Last month I travelled to New Zealand with New Zealand Winegrowers to explore this country’s diverse wine regions, from Central Otago in the south island to Hawke’s Bay in the north, via Christchurch, Marlborough and Nelson.
The trip was centred around the Pinot Noir New Zealand conference in Wellington [see here], attended by more than 600 Pinot enthusiasts, winemakers, journalists, buyers and sommeliers. Prior to and after this event, a group of international guests of New Zealand Winegrowers were taken on a whistle stop tour of the country to meet its winemakers, discover its winemaking regions and see how increasing vine age, bottle age and a better understanding of terroir is contributing to the evolution of its wines.
While Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir were key focuses of the trip, a wide variety of aromatic white varieties, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon was also showcased, showing that the country is far from a one-trick pony.
Here’s my pictorial round up of my time there, giving a taste of New Zealand wine country, from top to bottom. First published here: https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2017/02/new-zealand-in-pictures/
Squad goals! Central Otago winemakers Paul Pujol of Prophet’s Rock, Rudi Bauer of Quartz Reef, Matt Dicey of Mount Difficulty and Duncan Forsyth of Mount Edward were among the winemakers on hand to greet our group upon arrival in Queenstown, pictured here at Prophet’s Rock.
Steve Farquharson of the Wooing Tree in the Cromwell sub region of Central Otago. A New Zealand native, Steve founded the Wooing Tree in 2002 with his wife Thea and another couple, Geoff and Jane Bews, leaving behind a career in the UK to return to New Zealand. Last year the estate announced plans to build ‘Wooing Tree Estate’ – a vineyard village within its 26-hectares vineyard – which will include a community complex featuring residential accommodation and commercial outlets.
This massive sculpture of fruit, a symbol of the region’s widespread fruit production, dominates the view across Cromwell – controversial because it doesn’t include a bunch of grapes.
The Kawarau River near Chard Farm Vineyard in Central Otago. We were told that this was the setting for a number of scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The view from Prophet’s Rock vineyard, with the ‘tablecloth mountain’ in the back drop – named so because of its impressively straight-lined snow peak which does bear some resemblance to a tablecloth.
A wood-stoked hot tub at Prophet’s Rock. Its views take some beating.
Travelling up to Wanaka in the north of Central Otago we made time for a stop at the beautiful Lake Wanaka……..
…and a beer…
…..before making our way to Rippon, where we were met with this breathtaking view across Lake Wanaka. Truly one of the most magical vineyards in the world.
Leaving the rugged landscape of Central Otago behind, we made our way to Christchurch, which is still being rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 2011. The damage caused is still very much visible with gaping holes left where buildings collapsed and efforts to rebuild them are now taking place. The cathedral in the city centre was just one of many buildings to be damaged in the quake, with the funds needed to restore it still in dispute.
To bring some levity to the city’s current state, a huge amount of street art has been commissioned by the city authorities, with colourful murals a common site throughout the city. This was one of our favourites.
NORTH CANTERBURY AND THE WAIPARA VALLEY
Around an hour’s drive north of Christchurch is the wine region of North Canterbury, which includes the Waipara Valley and Waikari. To get there we took an atmospheric steam train ride through the Weka Pass, a train line managed by volunteers which cuts through the limestone-rich landscape.
All was going brilliantly with Mel Brown, owner of London’s NZ Wine Cellar, and Madeleine Stenwreth MW, gleefully hanging out the back of a carriage when…
….we were stopped in our tracks, literally, by a fallen tree. But that wasn’t enough to stop this crack team of international wine people from reaching their lunchtime wine tasting. Hopping onto the track, we we helped to heave the tree from our path and continued on our way.
All in a day’s work.
We eventually made it to Pyramid Valley Wines, a biodynamic vineyard in Waikari, where we were met by co-owner Claudia Weersing and black lab Sid, partner to Nancy.
We aren’t quite sure of the ‘blue footed booby’s’ connection to Riesling, but we are taking its apparent liking of the grape as a good thing.
Eirik Anderson, winemaker at Black Estate in the Waipara Valley, strikes a pose.
Moving on, it was time to take in the sights of Marlborough…
…where we met by Ben Glover, chair of the Pinot Noir NZ conference, and winemaker at Zephyr in Marlborough.
Later, we took a ferry ride from Picton to Waterfall Bay, with Mike Allan, winemaker at Huia, sharing this fabulous magnum of its 2000 Millennial Brut “Inseparable” en route, first released in 2010 to mark the winery’s 20th year. The label, designed by artist Fiona Pardington, features two Huia birds, which was the largest species of New Zealand wattlebird, native to the north island, but is now extinct.
After a 25 minute boat ride we were delivered to Waterfall Bay, home to a remote private beach owned by Michael Seresin, of biodynamic wine producer Seresin. Here were took part in a tasting hosted by MaNa – a movement of natural winemakers keen to promote organic and biodynamic winemaking in Marlborough.
Before leaving Marlborough we enjoyed a breakfast tasting hosted by Méthode Marlborough – a collaboration of winemakers that have banded together to promote traditional method sparkling wine from Marlborough. Founded in 2013, the group includes Allan Scott, Cloudy Bay Vineyards, Hunter’s Wines, Johanneshof Cellars, Lion (Daniel Le Brun), Nautilus Estate, Spy Valley, Summerhouse Wine Company, Tohu Wines and No 1 Family Estate, owned by Daniel Le Brun. All Méthode Marlborough sparkling wines wines must be produced from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Meunier grapes grown in Marlborough, made in the traditional method with secondary fermentation in the bottle and aged for a minimum of 18 months on lees before disgorging.
Then it was onto Nelson and the Aromatics Symposium, which kicked off with a tasting on the beach at Mapua.
Sophie Allan of Huia presents her parent’s wines at the aromatics tasting, which featured wines made from varieties including Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer and Albarino, among others, produced by winemakers across New Zealand.
The braver among the group set out to swim across to Rabbit Island, which is further than it looks. In the distance you may be able to spot Peter McCombie MW who, along with German journalist Peter Badenhop, triumphantly made it across the water and back again to be rewarded with a beer.
MWs, assemble! Just some of the highly qualified attendees on the trip, which included Kenichi Ohashi MW, Madeleine Stenwreth MW, Victoria Burt MW, Martin Moran MW, Bob Campbell MW, Peter McCombie MW, Jane Skilton MW, Emma Jenkins MW, Steven Wong MW and Bree Boskov MW.
Wine writer Jamie Goode and Ken Ohashi MW hang out by the fire.
The view over the vines at Mahana Estates in Nelson, where this year’s Aromatics Symposium, organised by New Zealand Winegrowers, was hosted. Albarino is just one of the aromatic varieties making a name for itself in New Zealand, with many winemakers placing their hopes in the future of the grape.
Judy Finn, owner of Neudorf Estates, talks us through her winery’s Chardonnays and an aged Pinot Gris….
….before treating the group to the most amazing of cakes.
Then it was onto our scheduled ‘wine flight’, hosted by Air New Zealand, during which we were flown at low altitude from Blenheim in Marlborough to Napier, near the wine region of Hawke’s Bay, with wines served as we flew over the vines from which they were produced. Wines served included Neudorf’s 2011 Moutere Chardonnay from Nelson, Cloudy Bay’s 2011 Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, and Te Kairanga’s 2015 John Martin Chardonnay from Martinborough.
Thai marinated chicken with lychee cucumber salad, sweet chilli sauce and sesame cashew nuts; tea-smoked duck breast with balsamic jelly, pecans, mandarin, honey and Dijon mustard aioli; an antipasto of prosciutto, artichokes, goat’s cheese, olives and paprika walnut tarator.
Our welcome committee: Apparently Napier is the art deco capital of New Zealand, with much of the city rebuilt following a massive earthquake in 1931. At the time, Art Deco was fashionable and so much of the city was rebuilt in this style. Today, Napier’s town centre is home to largest collection of Art Deco buildings outside Miami. Keep that one in your pub quiz pocket.
HAWKE’S BAY (GIMBLETT GRAVELS AND BRIDGE PA)
Arriving to Napier in the north island, we transferred to Havelock North where we scaled Te Mata Peak to enjoy this stunning view.
Matt Stafford, winemaker at Craggy Range, chills out before dinner.
A traditional pōwhiri – a Māori welcoming ceremony – at Trinity Hill in Hawke’s Bay before the start of New Zealand Winegrowers’ Classic Reds Symposium.
Hawke’s Bay is a region comprising several sub regions, including the Bridge Pa Triangle and Gimblett Gravels, stretching to Te Awanga and Esk River toward the coast. Starting our exploration of the region in Bridge Pa, were were told this is actually the only bridge in the Bridge Pa district, and therefore felt it worthy of a photo.
Kelly and Saket of Sileni at a tasting of Bridge Pa wines at the Sileni Estate in Bridge Pa.
We were fortunate enough to be offered a ride in a 1940s Tiger Moth…..
….offering spectacular views over the Bridge Pa Triangle vineyards.
Moving on we took in the sights of Gimblett Gravels, with Warren Gibson, winemaker at Trinity Hill, giving the lay of the land from atop Rob’s Hill, which offers panoramic views across the region’s vineyards.
The oldest vineyards in Hawke’s Bay. Winemaker Alan Limmer is widely credited with rescuing Syrah in Hawke’s Bay, having salvaged a pile of discarded vines, which turned out to be the region’s last remaining Syrah vines, from the rubbish heap and replanting them at his vineyard, Stonecroft. Those vines provided much of the clonal material for today’s Hawke’s Bay, which would otherwise have been lost. Stonecroft was the first winery in Gimblett Gravels.
Moving onto our last region, we arrived in Wairarapa, located an hour and a half south of Wellington. Located on the north island, east of Wellington, the Wairarapa Valley comprises the Martinborough GI, Gladstone GI and Masterton regions, which are connected by the Ruamahanga river. The region has just finalised plans to rebrand itself as Wellington Wine Country, in hopes of winning the region more recognition. The most planted varieties across all three regions, now known as Wellington Wine Country, are Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, with smaller plantings of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Syrah.
Angus and Davina Thomson, owners of Urlar in Gladstone, at their vineyard….
…which boasts an outdoor bath tub, modelled here by Adam Clarke, of UK retailer The Secret Cellar, and German journalist Peter Badenhop.
And not forgetting Bella, the charismatic pig-in-residence at Gladstone Vineyards in Gladstone.
And finally, a lunch at the Wharekauhau lodge in Palliser Bay was served with these beauties; a 2000 Pinot Noir magnum from Martinborough Vineyard, and a 2013John Martin pinot Noir from Te Kairanga. What a send off….