. (First vineyards arrived in the Okanagan as early as the 1850s, earmarked for sacramental wine but the region went through a massive replant to European varieties towards the end of the 1900s.) With a relatively young modern wine industry the quality and stylistic interests of the region are profoundly diverse – younger regions tend to show a wider expanse of style as people experiment with what grows best and makes the best wines. Those wines that rise to the top from the area are special. There are some distinct and beautiful wines coming from the region with a few people really devoting themselves to understanding the unique conditions of their home and what it means to make wine of that place. I’ll get into some of those projects more in a future post but in the meantime here’s a look back at my Instagram collection from the trip that will give you a taste for how very much is happening in the Okanagan and Similkameen for wine.

 

Wine writers at the lake. @drjamiegoode + @hawk_wakawaka + the Okanagan. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

The man goes out for his run. @drjamiegoode + the Okanagan. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Leaning in at Mission Hill Winery in West Kelowna overlooking Lake Okanagan. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Entering the Pyramid…

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Based on principles of sacred geometry Summerhill ages their biodynamically farmed wines inside a four-sided pyramid (shown here looking to the top of the pyramid) w angles matching the Great Pyramids of Giza + the north wall facing true north w no metal forming the structure of the building. Tonight for the Summer Solstice the pyramid will host a meditation circle. Asked what they believe the pyramid does, the Summerhill team explained they believe the pyramid accentuates + clarifies whatever is there. For aging wines, then, they are careful to make sure the wines that go into the pyramid are essentially free of flaws. In their view, in the pyramid flawed wines become more flawed. Good wines get better. In the Mission of east Kelowna overlooking the shores of Lake Okanagan. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

@drjamiegoode + @hawk_wakawaka in pursuit of balance. cc: @rajatparr @jasminehirsch #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Stunning in Okanagan Falls. View from @liquiditywines #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Regional Chardonnay tasting looking at 5 subzones of Okanagan Valley. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Wine writers practicing their healthy skepticism for the sake of objectivity… #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Proper desert cactus beneath Orofino Mountain along the Upper Bench of Similkameen Valley. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

And then there were Cowboys… #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

… real ones. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Walking the Little Farm @littlefarmwine near Cawston in Similkameen Valley. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Delicious, refreshing, fresh. Awesome wine. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

This is fricking good. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

We call this a good time. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Dear Canada, this whole duck confit for dinner, duck confit for breakfast thing? I’m a big fan. Love, Elaine #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Fresh + sophisticated whites at Le Vieux Pin. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Really fun group for an interesting + delicious Syrah tasting. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

… and two hours later the sky has cleared again. June in the Okanagan. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

It is honestly shocking how good cherries from the Lake Okanagan area are. These darker ones are juicy fantastic. #bcwine

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Jamie @drjamiegoode + Bill @billzacharkiw playing while we all sing… #nwac16

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

… with some of the best wine folks on the planet. #nwac16

A photo posted by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

Cheers!

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

For our holiday gift this year, Jr and I decided that instead of buying each other stuff we’d do something really cool together. So, I called up Captain Bob at Coastal Air Tours and arranged for us to take a flight around the San Francisco Bay and over Sonoma in a 1926-biplane. Old Blue even still has its original motor and original 104″ prop – the same type of motor and plane used by Lindbergh to cross the Atlantic.

Getting ready for the biplane flight

We flew in Old Blue but Captain Bob has another biplane from 1929 as well. He works on both himself and said that with planes of that era the maintenance is primarily focused on keeping things in good condition and well oiled rather than on replacing parts because most are so sturdy. He even loaned us flight jackets to stay warm.

in flight

Biplanes are piloted from the backseat. The front, where we sat, was just wide enough for both of us side-by-side. Sunglasses are a must-wear since your eyes need the air shields and it’s so bright out. We flew Sunday of this past weekend. It had rained hard on Saturday so our trip was unbelievably clear and everything down below was a brilliant green.

over the San Francisco Bay

As much as I knew what we were getting ourselves into when I made our plans for the biplane ride it is still completely overwhelming to look down after takeoff and realize you are looking *over the side of the plane straight to the ground below unobstructed* because when flying in a biplane you are of course also sitting outside. My mind is still sort of blown over that fact – we flew around the Bay Area while sitting outside.

the city on the right the Golden Gate on the right

While Captain Bob will do flights all over wine country or up the Pacific coastline, we asked if we could fly around San Francisco and over the Golden Gate Bridge. Remarkable to have them both come into view.

the Golden Gate Bridge

Unbelievably beautiful – the Golden Gate Bridge.

approaching San Francisco

Getting ready to circle San Francisco.

San Francisco

Circling the city over San Francisco Bay.

San Francisco

We flew over the Bay Bridge then did a circle and came back along the Bay side of the city. Here, looking back as we flew on towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

the Bay Bridge in the background

The Bay Bridge in the background.

flying towards the Golden Gate Bridge

Heading towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

the city behind us

San Francisco and Captain Bob behind us.

we just flew over the Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge behind us.

flying back to Sonoma low over the slough

After flying over the Golden Gate Bridge we circled around Marin and then came back over San Pablo Bay and flew towards Sonoma hugged close to the ground over the slough. It’s a trip to see what you can learn about a region from touring it by air. For example, did you know San Quentin Prison has tennis courts? Or that there is a rather deep quarry in Marin right on the edge of the Bay – I kept thinking it was close enough to the water that it wouldn’t take much for it to fill with water. Or, in Sonoma there is so much low-lying ground full of clay from San Pablo Bay and its flood zones. Most of all though it was all just stunning.

flying over Sonoma wine country

Once we reached Sonoma country again, Captain Bob flew us over the southern parts of Sonoma wine country before we headed back to land in town of Sonoma.

coming in for a landing Coming in for a landing.

If you’re interested in taking your own biplane ride, Captain Bob was fantastic. He does flights around the Bay Area, up the Pacific Coast, or over Napa and Sonoma wine countries. It’s pretty crazy sitting outside flying around in a biplane but it’s also fantastic and an utterly unique, special experience. It’s worth checking out.

Here’s the link to his website: http://coastalairtours.com

You can also call or email him for more information or to make a reservation. His info is on the website.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

 

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Last month Winebow sponsored their 5th annual Women in Wine Leadership Symposium. They brought together leaders and innovators from all aspects of the wine industry with women leaders from other industries as well including research, executive coaching, and law. They asked me to be a panelist on a discussion of bringing confidence to our work life.

Recently the organizers of the event released a video recap taking a look at some of the key discussion points from throughout the day. Remarkable women like the Honorable Analisa Torres, Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon, and communicator extraordinaire Marilyn Krieger all make appearances. I do a couple quick times as well.

Here’s the video.

 

Cheers!

Wine & Spirits Dec 2016The Northern Paradox: Refined Cabernet from Napa Valley’s Warmest Climates
by Elaine Chukan Brown

Calistoga Canyons

One of the earliest signs of up-valley Napa’s potential to grow great cabernet was Eisele Vineyard, a site planted back in a rugged Calistoga canyon created by a seasonal creek. The site has been continuously under vine since the 1880s, when it was primarily growing zinfandel and riesling. Cabernet arrived in 1964, when Napa was beginning to turn its attention to Bordeaux varieties.

The soils of the canyon’s alluvial fan (rare in mostly volcanic Calistoga) grew ample, silky cabernet that caught the eye of vintners like Paul Draper at Ridge, who bottled a single-vineyard wine from Eisele in 1971. The cabernet has been bottled as a vineyard designate ever since: Joseph Phelps claimed it from 1972 until 1990, when the Araujo family began bottling their own wines from the site. Such an ongoing library of site-specific cabernet is unusual anywhere in Napa Valley. Most of the current vines were planted in the 1990s and have reached a healthy maturity.

To keep reading check out the just released December 2016 issue of Wine & Spirits MagazineThe rest of the article digs in further to the growing conditions at Eisele Vineyard. The article then turns to Larkmead‘s new block-designate bottlings, also from Calistoga, and then moves south to St Helena to speak with Cathy Corison of her eponymous winery and Aron Weinkauf, winemaker at Spottswoode

Considering how very much there is to say about the two regions in North Napa, the look at the four producers is only a very quick dive into the good work people are doing in the area but it looks at some of the factors that have helped make that work possible. 

The current issue of the magazine also celebrates organic farming in Champagne, quality wines from Verduno, and the return of classical Kabinett, along with a look at this year’s top rated wines in each of those categories as well as Rioja, Port and Alsace. 

The editors even managed to sneak in a contributor photo of me with blond hair – I couldn’t believe it. They snapped the photo without my knowing at their recent Top-100 event. 

Cheers!

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Fulgencio

This year marks the 25th anniversary of ¡Salud!, an Oregon programme that provides vital healthcare services to seasonal vineyard workers and their families (see Alder’s recent column on Winegrowing in the wake of Trump about this vital aspect of American wine production). A record $911,300 was raised during the recent annual fundraising weekend 11-12 November.

The ¡Salud! auction took place the weekend after the US presidential election in the midst of a series of rampant protests that took over Portland, escalating by Friday to violence, filling downtown Portland and damaging property. The ¡Salud! festivities on Saturday carried an extra level of poignancy as a result. Attendees were not only well aware of the recent riots but also of the likely impact of the recent election results on the community ¡Salud! was designed to assist.

As with the rest of the United States, Oregon agriculture depends on migrant workers predominantly from Mexico. US policies that curtail immigrant labour have been shown to have a deep impact on the economic health of not only agricultural industries but also state economies more broadly. Alder’s recent report considered the likely impact on vineyard work in California under president-elect Trump’s proposed changes. Recent US history gives other examples as well.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues. You’ll need a subscription to read it.

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/oregon-leads-the-way-with-vineyard-worker-care

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.