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.
First official meet up of the Pie Club, Central Otago chapter, Arrowtown edition. Taste testing Mince and Cheese versus Steak and Mushroom. (Mince and Cheese very clearly hands down won.) #nzwine @paulpujol cc: @yrmom_safoodie @madsmw @ginandbutter @somm_arthurhon @winediviner @headwineo @lauren_eads
Awesome. In the midst of my New Zealand Chardonnay investigation – Aurum 2008 Blanc de Blancs aged six years on lees – simultaneously savory and bright with a crazy long finish, faintly nutty hints also remarkably youthful, fresh and jovial. Lovely, fun while still serious wine. #nzwine @aurumwineslucie @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa
So this is delicious. The Hermit Ram 2015 Salt Lick Chardonnay opens the palate all fresh fruit creamy then snaps tight at the mid palate and moves into a super stimulating, mineral washed, ultra long finish. Really delicious. Chardonnay from Waitaki in North Otago. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa Thanks for bringing the bottle, @theokcoles. Great to meet you and awesome to taste your wine!
Oh my fricking god driving around with Ann Pinckney (and her dogs) discussing the very first modern vineyards, the very first wines, the very first viticultural everything for Central Otago as established for the modern era in 1981 by her experimental test vineyards near-ish Queenstown first at Danfield and then here at Taramea. #nzwine (Stupid fricking cool lord yes god this is the business thank you and amen. I am excited.)
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
High power teaching team discussing soil profile to geological history and how it shows up in vineyard health and balance via soil pH and nutrient availability – Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock and Roger Gibson of Lowburn Ferry and the viticulture program at the Central Otago Polytechnic. #nzwine @paulpujol
Roger Gibson talking us through pH contrast between acidic surface eroded schist and the pedogenic lime and clay released from it into deeper soils to create alkaline subsoils. Here at the oldest glacial terrace in the region, on which Prophet’s Rock sits, the soils are around 650,000 years old and so the parent materials of Greywacke and Schist (metamorphic Greywacke or mudstone) have gained in complexity through erosion, elevation and age. (Super cool.) #nzwine
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
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
Awesome side by side tasting of Central Otago Riesling from the 2011 vintage. Three utterly distinct, all well made wines. The Rippon comes in ultra bright and high tone like a high wattage but diffuse filter lightbulb – full of intense acidity with softened edges. The Felton Road offers a persistent, well-focused weight and intensity, all about texture and length. More orchard fruit to the Rippon’s citrus. The Prophet’s Rock carries a range of subtle flavors – bright stone fruits and white herbs with a saline and stone mineral freshness through the finish with texture, complexity and at the same time an open weave. Awesome range across the three wines. #nzwine @paulpujol @ripponhall @ripponjo
The Prophet’s Rock crew – from left Regan Cross and Paul Pujol – calling picks on Pinot Gris in their utterly steep sloped and crazy-shallow rocky soil, Rocky Point Vineyard in the Bendigo sub zone, overlooking Lake Dunstan around 820 ft elevation, one of the steepest vineyard blocks in Central Otago. #nzwine @paulpujol
Men at work: Paul Pujol and Regan Cross of Prophet’s Rock discussing when to pick based on the logistical complexity of balancing flavor development and structural maturity to the limitations of upcoming storms and picking crew availability on Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir at their Rocky Point Vineyard, overlooking Lake Dunstan, Bendigo, Central Otago. #nzwine @paulpujol
Day spent shadowing the Prophet’s Rock team ends in reward: the first, #001, of the inaugural release of the Prophet’s Rock Reserve Pinot Noir. What makes it Reserve is not oak difference but instead block character having the structural intensity to merit bottle age. Released a minimum of five years after vintage, now seven years later, let’s do this thing… Really delicious, beautiful wine. Tons of purity and presence. Opens up wonderfully with air. #nzwine @paulpujol
A look at soils off upper Felton Road in Bannockburn, a mix of white clay, decomposed schist-based loess, calcareous deposits, and hard rock schist varying in concentration of each through different parts of the valley. Areas with higher clay content have a harder time draining while areas with higher stone content struggle to retain water and grow. More ideal is a thorough going mix of each. #nzwine
Checking in on Pinot Gris at Aurum with winemaker Lucie Lawrence. Almost but not quite ready. Pisa area of Cromwell Basin, Central Otago. The Aurum team – parents Joan and Tony, husband and wife Brook and Lucie – brings together inspiration from France, Lucie’s birth home, with inspiration of Central Otago, the home of the Lawrence family, to take Pinot Gris seriously in three ways – white, rosé and amber wine. #nzwine @aurumwineslucie
Interesting conversation on structure in wine looking at Aurum Pinot Gris made three ways – straight to press white, several day soak rosé, and full fermentation skin contact then pressed at dryness amber – and destemmed Pinot Noir. Awesome tasting through the wines in concert with getting Aurum winemaker Lucie Lawrence to discuss her approach and thinking on each of the wines and how they express the Aurum estate. #nzwine @aurumwineslucie
Checking in on the 2016 Central Otago Pinot Celebration cuvée. Every year wineries from across Central Otago donate the same proportion of wine unfinished but post-fermentation from the vintage of that year’s Celebration to be finished by a different winemaker from the region every year. A barrel is also donated by a cooper for the wine. The Celebration cuvée is auctioned off and the proceeds go to funding health initiatives in the region. Super cool and fun to get a sneak peek on last year’s wine. #nzwine
Yes, I might be crying (WHAT ABOUT IT?!!) though I managed to hide it. Mister Alan Brady with his 1987 Gibbston Valley Pinot Noir – the first commercial bottling ever made in Central Otago from vines he also planted – and the 2012 bottling of wine from the same vines all those many years later. (I totally cried in front of him BUT NOT TILL LATER. An afternoon with a legend will do that.) #nzwine
Awesome treat to share here in Central – I brought my only bottle of the Eyrie 2007 South Block Reserve, made by David Lett. We opened it to enjoy over two days as Eyrie always gets better with air. David’s final vintage was no exception – it gained clarity, vibrancy and purity too with air carrying both a thoughtfulness and glittering energy. A special and delicious wine. #willamettevalley @eyrievineyards
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
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
Checking in on Pinot for the Francois Millet, Paul Pujol collaboration project, Cuvée Aux Antipodes, on the highest terrace in Bendigo at Prophet’s Rock. Pinot from the lower elevations across the Cromwell Basin in this center part of Central Otago is essentially harvested. These higher elevation glacial terraces are just starting to come in. The outer points of Central – Wanaka, Earnsclugh, Alexandra and Gibbston – are not yet ready. #nzwine @paulpujol The fruit all across Central Otago looks great. Super good quality, clean bunches with great acidity. Yields are a bit lower but 2017 has a good chance to kill it.
Fascinating to walk through the various blocks and rows on 7 hectares of Pinot Noir planted at Prophet’s Rock in Bendigo and see how the flavor-sugar-acid-seed-skin relationships vary across swoops and swails, high slopes and low, while getting winemaker Paul Pujol to talk through what he tastes/feels in the fruit and how that relates to picking decisions. Pinot coming in shortly from some sections. A bit longer for others. #nzwine @paulpujol
Checking in on Riesling with passionate Riesling lover, Mister Duncan Forsyth of Mount Edward. Interesting year for the variety. With the cool weather and long fruit set and hang time this year there is marked contrast between neighboring sites. Good fruit quality for Riesling but also subtle differences on fruit-seed-phenolic balance. In a year like this, for Duncan, picking to hit the fruit just as that bitter-green note shifts out to just-slightly riper is the trick to capture freshness, bright acidity and just enough flavor and flesh to bring tension with balance. #nzwine @wineswinger
Quick stop to check on Steve Davies and the pick happening today at Doctor’s Flat on the highest terrace in Bannockburn. The site is all brown gravel outside the old sluice fields, a mix of schist, clay and silt turned brown from exposed iron gone oxidized. Here the clone 114 has come in today. Thanks to the extended flowering at the start of the year, fruit this year tends towards just one seed. Great bright acidity and depth of flavor from the extended hang time but fewer seeds than generally seen in the region. #nzwine
Following up on my visit to Doctor’s Flat with Steve Davies this afternoon by tasting the 2014 vintage from the site next to dinner. Soil age and the resulting drainage is a key aspect of recognizing wines here in Central Otago and is fascinating to explore. The Doctor’s Flat grows on the highest, and so also oldest, terrace in the Bannockburn subzone. It’s elevation and exposure also make it slightly cooler than the rest of Bannockburn. The wine shows fine, chalky tannins, a texturally satisfying structure with more lift and elevated red fruit notes than I tend to expect from Bannockburn while still carrying those deeper, dark notes recognizable to the area. Lovely. #nzwine
Unbelievable day tasting vintages of Gibbston Valley wines back to 1998 with a single vineyard focus on the Le Maitre home block and School House, a high elevation site in Bendigo, with Alan Brady, who started Gibbston Valley and planted the Le Maitre vineyard, one of the first Pinot sites in Central Otago established in 1984, and current Gibbston Valley winemakers Sascha Herbert and Christopher Keys. Deeply grateful. Super insightful, fun and fascinating afternoon. #nzwine @gibbstonvalleywinery
Rounding out yesterday’s brief visit to Doctor’s Flat on the highest planted terrace in Bannockburn with an in the dark barrel tasting through the 2016 pinots. That plus a vintage vertical on bottled wines back to 2011 shows the vineyard markers – pleasing chalky tannin, bright pure acidity, a red fruit lift I don’t see so consistently in other Bannockburn sites and a cinnamon stick note that shows in some other sites of Central Otago too. Pretty cool. #nzwine
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.
Digging into soil health and organic farming at Carrick with Francis Hutt. Here the windblown loess originates from eroded glacial sands full of silica from the schist bedrock. Through a mix of cover crops and under vine cultivation the root depth has persistently gone deeper and soil health has steadily improved as well. The own root vines under this farming regime gain finesse and flavor complexity as their roots deepen. #nzwine @mckeefryhutt @carrickwines
“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
Fascinating and an honor to follow and listen to these two as they taste fruit, the current year from tank, and last year’s wines from barrel. Here Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock and Francois Millet from Chambolle Musigny collaborating on their 2016 and 2017 Cuvée Aux Antipodes Pinot Noir from vines on the highest glacial terrace in the Bendigo subzone of Central Otago. #nzwine The insights they have already shared with me on natural fermentations, effects of racking, fruit health, wine balance (I could go on…) super exciting. Best of all the insight from tasting and listening to their assessment of what we are tasting … so much to learn there. @paulpujol
Francois Millet’s first selfie. (Plus epic Prophet’s Rock vertical back to 2009, with a horizontal across blocks of 2015, that turned out to be a master class in finesse, vintage expression and what it means to live a good while interesting life thanks to Francois’s continual tasting-notes-turn-into-life-lessons insights along the way.) #nzwine @paulpujol
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