Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Hawke's Bay Day Two

It was another lovely day in Hawke’s Bay and we were to explore the famous Gimblett Gravels area

The Gimblett Gravels Winegrowing District is located in the old Omahu Channel and has mostly Omahu soils. The Omahu soils are a unique fine sandy loam with overlying stony gravels. And where better to try a wine from these soils than with pioneer winemaker John Hancock at his Trinity Hill estate? John first recognised the potential of the Gimblett Gravels back in 1993 and his Trinity Hill Homage Syrah is regarded today as an iconic wine, earning critical acclaim world-wide.

John showed us round the winery and we tasted the 2013 wines from vat and barrel before settling at the bar at the cellar door to taste some back vintages. 

The Syrah was stunning. French winemaker Gerard Jaboulet who took John under his wing in the Northern Rhone has certainly left his mark and this wine certainly matches up to the very best Hermitage!

For lunch I went to the Black Barn Bistro located amongst their vineyards in Havelock North. If you’re in town don’t miss out on this place.

The afternoon started with a trip to Sacred Hill where I met consultant winemaker Jenny Dobson.  Jenny is a very experienced winemaker and actually worked for Tony in the late 80’s in Castillon!  Jenny gave me a great tour and tasting of the 2013’s. Very impressive wines and incredible attention to detail.

For the rest of the day I made some unannounced visits. I had tasted a wonderful Craggy range Le Sol Syrah when I first arrived in NZ and so just had to visit and re-taste. The Syrah is again from the Gimblett Gravels area. The 2010 is deep and dark with aromas of sweet blackberries and freshly cracked black pepper, a northern Rhone style palate with and refreshing acidity, a truly great wine!

Te Mata Awatea Cabernet/Merlot is another impressive wine I have previously tasted.  Established in 1896, the winery is named after the 400m Te Mata Peak that looms dramatically over the Hawke’s Bay area, situated south of Hastings. The estate is still family owned and the range of wines are of a very high standard. 

My last evening in NZ was party time and where better than at the laid-back restaurant at Clearview Estate? A beautiful evening with great live music and plenty of tasting with founder and winemaker Tim Turvey.

A big thank you to Clare and Brian Hollings for looking after me during my stay in Hawke’s Bay, cheers guys!

Well that’s the end of my New Zealand trip and it’s been a wonderful experience, tomorrow I head back to India to check on the wines I made in March!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Trapdoor!

I had to fly from a freezing Queenstown, up to a torrential-rain Auckland before finally landing in a sunny, hot Napier; the capital of the Hawke’s Bay region.

The hotel was right on the sea-front Marine Parade road and feeling a bit hungry, I went for a wander. I stumbled on the packed-to-the-rafters, crazy Restaurant Indonesia, run by a mad-but-friendly Dutch guy. If you’re in town try it!

The following day we started early with our first visit being Mission Estate in the Taradale Hills. Mission Estate is the oldest established winery in New Zealand, set up by pioneering French missionaries back in 1851, who with blessing from the Pope, sailed to the Pacific from the The Society of Mary in Lyon. The current winemaker is Paul Mooney who has been making the wines for over 30 years. Paul learnt from his mentor Brother John, a monk who trained in Bordeaux during the 1950s.

Mission Estate Winery has a fascinating past, surviving everything from floods to earthquakes to fires. They even had to move the huge house by cutting it into 11 sections and rolling on logs to its current location on top of the hill!

The wines are great, too. I recommend the 2010 Saint Mary’s Syrah and The Avenue Cabernet/Merlot: ripe, juicy and with a freshness making it very easy to drink.

We said our goodbyes and headed north to Eskdale to meet Gordon Russell at Esk Valley Winery. The first thing you notice as you turn into the small area of Glenvale is the terraces of vineyards that surround the winery. Again the winery has quite a history with the first vines being planted by Englishman Robert Bird back in 1933. The winery has changed little and winemaker Gordon Russell as been at the helm since 1993. Apart from some stainless steel vats for the white fermentations he still uses the original concrete open-top fermenters for the reds!

Gordon gave us a personal tour from vineyard to winery and we got rather carried away tasting barrels. We eventually made it to the actual tasting room where a big tasting of the bottled wines awaited us. I absolutely adored the wines and the energy that Gordon puts in makes them real gems. I was completely blown away by his Chenin Blanc and when I get back to France I will make one like his for sure! The Chenin is small volume and only sold in NZ but I urge you to try the Sauvignon Blanc available at Laithwaites.

Before we left we went back into the maze of barrels. In every corner turned or behind each door opened there were batches of wine.  However my favourite moment was when Gordon made us move off the rug in the tasting room which he whipped away to reveal a secret trap door. Sure enough, as we descended into the dark there were more barrels!

Tomorrow we head to the famous Hawke’s Bay vineyard area, The Gimblett Gravels.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Still in Middle Earth, or had I been in a wardrobe?

It was absolutely freezing at -4°C when I stepped out the of the warm hotel. By the time we had headed to Gibbston, the closest wine region to Queenstown, a stunning blue mist had formed above the ice blue frost, turning everything blue. I was expecting the white witch of Narnia and her secret police to come racing through on a sleigh! Then we spotted our first visit poking out of the ground like giant, half-buried grand piano: the Peregrine cellar.

We were met by James the sales manager who gave the tour and tasting.  The owners Lindsay McLachlan and Greg Hay are bird fanatics and are constantly investing and working towards the protection and preservation of the local birds. I learnt the grand piano cellar roof was actually inspired by the kinetic rotation of a bird in flight! Once the mist had cleared I could see the twisting roof more clearly.

The wines were all really lovely, but the IWSC trophy winning 2009 The Pinnacle Pinot Noir from their Bendigo and Pisa vineyards was the pick. It’s very sought after; some inside information is Dan our buyer was negotiating hard for a few cases so fingers crossed he gets some. I know I’ll be keeping a careful eye on the Laithwaite’s NZ wine list.

I decided to spend the afternoon with some spontaneous and anonymous visits to wineries; I like to do that sometimes as you can often find some hidden gems.

From the main road I could see some amazing vineyards and a cellar over the other side of the deep Kawarau River canyon and was determined to get to them.  With a bit of investigation I crossed the bridge where the bungee jumping station was set and saw a sign pointing out a very sharp right.  I took the right which lead onto a perilous dirt track carved out of the mountainside. I was now heading back on my self and the winding road eventually ended with the Chard Farm winery and its vineyards.

Nets were still on the vineyards and with closer inspection I realised it was the late harvest Pinot Gris being given serious ‘hang time’!

My anonymous arrival was blown instantly as in the tasting room tasting were two vintage cellarhands from the winery where I had just been working in Marlborough. Small world!

The wines were really lovely and last year’s late harvest Pinot Gris was a beautiful wine. And the 2010 Pinot Noir double-act of Viper and Tiger were very well made.

Back towards Queenstown I dropped into Amisfield winery which hugged Lake Hayes. No-one recognised me and I tasted the range without interruption, very good indeed and very well priced.

A last look at the Remarkable Range, which is quite remarkable, as is all of the scenery before another hairy 12-seater flight up to Napier and to Hawke’s Bay wine region! Goodbye Otago, I’ll be back!