Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Waipara Valley

I flew into the South Island capital Christchurch early Saturday morning, picked up the hire car and headed 40 minutes north to the principal Canterbury vineyard area called The Waipara Valley.  The Waipara has around 1200ha of vines which sit mainly on the gravely clay of the valley floor. They’re protected from the cooling coastal winds by the Teviotdale Hills in the east and from excess rain by the foothills of the Southern Alps in the west.  

This micro climate makes the Waipara on average two degrees warmer than Christchurch. It gives a long growing season and has a dry climate receiving only 600mm of rain per year.  As in Marlborough, the large fluctuation of day and night temperatures allow grape varietals such as Pinot Noir to retain their acidity, but to my surprise, the top varietal in the valley – and the most prized – is Riesling. 

My first stop was the world-famous Pegasus Bay winery, rated to be in the top five NZ producers. It is owned by the pioneering Donaldson family who have been involved in wine since the early 1970s. Today Ivan Donaldson oversees viticulture and wine styles, with sons Matthew the winemaker, Edward the marketeer and Paul the general manager.

The wines are serious stuff across the board but I personally liked the 2010 Encore Noble Riesling; a bottle of which will be accompanying me back to Bordeaux!

A few minutes further up the road is Mud house who also have the Waipara Hills label. It’s a big commercial venture with a huge range of wines, tasting rooms and restaurants. However the wines are all very good and great value for money and they do a terrific big, buttery Chardonnay in the Equinox range.

Greystone was next a little further up the road and the opposite of the previous visit. It’s a small 39-hectare estate of predominantly north-westerly facing land with a range of altitudes from 60m to 150m. Although 60% is planted with Pinot Noir, the soil profiles from light clays through to rich limestone allowing for some very good small blocks of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah.  I enjoyed all the wines but the again the Riesling was my favourite. 

My last visit before lunch was to Waipara Springs Winery. It’s a quaint little place with an inviting cafĂ© and the estate boasts some of the oldest vines in the valley. The off-dry Riesling was very good with zesty limey acidity and well worth the visit.

Lunch was at the highly recommended Black Estate in the north end of the Waipara. It’s a great spot and the black, barn-like restaurant and tasting room sits high on the hillside. The view is stunning, as is the food and I also tasted my favourite wine of day, the Black Estate 2010 Pinot Noir.

The Waipara is such a lovely region and I am very impressed with the Riesling in all styles made here; wines I certainly will be on the look out for in the future!

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