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Central Otago

Central Otago is in the midst of finishing its 2017 harvest with the last picks on Pinot Noir and Riesling coming in over the next several days. Most of the other varieties are already finished, and much of the Pinot has come in already as well. The cooler reaches of the area – vineyards at its outer edges such as Gibbston Valley and Wanaka – and higher elevations are still harvesting some vineyards.

It’s been an interesting vintage with stretches of cold weather through the growing season slowing down ripening. That’s meant that the length of time between the very first pick of the season and the very last is wider than usual as the coolest sites come in more slowly. I’ve spent the last month in the region getting to know growing conditions for the marginal climate while also researching several articles and a couple of panels I was assigned after my visit earlier this year. It’s been a really great opportunity to do a deep dive, which I love, but even so I left feeling like there is still so much more to explore. With my time there revolving around specific articles (some of which you’ll get hints of from the photos below) there were more producers I didn’t have the chance to see. I fell in love with New Zealand and hope to get back again soon not only to keep getting to know Central Otago but also to spend more time in the other growing regions of the country.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing up producer visits from the last month here. In the meantime, here’s a look at some of what I was up to through photos as shared while on the go in Instagram.

Official Tastings for the Pie Club, Central Otago chapter continue with a Kiwi classic. Jimmy’s Pies. #nzwine

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I ARRIVED WITH THE FIRST FEIJOA OF THE SEASON!!! I LOVE THIS FRUIT!!! FEIJOA==YES! #nzwine

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Taking it to the source. Jimmy’s Original Pie Shop. Roxburgh. #nzwine

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Fish and chips. Champagne. Southern Ocean. Fromm Syrah. Sunday breakfast. #nzwine @frommwinery We call this heaven.

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Though I tend to think of Malvasia (at its best) as the perfect wine to capture the fresh rising character of a late Spring morning – the crisp cool tension of late morning temperatures lifting aromatically towards the warmth of day – tasting Sand Reckoner 2014 Malvasia Bianca from the crazy high elevation desert of Southeastern Arizona with its snappy cool nights and blooming agave aromatics here in the Autumn night of Central Otago’s Lake Wanaka makes me realize it’s the perfect wine for sunset – effusive and pretty, lifting in color while simultaneously squeezing ever more towards the tightening close of night. Beautiful, reflective and somehow almost melancholic in its beauty. Delicious and nicely done. #nzwine #arizonawine @sandreckonervineyard

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Super affordable delicious – the Picnic Riesling and Pinot from Two Paddocks. #nzwine @twopaddocks @sam_neill___

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I am a fan. Prophet’s Rock 2012s Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir. #nzwine @paulpujol

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Sitting on the hill at Rippon with Mister Nick Mills. #nzwine @ripponhall @ripponjo

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Heading down the hill to the compost pile on Rippon with Nick Mills. #nzwine @ripponhall @ripponjo

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Entirely way too cool. Nick Mills heading home. #nzwine @ripponhall @ripponjo

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Super interesting to taste across vintage and technique with Lucie of Aurum – we did side-by-side tastings of the Aurum Estate Pinot, which is 100% destem, and the Aurum Madeline Pinot, which is 100% whole cluster, from both the 2014 and 2015 vintages. All special and delicious wines. Part of what blew my mind though was seeing that, in the end, the vintage contrast felt more apparent than the technique difference. 2014 was a dense and savory, deep toned vintage with tactile, lightly angular structure, while the 2015 was comparatively lighter, more lifted and fresh, pure fruit focused and pretty. The difference was clearly vintage expression rather than just time in bottle. Really awesome comparison. #nzwine @aurumwineslucie

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Quartz Reef 2014 No dosage sparkling kicks butt. #nzwine @quartzreefwines

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Jimmy’s Mince & Cheese Pie. Tomato Sauce. Regional Kids Rugby Tournament. Perfect Saturday. #nzwine

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Awesome look at 9 and 10 year old New Zealand Pinot both aging like champs with plenty of time left in bottle. Impressive depth and freshness in both. The Seresin 2007 Sun & Moon shows off natural concentration and energy with a savory, fresh midpalate and lots of length, all elliptical shaped through the mouth – round while focused and trim. The Rippon 2008 Tinker’s Field felt like the mix of scents given from sitting at the edge of a wild raspberry and blackberry patch – hints of earthy soil combined with just a touch of woodsy forest wafted through occasionally by a wind in the distance, dried grass accents and the pixelated, fresh lift of tiny blossoms all with a heart of mixed wild berries. Both really delicious wines showing off how the best New Zealand Pinots can age. #nzwine @seresinestate @ripponhall @ripponjo

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Bannockburn was the first subzone within the larger Cromwell Basin planted in Central Otago after the original vineyards were established essentially simultaneously in Wanaka, Speargrass Flats, Earnsclugh and Gibbston. Bannockburn has a bit more heat than the first plantings and it includes incredible soil diversity from dense white clay, to decomposed and gravel schist, windblown loess, and sand. Most interesting among these, the Bannockburn series is one of the only soil types on the planet classified as man made. (DID YOU JUST READ THAT?! MAN MADE SOIL == MIND BLOWING!!! MAN MADE! THE *SOIL* WAS MAN MADE!) The Wild West mesa-looking formations shown in these photos are actually the result of hydraulic gold mining. Massive amounts of water were washed and blasted through the mountains and terraces of the region in the search for gold deposits. The eroded rocks and soils were sluiced and anything that didn’t contain gold was chucked to the side and washed through caverns out of the way. The Wild West mesa-like formations are what remains of the original mountain and terraces. Miners were given very specific land allotments and not allowed to cut into land they didn’t own. The remaining mesa-like shapes are spots where for whatever reason prospectors just didn’t mine that allotment. Everything surrounding them was washed away in the search for gold. When you stand near these sluice spots and look into the wash-away caverns there are giant rocks everywhere piled up from being thrown away and at the bottom mounds of gravelly silt that was washed down the hill. #nzwine

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Perfect extraction. I have been primarily drinking coffee from Venus Coffee Roasters beans while here in Central Otago and it is good. Roasters in the US have gone through waves of style that remarkably parallel those of US wine – moving from over roasted styles that end up being more about burnt roaster style than origin to super high acid styles without the body to balance the coffee and show its flavor. Not many of the coffee cool kids there have found the middle road yet so I have a hard time finding coffee I enjoy. This Venus coffee is hitting that balance I dig – super fresh with some enlivening high notes for lift and interest but still bringing that just-a-bit-earthy heart of darkness with a lightly bitter finish my fisherman’s heart needs. Venus for the win! (Good name too.) #nzwine

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@kenichi_ohashi look who I found! Akihiko Yamamoto, famed wine writer of Japan, at Prophet’s Rock. #nzwine

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Driving vineyards all day with this guy. Duncan Forsyth of Mount Edward. #nzwine (Hi @mrbglover !!) @wineswinger

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Driving the Gibbston Valley area with Alan Brady. Unbelievably beautiful with the storm. #nzwine

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Tasting Chardonnay for Jesus! Yay! Happy Easter, Everybody!! #nzwine

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These high elevation Pinot Noir berries from clone 113 are just about ready to be picked. On such a cold vintage the high elevation sites come in quite a bit later than the lower ones as the span of harvest from first pick to last pick sites widens. The thing about checking these today though is they taste and (once plucked loose like this into individual berries) look just like what we call blueberries in Alaska from a good year. Alaskan blueberries are low bush tundra berries – a hint herbal with a burst of acid and light wash of sweetness – that come in late in the year when the weather has started to catch a slight chill to the air, much like the Autumn day today here in Central Otago. So between the feel of the weather, the mountain landscape, my spending harvest in what are essentially my old fishing clothes and then these grapes tasting of tundra berries, there is a comforting synchronicity of my life now as a wine writer and my home from Alaska. It’s a pretty good Easter. #nzwine Happy Holiday, Everybody, which ever of the several happening this weekend you may celebrate.

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“I think winemaking is a message of peace.” – Francois Millet of Chambolle Musigny. Tasting through the 2017 vintage fermentations and the 2016 elevage of the Francois Millet and Paul Pujol Cuvée Aux Antipodes collaboration Pinot Noir after having spent the morning interviewing Francois and last night tasted the 2015 bottling with them both. Our several hour conversation today moved in and out of the way in which winemaking operates as a relationship between the winemaker and the land with the winemaker acting as an interpreter whose goal always is to let the land show before the person. The winemaker is meant to “stand behind.” He or she must make decisions and importantly guides the process but the goal is to let the wine speak as an expression of the land in the mood of that vintage. Because doing so demands great humility, patience, observation and close listening it is an act and a message of peace. #nzwine @paulpujol

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Going deep on Central Otago Chardonnay. #nzwine

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Central Otago even has charming hippies. Ram Dass inspired restaurant in Queenstown. Amazing. #nzwine

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My last feijoa juice in New Zealand this time around. Boo. #nzwine

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Hawke’s Bay

on the way to visit Bilancia VIneyard in Hawke’s Bay

Hawke’s Bay hosted the Classic Reds Symposium last month, as well as a day in the area’s subzones of Bridge Pa and Gimblett Gravels, immediately following the Pinot Noir NZ event. The organization of the Classic Reds Symposium impressed me.

Producers in the region were quite willing to offer an honest presentation of their wines and discuss appropriate critique of their quality as well. Additionally, it was bold for the Symposium to immediately follow the Pinot Noir NZ event, even if that makes sense in terms of tasting order by palate weight. It’s a rather easy move, generally speaking, for a wine critic to like Pinot Noir these days – the variety’s lighter general weight and style is on trend compared to naturally fuller framed or more structured wines that so readily receive criticism these days. So, to follow an event of a popular wine type with a less celebrated weight category is a bit of a brave move. I felt the tasting of both Cabernet Sauvignon blends and Syrah wines from New Zealand, as shown at the Classic Reds Symposium, was among one of the more insightful tastings in which I’ve been able to participate. It is a rare thing to find a region so willing to be open to that level of discussion and it speaks well to their long term commitment to quality. By the end of the Symposium I felt genuinely excited for the quality of wines coming out of Hawke’s Bay and especially for where it feels the region is headed. Vineyards there have reached stable vine age and the winemakers are genuinely committed to incremental improvement. There are good wines from the region today and we are going to keep seeing better wines in the years to come as well.

The day following, where we tasted from Bridge Pa and Gimblett Gravels, was also fascinating and well done. The regional vintners’ groups came up with truly creative ways to show us the character and growing conditions of their regions. Their techniques are shown in the following photos, as shared at the time via Instagram.

❤️#Repost @somm_arthurhon ・・・ Afternoon #selfie #winenz #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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About to take off with Jen. #nzwine #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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One of the original 1982 Syrah vines rescued and planted own rooted by Allen Limmer here in Stonecroft Vineyard, now known as the MS clone or Mass Selection. The MS is believed to be the selection originally brought to New Zealand by James Busby, more famously known as the father of viticulture in Australia. The variety seems to have been throughout vine regions of New Zealand beginning with Busby’s arrival in the 1840s. Thanks to Prohibition it was greatly diminished and almost completely lost until in 1982 Limmer rescued the last canes of it in the country and brought it to what is now known as the Gimblett Gravels subregion of Hawke’s Bay. These vines as the mother block for the country. As other clones have been brought to the country vintners have experimented with the new selections but many say they return again to the MS. #nzwine #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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Pinot Noir NZ

the curly girl and lipstick club, aka the best club

Our travels through New Zealand revolved around the Pinot Noir NZ event – a three day extravaganza focused primarily on Pinot Noir with wine professionals from 20 countries, wine lovers from all over the world, and New Zealand’s top winemakers from across the country. The event occurs every four years and while it celebrates wine it also offers truly Kiwi hospitality and talent. It honestly was the most well planned and gracefully executed wine event I have ever attended and it was not only an honor to attend but also to speak. The organizers asked if I would give the closing address looking specifically at the question of future communication while also tying together threads and themes from across the three days. Duncan Forsyth, who extended the invitation to me, asked if I would use it as an opportunity to inspire people to really dig in and commit passionately to whatever their projects – winemaking or otherwise. (If you want to see my talk you can watch it or read the transcript here. If you have any interest though you should really check out those given by others across the three days. There were incredible speakers present from across all aspects of the wine industry including internationally known celebrities. The keynotes from the first and third days are available here.) In truth though the event was utterly inspiring for me as well. The caliber of talent we were surrounded by professionally was mind blowing and best of all the entire time was full of truly good and caring people. Here’s a look at the festivities in photos as shared to Instagram at the time.

 

New Zealand is one of the only countries in the world that has established a shared healthy relationship between its First Nations Maori people and the subsequent settlers. While my Indigenous heritage serves as the foundation of who I am it is largely unseen in a US context where recognition of Native American communities is essentially non existent. To be asked then to be part of a Maori welcoming ceremony to open Pinot Noir NZ 2017 was not only a huge honor but also overwhelming. After the initial arrival and greeting portions of the ceremony I sat on stage with Dame Anne Salmond seated beside me at my left and Jancis Robinson at my right as we progressed through a series of Maori blessings and songs honoring our ancestors, our land and each other. The depth of gratitude for the experience is more than I could explain. Thank you to Pinot Noir NZ for making it possible. #nzwine #pinotnoirnz @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @pinotnoirnz Thank you to @yrmom_safoodie for the photo.

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Marcel Giesen discusses how the Sta Rita Hills defines greatness through simultaneous persistence and reinventing itself. How greatness in Pinot comes from farming that respects the land, and that quality from the right site will come in time “with unwavering passion and commitment” in a relationship “between land and winegrower of humility and honesty” over time. From the choice of essentially any two Pinots in the world Marcel selected the Au Bon Climat 2005 Larmes de Grappe Pinot Noir from the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard and the Domaine de la Cote 2014 Bloom’s Field describing both as exemplary cases of balance, power, finesse, purity, complexity length and authenticity. “Power isn’t size. It’s persistence. There should be sinew, movement, aliveness, energy.” #nzwine #sashimoorman @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @pinotnoirnz Excited, humbled and impressed to see one of the regions I love most – the Sta Rita Hills and Santa Barbara County – and two wines I have great admiration for showcased into such a prestigious international tasting. @rajatparr @sashimoorman @sbcwinelady

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Ken Ohishi MW from Japan shares how a Kyoto temple built in 1397, also a Unesco World Heritage site, represents a Japanese world view of balance while discussing too how understatement, purity, clarity, humility and harmony serve as the markers of greatness in Pinot Noir. He compares great Pinot Noir to the attributes of premium drinking water, not in the sense of being watery but in the sense of carrying transparency, pure clean aroma and flavor, smoothness never asserting itself too strongly instead with a sense of silence and understatement. For Ken silence is not absolute but instead closer to the experience of sitting in a quiet room with only the quiet, steady tick tock of a single clock. The simple experience of the clock helps define the time and space of the silence. The temple too gives insight into the balance of wine. The pure stillness of the pond showing an almost perfect reflection of the temple that even so is not the actual temple – the water expands what we experience and balances it without increasing the literal substance, weight or detail of the actual temple. It instead reverberates in an understated while still complex image of the original expanding our experience of the majesty of the structure. #nzwine #pinotnoirnz @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @pinotnoirnz Wonderfully insightful and perspective shifting discussion.

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Marlborough

with Lauren Eads on a boat heading to Waterfall Bay

Marlborough turned out to be one of my favorite parts of our travels through New Zealand. The diversity of wine styles with good quality available on the ground there was both surprising and inspiring as I was able to find stand out wines of Chardonnay, Pinot, Syrah, Methode Traditionelle, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and, yes, Sauvignon Blanc. What is available from Sauvignon there in Marlborough covers a far more significant range than we have any idea of here in the US market. Our selection here is far more limited.

While there is something very old school country about the central parts of Marlborough in its feel, the region also holds unbelievable beauty. Here’s the Instagram collection from our time on the ground in Marlborough.

Surprise pleasure of the trip so far – Impressive tasting on Methode Traditionelle wines from Methode Marlborough. All made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay in blend or individually, aged at least 18 months on lees though most shown here much longer. Wines from left: Daniel Le Brun Rosé NV, Tobu Rewa Reserve Blanc de Noir 2012, Johanneshof Cellars 2008 EMMI Brut, Nautilus Cuvée Brut NV, Hunter’s MiruMiru Reserve 2011, Spy Valley 2011 Echelon, Huia Blanc de Blancs 2010, Allan Scott Cecilia Vintage, No 1 Family Estate Virginia Cuvée. A range of styles here but good quality and pleasure through each of the wines. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @hunterswinesnz @huia_vineyards @nautilusestate @tohuwines @spyvalleywine @johanneshofwine @allanscottwines @no1familyestate @methodemarlborough

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Nice to see the elegance that develops in aged Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. A much broader range of styles showing through a large regional tasting of current and library releases of the variety than what appears in the United States. Here one of the stand-outs: the Catalina Sounds, Sounds of White, 2013 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough’s Waihopai Valley, made only in large oak foudre to bring texture with minimal flavor influence, bottled after six months. Nice subtlety with notes of rose leaf, elderflower and pleasing delicate green accents. Delicate and subtle with still persistent palate stimulation through a long finish. Nicely done. Really pleasing example in the 2015 release as well. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @catalinasounds

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Oh heck YES. Get your neck on one of these. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa @zephyrwine

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Oh thank the lord god I am on a boat. Marlborough Sounds heading to Waterfall Bay. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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To read more on beautiful stand out examples of Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2017/01/27/the-pleasing-surprise-of-marlborough-sauvignon-blanc/

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Photos from North Canterbury

After traveling Central Otago we flew to North Canterbury where we toured and tasted for two days through the Waipara and Waikari Valleys with an adventurous train ride through the Weka Valley, before then spending the evening in the Banks Peninsula. The excursion included a night in Christchurch too that was amazing as you can see below.

Following is the collection of photos I shared to Instagram from our time in North Canterbury including our travels from the area. There are multiple videos included along the way. Be sure to watch them too. Wine professionals being ridiculous. Too funny.

Mountains of limestone in Waipara. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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More idyllic New Zealand countryside here the Three Peaks in Waipara of North Canterbury. The folds, cut and lift of the fault lines are visible throughout this region where the plates are pushing against each other causing mountain uplifts surrounded by canyons. Sizesble earthquakes happen here regularly with the last serious one being Mid 2016 and before that Early 2011. Both caused significant damage through the area and multi-billion dollar demolish and rebuilding projects in Christchurch. Stone masons and builders came from all over the world to repair the city. Today it holds the safest buildings in the world, built to withstand earthquakes over 8 and even up to 9 on the Richter scale. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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the Kawarua River in Central Otago

As any of you that have followed me for a while know, after in depth trips through a region I like to compile my Instagram photos from the excursion here so that the collection is easier to locate. It’s something various people have asked me to do and has proven fun to revisit.

The last two-plus weeks I’ve been traveling New Zealand wine countries. The New Zealand Wine Growers have put together a truly incredible itinerary. It’s been remarkable. There has also been enough to do in each area that I’ve decided it’s too much to put into just one New Zealand Instagram collection here. Instead, I’ll go ahead and compile the photo collections here by region starting where my trip started, with Central Otago. Between Instagram collections I’ll also post write ups of the associated place and the wines we tasted. Be sure to check out the three pieces already posted here on Central Otago wines. They’re linked below.

Really lovely wines made by a lovely winemaker. Beautiful intensity and intelligence housed in a delicate, pretty, finessed wine with a light palate and pleasing texture. Here Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock making wine from a moderate elevation glacial terrace with underlying chalk and lime in Central Otago. He destems his Pinot then avoids punch downs or pump overs keeping the cap wet with a light sprinkling from a watering can in order to allow delicate fruit expression with balanced structure. As he explains, working harvest in Musigny, he learned the lesson that “a mineral terroir supports no extraction.” Having already seen something like this from his site here in Bendigo the comment clicked and when he returned his approach shifted. Pinots all unfined, unfiltered and lovely. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @paulpujol @nzwineusa

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Mountains of schist through Central Otago. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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To read more on my travels in Central Otago here are three articles I’ve posted here so far.

Stand out Rieslings in Central Otago: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2017/01/24/two-stand-out-rieslings-from-central-otago/

A subregions Pinot noir Tasting: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2017/01/25/pinot-noir-in-central-otago/

Vintage Variation and the History of Central Otago: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2017/01/25/vintage-variation-and-the-history-of-central-otago-pinot-noir/

Cheers!

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In Praise of Discomfort

I’m at my best uncomfortable. I blame my parents though it isn’t really their fault. They raised me commercial fishing for salmon from the age of 9, till I retired in my early 20s, and it’s shaped my life ever since. I’ve spent my adulthood retraining simple habits I picked up fishing like going without food, water, or the bathroom as some faulty testament of fortitude and strength. Even so, summers still I schedule myself for work past the point of fatigue and revel along the way in pulling it off semi-gracefully. Part of me still admires the capacity to work beyond apparent human limits, as if it isn’t really me that pulls it off. I just get to be part of it. This July, for example, I completed the first half day of a visit with a migraine and the producers never found out. The man that drove me that day graciously helped track questions during the interview, for which I am endlessly grateful. I could keep up with the conversation. I just needed help connecting a few of the dots. My notebook is still full with notes of their wines, the vineyard, and their story. It’s good fortune that gives me the opportunity to meet with so many producers and I want to give them that time when I travel. Had I cancelled  to recover I would have missed the chance for that meeting. It’s hard to explain how much joy I find in simply listening to other’s stories (though I don’t always just listen).

This summer I’ve posted little here because I’ve been so busy elsewhere. For those of you that don’t know, when I’m traveling I’ve taken to telling the story of the people and regions I visit via Instagram, where it also routes to Facebook. There you will find photos of some of the people I meet along the way along with insightful quotations from our visit, or a factual dig into their story. For example, Phillip Hart walked me through his Ambythe Vineyard in Paso Robles where we discussed his work as well as the effects of the drought. Ambythe began harvesting this week.

Phillip Hart in his Ambythe Vineyard, Paso Robles

from Instagram: Phillip Hart walking his Ambythe Vineyard, Paso Robles

Paso Robles is just one of the regions I was lucky enough to visit. May began in Long Island, and then Chicago; June took me to Walla Walla as well as the West Sonoma Coast (again); July dug into Paso and Ballard Canyon in Santa Barbara County as well as parts of Napa. This month I’m catching up on articles and illustrations.

I’ll be writing more from these travels here through the rest of the year, as well as at JancisRobinson.com, and elsewhere. I’m excited about work I’m doing for World of Fine Wine especially, as there I get to bring together my training in philosophy with my work in wine. It’s nice to recombine my professional worlds. In the meantime, here are a couple favorite photos from my travels looking at subjects I’ll be writing about more here.

Long Island

Christopher Tracy of Channing Daughter in The Hamptons, Long Island

Christopher Tracy, winemaker of Channing Daughters on the South Fork of Long Island, has some of the greatest creative latitude of any winemaker I’ve met. The winery sells the range of wines to prove it. He works too with soil scientist and viticulturist, Larry Perrine. Larry now directs Channing Daughters, but he arrived in Long Island at the start of the 1980s as a viticultural and winemaking consultant helping to solve nutritional problems suffered by the region’s vineyards. Together they offer a range of wines from classic chardonnays to Friuli-inspired white blends, to field blends made from the vines of Cornell’s Extension and Research Vineyard on Long Island’s North Fork.

Walla Walla

Norm McKibbenNorm McKibben led vineyard plantings in Walla Walla (W2) helping to expand quality vineyards through the region as well as inspire and support the work of others. His dedication to the W2 industry has been pivotal in so quickly establishing it as a celebrated region in the world. He is the founder of Pepperbridge and Amavi Cellars in W2 and helped maintain and expand the Seven Hills Vineyard – Sevein planting into one of the most sought after in the state.

Paso Robles

Mark Adams, Ledge Vineyard

Ledge Vineyards founder Mark Adams returned to Paso Robles and wine growing after a life in music and sound effects editing for major producers in Los Angeles. Today he makes some of the most delicious and drinkable Rhone wines of Paso Robles while farming his home vineyard in one of the few sandy soil sites of the county. In the last few weeks he expanded his family’s Ledge Vineyard planting to grow more Rhone whites and reds. Mark also makes wine just across the street with one of his long time friends, Justin Smith at Saxum.

Ballard Canyon in Santa Barbara County

At the top of Tierra Alta with Sonja Magdevski, John Belfy and Greg BrewerJohn Belfy (shown here center) has helped lead vineyard development and farming in Santa Barbara County‘s distinctive Ballard Canyon from its inception. His work established Jonata Vineyard and he planted and continues to farm Tierra Alta Vineyards as well, among others. Winemaker Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz (shown here left) is just one of the winemakers that sources fruit from his Ballard Canyon site and counts him as an inspiration. Greg Brewer of Brewer Clifton and Melville (shown here right) makes wine from Sta Rita Hills but credits John for support and encouragement received earlier in Greg’s career.

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Visiting Bragao Vineyard in the Cima Corgo of the Douro

In the heart of the Cima Corgo grow the highest quality vines of the Douro, in the hands of the best producer capable of giving layered mountain complexity with a lift of freshness on table wines, the same fruit somehow lively even in the richness of port wine.

Antonio and Nick walking beside the QuintaFar up the valley of the Rio Pinhao, a tributary of the Douro, stands the Bragao Quinta. Built in 1826, its stacked schist construction offers a testament to the persistence of life in the Douro, a region whose terrain proves resistant to too much modernization for its near impenetrability.

The old Lagares at BragaoThe quinta stands above mixed variety old vine vineyards ranging from 40 to near 100 years of age. Most fruit is sold to producers of the Douro. Small quantities are kept for wines of the owner. For the owner, fruit is brought into the 1826 winery only on Mondays to be foot tred in the lagares (open top stone fermenters unique to Portugal. The Bragao lagares are shown above.) now being cleaned and prepared for the 2014 harvest.

Antonio TaveraLike many vineyard owners through the region, Antonio Tavera grew up in Porto migrating to the Douro for harvest. He was born at the quinta during harvest while his father brought in grapes, and has since inherited the property.

The old oil lamp at BragaoThanks to the mountainous nature of the region, electricity has reached the Douro only in recent decades. Before electricity, Antonio explains, the only light they had came during the day from small openings in the rock walls of the building. At night, oil lamps made from converted oil cans (like the small green one shown above) faintly illuminated the space.

 

Port in BragaoChalk marks along the wood cask help the winemaker track the 4:1 brandy to must ratio in making the port.

Harvest workers at Bragao old vine vineyardOutside, the vineyard crew walks the length of terraces in 90F degrees to carry back grapes for port wine just harvested. The vines in this section of the vineyard range between 40 and 50 years old, planted in a field blend of mixed varieties, insurance against the variability of vintage.

Carrying grapes down the schist wall at BragaoTaking the grapes back to be picked up by truck includes descending steps made with slabs of schist extended from the rock wall by only a few inches, then returning to climb the same steps for another tub to do it again.

Harvest at BragaoIt took me at least 90 seconds to descend steps it took this woman carrying a full tub no more than 30. She walked the terrace towards me all the while smiling.

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Photos from Visiting the Douro with Quinta Dos Murcas

After two days in Alentejo we drove to the Cima Corgo region of the Douro to spend a day with Assobio, and Quinta Dos Murcas.

Margarita Figueireda, vineyard manager, Quinta Dos MurcasVineyard manager, Margarida Figuerieda brought us to the top of the vineyard in the back of a small pickup truck to see the first vertical vineyard planted in the Douro — a practice taken from the Mosel after Quinta Dos Murcas then-winemaker visited the region. The south facing 30-degree slope receives lots of sun exposure, and therefore ripeness.

from the top of Quinta Dos MurcasThe Douro region carries lots of schist, with the Douro Superior (closer to Spain) primarily populated by dark schist. The rock is used to make posts at the ends of vineyard rows, rather than wood.

Looking into Assobio VineyardAssobio red wines are harvested from a cooler planting behind Quinta Dos Murcas where the wind picks up whistling through the canyon. The cooler pocket keeps more freshness in the wines. The label name, Assobio, is the sound of the wind whistling.

Looking West down the DouroWest up the Douro sits the Quinta Vale Figueira vineyard, named for the fig trees that grow there.

Into the ruins of Quinta Dos MurcasNew buildings cannot be constructed on raw land along the Douro. However, many of these properties include old winery ruins from the last two centuries. Land already containing a structure such as these can be rebuilt for a newer purpose.

Harvest of Tinta Roriz at Quinta Dos MurcasThe day we visited, September 11, 2014, harvest began on Tinto Roriz (also known as Aragones in the South, and Tempranillo in Spain). It was the first day of harvest at Quinta Dos Murcas.

Tinta Roriz

Harvest at Quinta Dos Murcas Tank Samples of Assobio & Quinta Dos Murcas with Michael WrenWinemaker Michael Wren leads the Douro winery during harvest. We were able to taste tank and barrel samples of the 2013 Assobio, and Quinta Dos Murcas Reserva red blends.

Port samples with Michael WrenThen taste 5 and 10 year tawny ports from cask. The house makes only 10 year and vintage ports but works towards a 5-year tawny style to use for blending with older barrels into a 10 year style.

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Portugal: A Day in Alentejo with Esporao

After a day of travel, we arrived to Lisbon early morning, then drove southeast, checking into a hotel in UNESCO World Heritage site, Evora, Portugal. The city stands within a 15th c. outer standing wall, with the center including portions of an 11th c. fortification. Ancient megolithic monuments, 3rd century B.C. archaeological sites, and hints of Moorish architecture dot the countryside. Mostly it is the sky. The region of Alentejo, in which Evora sits, is known for its clarity of light, its pure wide open skies.

A look across AlentejoAfter checking into our rooms, we immediately drove another 45 minutes south to Reguengos de Monsaraz, “the people’s town,” a settlement outside a castled hillside where the nobility used to live. Reguengos de Monsaraz proves the heat of Alentejo, bringing August and September grape harvests (early for much of the Northern hemisphere) of primarily red wine grapes. Esporao hosted our first day of travel through the region of Alentejo.

Ana Carrilhoolive oil master blender Ana Carrilho

Olive oil proves to be one of Portugal’s treasures. While olives grow well throughout the Mediterranean, most countries have few controls on its growth, production, sourcing or labeling. While Italy is recognized as home for Extra Virgin Olive oil, for example, much of the fruit in such bottlings does not come from Italy, but instead elsewhere where farming can be done at higher volume for less. The country does not place very strong legal controls on one of its iconic exports. Portugal instead has taken the slower path keeping its focus on smaller production, higher quality oils with DOP controls.

Portuguese Extra Virgin Olive Oil Tasting w Ana CarrilhoMaster blender Ana Carrilho studied olive agriculture, and blending while also teaching the subject in universities in Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Today she creates high quality blends from three DOP regions of Portugal using a range of varieties. For quality olive oils the focus rests in freshness. The best oils are consumed immediately after bottling, with ideal age being within a year to three years after depending on variety. Galega, for example, tends to last long in bottle, while Arbequina keeps less well.

Winemaker David BraverstockEsporao chief winemaker, David Baverstock, hosted lunch for us enjoying several of the wineries wines including a beautifully crisp 2012 Bruto Metodo Classico sparkling wine made from Antao Vaz, and Arinto, and 4, a red blend offering a combination of fresh red and dark fruits on a backbone of structure with satisfying acidity.

Herdade Do EsporaoWe were talked into changing clothes for a ridiculous while fun grape stomping session in Touriga Nacional fresh from the region.

Stomping Touriga NacionalI’m such a joiner.

Verdelho in the Experimental BlockOne of the coolest elements of the visit included a walk through a ten hectare experimental vineyard where each row grows a different variety. The site offers local producers, and universities alike insight into the growing potential and constraints of the region.

Alicante Bouschet in the Experimental BlockCuttings for the experimental block were optained from nurseries and vineyards throughout Europe and showcase not only indigenous, but also international varieties. Alicante Bouschet, for example, a French variety known for its exquisite color, was found to be quite expressive in the region, and is now more common in red blends throughout Alentejo.

Alicante BouschetAmong red varieties, Alicante Bouschet proves unusual in that its juice and meat squeeze red while other dark grapes retain white insides.

The gardens from the top of a 15c Historic TowerIn the midst of Reguengos de Monsaraz structures from the 12th and 15th centuries still stand. From the top of a 15th c tower originally built for Duchess Catarina de Bragança, who went on to marry King Charles II of England, there remain beautiful views of gardens and countryside,

The Historic Church, Alentejoas well as a historic 15th c. church that once stood in the center of the local village.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com