Marsala, on the eastern coast of Sicily, was on our itinerary for a visit during a recent trip, to a country of very fine horticulture, climate and soil type, perfect for grapes, olives, vegetables, lemons and fruit of all description.
The Alagna family winery, into its fourth generation of ownership, is a master at fortified wines. Antonio Alagna showed us through and didn’t hesitate to lay out a tasting range for us to sample and of course purchase if we wished.
Technologies and land conservation
The company owns about 50 hectares of land in the municipalities of Marsala, Mazara, Trapani and Selemi. In these areas the vines necessary for the production of its wines are cultivated: Zibibbo, Nero d’avola, Grillo, Catarrato, Inzolia and Damaschino. These are all local grapes that can only be grown in Sicily and need a special microclimate that is only found in the province of Trapani. The company uses a mixture of traditional and modern techniques for the production of these grapes. For example, this one started using mechanical collection systems, but it also uses ancient systems like the saplings. Furthermore, the entire production is done trying to minimize the environmental impact and preserve the natural heritage of the area.
Respect for tradition and quality.
Currently, the company is equipped for the production and storage of wines that are produced in the vineyards of the area and the aging and bottling process is also carried out. The company has a capacity of 50,000 hectolitres of wine distributed in various types of containers: steel, cement, fiberglass or large wooden barrels. Furthermore, it is possible to see a wide range of machinery used for the production and refinement of the final product, including a large and sophisticated grape pressing system that is necessary for the production of fine quality wines. Marsala wine is one of the main products of the Alagna company.
LANNI’ (DOC sicilia) is a smooth blend of Nero d’avola, Syrah and Merlo, aged in oak casks used to store fortified wines, in order to obtain tobacco and cherry frangrances.
Grapes are picked late in the season to create a dark colour and smooth taste. The wine has 10gr of residual sugar and 14% in alcohol. It is not filtered to have even more flavours.
The Lanni’ name is Short, easy to remember and pronounced. It is the contraction of our name (A-LA-NI-A) It’s a blend and a name that only we make and therefore it is not comparable in the market.
85% POINTS AT VITEA GUIDE AIS ASSOCIATION 2019
88% POINTS AT 5 STAR COMPETITION IN VINITAY 2018
KOSHO (sushi wine)
IGP SICILIA / PDI SISCILIA)
It must be a first, anywhere on earth!?
Concept: Kosho fully embraces the growing fusion gastronomic culture by linking the ancient Sicilian winemaking tradition with Japanese cuisine. The delicate and fruity tones of this wine made with a blend of Sicilian grapes, perfectly matches with the umami flavours of the main Japanese dishes (Sushi, Sashimi, Temaki, Hosomaki..)
IT IS THE FIRST WINE FOR SUSHI IN ITALY.
NAME: it comes from KOSHU, a typical grape of Japan. But Kosho is easier to remember.
Grape (white) blend of inzolia, damaschino and catarratto, grown in our vineyards in Sicily.
Aging: 3 months in steel
Packaging: 75cl cork cap
Leading Hawke's Bay winery Selaks launch new '1934' range
This month, leading Hawke’s Bay winery Selaks release their new premium range of wines, Selaks 1934 crafted to reflect the brands rich heritage and honour traditional winemaking practices.
Selaks 1934 is a particularly special addition to the Selaks portfolio, named in honour of the year their founder, Marino Selaks sold his very first vintage wine. This range is available in four delicious varietals, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé and Merlot.
The Selaks 1934 bottle label is also unique as it features augmented reality (AR) technology that brings to life the Selaks story and shares helpful information for consumers, including tasting notes, food pairing advice and stockist details.
Winemaker Brett Fullerton has been part of the Selaks winemaking team for almost 30 years and is available to provide commentary on Selaks’ rich history as one of NZ earliest wineries and the new 1934 range.
At Wine NZ Magazine, this simple truth stands as the foundation of our wine ratings. We believe that evaluating wines blind ensures that our tasters remain impartial and that our reviews are unbiased, with all wines presented on a level playing field. You may be surprised to learn that not all wine writers share this approach. Some critics review wines non-blind, and even alongside the winemakers and at the wineries. They argue that honesty and independence can overcome the expectations that are inevitably triggered by knowing the identity of a wine, its reputation and its price. We respectfully disagree.
Avoiding bias simply put, in a blind tasting the taster is deprived of information that may bias his or her judgment of the wine in the glass. Now, you may think that a conscientious taster should be able to ignore the influence of extraneous factors. But research has shown that it’s not so easy. We are all very prone to a cognitive error called “confirmation bias,” which plays a large, but largely unacknowledged, role in everyday judgment. A tasting with or without labels does not produce the same representations. A real organoleptic appreciation of a wine should be carried out in the absence of all imaginary reference. These kinds of experiments have been carried out many times, in many settings, but always with the same results: “Imaginary references”— especially producer names and price tags—significantly influence sensory evaluations. The only way for a scrupulous critic to guarantee unbiased judgments is to review wines in blind tastings.
This is why Wine NZ Magazine employs a “singleblind” methodology. Our tasters know general aspects of the wine that provide context, which include vintage, appellation and grape variety where appropriate, but never the name of the producer or the wine’s price. The goal is to arrive at the appropriate balance: enough information to contextualize the wine, but not so much information that “imaginary references” begin to distort judgment. Blind tasting is difficult, imprecise and humbling. Evaluating a wine is not like weighing an object on a scale. The tasting note that accompanies each of our reviews describes the individual wine and attempts to put it in context.
The score our tasters assign, based on our 100-point scale, is a summary of their judgment about the wine’s quality. Wine NZ Magazine makes every effort to ensure that our tasters have the skill and experience to make good judgments on the wines they review. Then we make certain that those reviews take place under tasting conditions that eliminate bias and ensure fairness. We believe that this combination of expertise and methodology results in wine reviews that are not only independent but also, and most importantly, reliable. Above all, we hope the information and judgment we share with our readers can help you deepen your understanding and appreciation of wine, and develop an authentic taste of your own.
The capital-intensive demands of the wine industry are a deterrent for many young winemakers and viticulturists wanting to stamp their own mark.
Mike Laven, the viticultural specialist at Colliers International, says most do not have sufficient capital to get started, given the large capital outlay required for plant and equipment.
“Those who manage to set up their own business usually have to start small and then face all the challenges of establishing their brands and opening up routes to market, as well as the day-to-day operating issues of running a vineyard and making wine.”
Against this backdrop, Colliers International, who have been appointed as sales agents, expect good interest in the leased vineyards and winery/cellar door plus assets and business of Nelson-based Appleby Vintners Ltd.
The boutique brand has well established domestic and offshore routes to market for its fully certified organic wines that are sold under two well-known labels. Te Mānia was established in 1990 and Richmond Plains a year later. Richmond Plains produced New Zealand’s first certified organic Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
Appleby Vintners leases three organic vineyards on the Waimea Plains with a total of 12.7ha planted in Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay with small areas of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. In addition, it leases a well located cellar door and a 200 tonne winery building just off Appleby Highway, 11km from Nelson Airport. The cellar door is particularly is well placed for direct-to-consumer sales to the growing Nelson tourism market.
“This is a rare opportunity for a young winemaker to hit the ground running, buying an established wine company that leases rather than owns its vineyards and winery. For a relatively low entry cost, a young winemaker or viticulturist can buy this business which provides reasonably consistent domestic and export sales of two well-known Nelson organic wine brands. The structure of the current leases means there is a lot of flexibility for a new owner and scope to take the business in new directions.”
According to New Zealand Wine, 10 per cent of New Zealand wineries now hold organic certification.
“The market for organic wines is definitely growing, not just here but throughout the world, as environmentally-conscious consumers are increasingly concerned about personal health and looking after the planet,” Laven says.
For further information please contact:
Mike Laven | Rural & Agribusiness | Colliers International
Auckland, New Zealand – X, Marks the Drop! Actress, designer and wine lover Sarah Jessica Parker announced via Instagram that her New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wine in partnership with Kiwi winery Invivo & Co will launch this September.
“Invivo X, Sarah Jessica Parker Sauvignon Blanc”, made from Marlborough grapes, will be available nationwide in New Zealand from early September. SJP’s New Zealand wine will be instrumental in raising the profile of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc around the world as it’s also set to launch in US, Australia, Japan, UK, Ireland, Hong Kong and Canada.
Sarah Jessica Parker comments: “I have thoroughly enjoyed the collaboration with Rob and Tim, from our initial conversations discussing wine styles, to the creative process on the brand and label design and of course the Sauvignon Blanc blending session, it’s been one exciting step after another.”
Loved worldwide for her acting, perfumes and her wildly successful shoes, Sarah Jessica Parker announced her partnership with New Zealand’s most innovative wine company to the world in February this year.
In May, Invivo founders and old school mates Rob Cameron and Tim Lightbourne travelled from the Invivo winery in Te Kauwhata to New York to blend Sarah Jessica Parker’s first ever wine, where she followed the exact blending process that any winemaker would follow. Rob and Tim brought with them samples of the 2019 vintage, harvested in April from five estates in Marlborough, spanning both the Wairau and Awatere Valleys.
Over a three-hour session, SJP and the Invivo team finalized the proportions from each vineyard to create the exact wine blend.
Sarah Jessica Parker was hands-on throughout the whole process: “While I’m new to winemaking, the Invivo fellows generously taught, showed and shared as much of the art and science of their business and hopefully I have absorbed some of their Kiwi confidence. I’m so looking forward to releasing my Invivo X, Sarah Jessica Parker Sauvignon Blanc in September and sharing our wine with the world! And feel very fortunate to have the opportunity offered by Rob and Tim.”
The wine’s first review – just days after bottling – landed it a 95point rating from NZ wine reviewer Sam Kim at Wine Orbit who says “The palate delivers excellent concentration and weight, wonderfully complemented by fine texture and brilliant focus. It is deliciously expressed and texturally delightful, making it hugely appealing.”
Invivo Cofounder & Winemaker Rob Cameron describes Sarah Jessica’s first ever wine: ”This is a seriously drinkable Sauvignon Blanc that will continue to develop for up to seven years. Sarah Jessica loves the fruit purity of Sauvignon Blanc but wanted to make a wine that has some weight behind it. The result is a beautifully well-balanced drop - think flavours of grapefruit, honey-suckle flower, passionfruit and citrus zest balanced with an acidic spine – it’s not a typical Marlborough Sauvignon!”
As a passionately creative person, Sarah Jessica Parker has naturally been instrumental in both naming the wine and designing the label. The X and the comma directly after it, is an intentional and personal touch, referencing her signature email and Instagram post signoff: “X, SJ.” Sarah Jessica also hand-painted the X on the original label and found the teal paint to match the exact shade of one of her favorite satin shoe colorways, "Hamilton", from her SJP Collection label.
In Spring 2020, a Rosé Wine from Provence, South of France will join the Sarah Jessica Parker collection of wines with Invivo & Co. This will be a new vintage 2019 blend from grapes being harvested this September.
This celebrity partnership is not uncharted territory for the growing New Zealand wine brand as Invivo & Co also produces a successful wine brand with UK talk show host Graham Norton. His brand debuted in 2014 selling 12,000 bottles in the first year and now today sells 3.5 million bottles globally. Invivo & Co looks forward to growing Sarah Jessica Parker’s collection of wines to reflect her personal preferences and love for wine in the same way.
Rudi Bauer Story
Every day in Central Otago is like a holiday, Central Otago winemaker Rudi Bauer told Charmian Smith years ago. Does he still feel that way a couple of decades on?
Rudi Bauer of Quartz Reef has been a stalwart of the Central Otago wine industry from its early days. A quiet, earnest achiever with a tireless enthusiasm for what he does, he is one of the remarkable group of winemakers who have led the Central Otago wine industry from its debut, when people doubted good wine could be made there, to its current place as one of the world’s leading pinot noir producing regions.
The Austrian-born winemaker came to New Zealand in the mid-1980s to work at Mission in Hawkes Bay. He met his future wife, photographer Suellen Boag, and stayed on, working vintages in California and Oregon in the off seasons.
They came to Central Otago in 1991. After making several of Central’s earliest medal-winning wines at Rippon, he moved to Giesen in Canterbury for several years - but not before he had set eyes on a virgin slope in Bendigo and started discussions with John Perriam, owner of Bendigo Station, about developing a vineyard there.
Meanwhile Mike Wolter and others had set up Central Otago Wine Company [Cowco], to make wine under contract for small growers who would not otherwise have access to professional winemaking. It provided a valuable start for many early producers. However, with Mike’s tragic accidental death in 1997, Rudi returned a year earlier than planned to take over Cowco. There he made wine for Dry Gully, Peregrine, Kawarau Estate, Two Paddocks and others, and became involved in the wider wine community - not to mention being named Winemaker of the Year in 1999, the first of several such awards by different organisations.
Busy years followed as he and his partners developed the 30ha Quartz Reef vineyard, 15 ha on a steep slope and 15 on rolling country across the road. Named after the large seam of quartz running under the vineyard and mined for gold in the 19th century, it was the first vineyard in the Bendigo subregion.
He was at the inception of the now famous Central Otago Pinot Celebration that attracts enthusiasts and professionals from all over the world and has contributed to the region’s international reputation. Rudi explains how it started.
The idea of an international New Zealand pinot noir celebration was discussed in 1999 but despite Central’s bid to host it, Martinborough won the right to hold it in Wellington in 2001. Rudi, along with Alan Brady, Grant Taylor and others were disappointed not only that Central missed out but also that it was going to be two years away.
“I said ‘stuff it' and I said to Alan ‘we’ll do our own one now’, and with the support of Alan we gave it our best shot and Cowa [Central Otago Winegrowers Association] were happy to run with it,” Rudi said.
While they might not have been aware at the time of what they were getting into, Rudi found it exciting being part of the hardworking team uniting producers, promoting the region and involving newcomers and younger people.
The Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration, held in years when the triennial international one is not, has grown from strength to strength. A marketing arm of Cowa, Central Otago Pinot Noir Ltd [COPNL], of which Rudi was a director, was born and teams sent to London and elsewhere to promote Central Otago wine.
“The other big part [in the early development of the region] was all the younger winemakers that came in, particularly Grant [Taylor at Gibbston Valley] and Blair [Walter at Felton Road]. They are highly skilful people with extraordinary experience and were able to translate that to Central Otago.
“And mainly we are just in love with Central, and that gives you a lot of energy and drive and you want to put your best foot forward particularly talking about pinot noir which in its own right is a very special medium to work with,” Rudi said.
So does he still feel as if every day in Central is a holiday?
“I do. I guess what has changed - there is still a lot of energy around from the land and myself, but I guess sometimes I have to ask why are you so busy engaged in your own methods and matters that you forget about it. That’s maybe more to the point.
“In the beginning you did everything at once, like planting the vineyard, building a winery, having a family and building a house. That was all quite extraordinary, but you were perhaps more aware of your surroundings while perhaps now everything is more and more coupled. Effectively life got more complex.”
Now the Bauers’ children, Roman and Greta, have left home for tertiary education, he and Suellen are adapting to another phase in their lives, doing things together and with friends, enjoying their little Maltese puppy Beau - unlike most winemakers who have large dogs, they prefer a small one. Swimming is also an important relaxation for him, he says.
Perhaps he’s grown more comfortable - a word he uses often to explain getting familiar with things, achieving something after a struggle such as encouraging the vines and grapes to give of their best and to continue that quality into the wines he makes from them.
“We are very comfortable with what we have achieved without making too much fuss about it because the wine speaks in its own right. Then the philosophy - the big key in regards to biodynamics is effectively you take on the responsibility of the land because there’s a good chance the land might outlast my life - maybe we have forgotten that in our short lifespan we do have a lot of responsibility.”
About a quarter of Central Otago vineyards are now run organically or biodynamically, and this, it seems, enables a wine to be able to speak of its terroir, to express its place to the aware taster. Certainly some such wines have a sense of “somewhereness” or their own “turangawaiwai” - a Maori concept, taken up by New Zealand winemakers, of “a place to stand” or how a person’s sense of themselves is shaped by where they come from.
When Rudi first developed Quartz Reef it was a stony, weedy desert just as it still is beyond the rabbit proof fence surrounding the lush vineyard.
Initially, against his principles, he applied herbicide.
“I was so overwhelmed by the site, a lack of water, too many weeds and lots of wind, the 3 W’s hit me hard. Also it was very difficult to work the land because there were so many rocks in the soil.”
However, biodynamics was always on his mind.
“I was nine years pregnant with the idea but I just didn’t have the confidence and I felt too scared to fail,” he said.
However, in 2007, encouraged by some friends, he made the call and converted the whole 30ha vineyard.
“There was no tiptoeing. It was a big breakthrough to have three people with the same philosophy and understanding and it gave me the comfort to make the change.”
The goal was not just to eliminate the use of chemical sprays and fertilisers but to promote the health of the soil and in turn the health of the vines and quality of the wines.
At the time, he explains, the soil had no fitness because the rabbits allowed little to grow and there was no organic matter. The composts and other preparations since applied to the soil have made the vines more resilient.
“If you work within the biodynamic guidelines you leave what you have in better shape and you increase your awareness. We need to understand this is a northern hemisphere philosophy and not everything applies to the south. Ideally what we aim to do now is to incorporate native plants that can achieve the same thing.”
So what actual change did it make to the vines and wines?
“It’s tricky to put the finger on the pulse. Not only do the vines get older, we as people have more knowledge,” he says.
“I used to say that with Quartz Reef wines the structure was a bit like stainless steel - the strength of it, but now stainless steel has been replaced with titanium, which is much smaller, much slimmer, but has the same strength, so you are no longer seeing these beams. You see very fine lines and this is reflected in more finesse and also I think a more precise expression of the land itself.”
However, he feels wine has not yet been fully integrated into New Zealand culture or heritage and many people still have little knowledge about wine.
“Where we come from wine is part of our culture and it wants to be integrated because it gives us far more stability instead of looking it as a commodity,” he says. I’m reminded that although he’s lived here for more than 30 years he grew up in Austria and returns annually.
And before we leave Bendigo to go back to the Cromwell winery he takes me to see the oldest vine in the area. We scramble over a fence in the former 1860s gold mining settlement and walk through what had once been the garden or orchard of someone’s cottage. A large vine, its arching, twisted trunk lush with leaves, sprawls several metres along the ground. It’s probably a hybrid table grape, he says. He’s planted some cuttings along a fence in the lower part of his vineyard and has sent samples for identification.
QUARTZ REEF WINES
Among the partners involved in Quartz Reef in the early days was Clothilde Chauvet who succeeded Rudi as winemaker at Rippon. From a champagne-making family in France, she helped set up Quartz Reef in 1996 but has since returned to run her family estate, Marc Chauvet in Rilly-la-Montagne.
Her legacy is Quartz Reef’s sparkling wines.
The non vintage ($33) is precise with hints of granny smith, apricots, cream and a remarkable fresh purity.
The rosé ($39) hints of red berries with a suggestion of freshly baked brioche and finishes with a superb texture, weight and length.
“If you have cold smoked salmon with a baguette and a glass of sparkling wine, you don’t want more,” Rudi says.
“That kind of simplicity makes the wine quite unique in its own right because it really speaks not only of Bendigo but also of Central Otago. It speaks of its climate, and also of its winemaking - I use only free run juice, no skin contact and no malolactic to retain the purity of the fruit. It’s not trying to pretend to be anything, it’s comfortable in its own right,” he says.
Rudi also makes a rich, textured, dry pinot gris ($32), a small amount of grüner veltliner, a noble Austrian white variety.
New to the line up is chardonnay, the $2018 ($37) is richer than many others from Central but with hints of citrus and tropical fruit and well integrated oak.
Pinot noir is of course special. It’s the variety that can express its terroir, the soils, climate and other physical conditions it is grown in, he says, an attitude shared with many other earnest pinot noir makers.
“I guess we all know what pinot noir really wants is to express where it’s grown and this is the beauty about pinot noir. It wants to express its origin in the glass,” he says.
From the beginning he produced the “regular” white label pinot noir - the 2017 ($49) oozes dark spicy fruits with undertones of dark chocolate and mineral, intense, lively powerful but harmonious with a long aftertaste.
Then there came the black label Bendigo Estate that is well worth cellaring for six or eight years. The 2012 ($85) is one of the best pinot noirs I’ve tasted in a long time with power, finesse, harmony and length, still with lovely dark and red fruits, spice and dark chocolate, but developing those prized tertiary flavours - a hint of forest floor, complexity and harmonious tannins on a lingering aftertaste.
It takes time for a vine to get its roots down, for the winegrower to get to know the different soils within their vineyard and their effects on the grapes and resulting wine. Quartz Reef’s vines are now 21 years old and Rudi is producing a single block pinot, the gold label Royal series named after Austro-Hungarian emperors.
“We always have isolated the various blocks, but this seems to be unique in its own right and now we need to learn a bit more about it,” he said.
The soil at the steeper end of the vineyard is different from the rest and produces a different wine. A “rock salad”, he calls it, with several types of large rock in the sandy loam left by a glacier several thousand years ago, whereas the soil in the rest of the vineyard is finer gravels and clay.
The first single block releases from the glacial soils is Franz Ferdinand 2015 ($120). It’s more assertive and powerful, though still with the dark fruit, spice and chocolate, balance and length characteristic of the other pinots, but perhaps with more innate strength and harmony.
8 Hughes Cres, Cromwell [at the top of Pinot Noir Drive off McNulty Rd in the Lake Dunstan Industrial estate.]
03 445 3084
Unlike most Central Otago’s swish cellar doors, Quartz Reef’s is a no-frills room at the winery in Cromwell’s industrial area. Outside are a few vines, but it’s very much a working winery. You may even get to see the sparkling wine in its riddling racks.
“We are just in love with Central, and that gives you a lot of energy and drive.”
Story and photography by Charmian Smith.
Check out the latest issue of Wine NZ Magazine here...
The hub of the Central Otago wine region is Lake Dunstan, with many vineyards stretching up and down the lake and into the hills and valleys surrounding it.
It’s a big area for wine enthusiasts to explore but locals have put together a short trail on the edge of the lake that you can walk or cycle - or drive if need be.
The Four Barrels Walking Wine Trail on the outskirts of Cromwell officially takes in four wineries, but other places nearby can easily be included.
The wineries serve simple food which can be enjoyed in their gardens, vineyards or terraces so the eight kilometre trail can make a leisurely and very enjoyable day out savouring the clear luminescent landscapes of Central as well as its produce - and you feel much better about enjoying wine and lunch if there’s a bit of (relatively easy) exercise in between!
The trail is a loop so you can do it in any direction although the brochure, available at the wineries, assumes you start and finish at the information centre in Cromwell township.
We started at Aurum’s charming office and tasting room set in a cottage garden, and found winemaker Lucie Lawrence behind the counter.
Aurum is a real family enterprise. Aucklanders Joan (an archaeologist) and Tony (an orthodontist) Lawrence planted their first vineyard in 1997. In 2004 their son Brook who had been working in vineyards in France returned with his new wife Lucie, a third generation French winemaker, and the younger couple slowly took over. The winery is across the carpark and their two houses are behind the complex and an olive grove, overlooking the lake.
Another olive grove shields the tasting room from the highway so it’s a charming place to visit and picnic with one of their simple platters.
The 4ha vineyard across the lane from the buildings and garden is organic, growing only pinot gris and pinot noir, although a new 4ha vineyard on the other side the highway includes riesling.
Lucie uses traditional Burgundian winemaking techniques with indigenous yeasts, and makes several unusual wines from the two varieties.
Don’t miss the delicious, pale Pinot Gris Rosé 2019 ($28) which had three days skin contact giving it fragrance and texture, more akin to a Provençal rosé than the usual pinot rosé found in Central.
Lucie likes to retain the natural purity of cool climate chardonnay and her 2018 ($45) is complex, minerally and dry
Many innovative winemakers have been experimenting with an ancient winemaking method to produce amber or “orange” wines. These are white wines made like reds - fermented and left on their skins for several months giving them colour and unexpected structure and tannins. Amber 2018 ($45), made from pinot gris, hints of mineral and has a wonderful texture, dry with subtle tannins. An excellent wine, like most of Lucie’s, to go with food.
With 20-year old vines, Aurum’s Estate Pinot Noir 2017 ($38) has a savoury aroma, texture and a surprising weight, mouthfeel and depth.
The reserve pinot noirs named after Lucie and Brook’s two daughters, Mathilde and Madeleine, come from specific vineyard blocks. Both evolve in the glass as you drink them indicating cellaring potential.
Mathilde Pinot Noir 2016 ($55) is harmonious, silky, savoury and spicy with an underlying minerality and a lip-smacking finish.
Madeleine Pinot Noir 2016 ($88) is perhaps more elegant and charming but powerful in a feminine way, with fine-grained tannins and an aftertaste that lingers for several minutes.
Lucie also makes Port Molyneux, a white port style from pinot gris, pale gold, sweet, rich and unctuous with a hint of spice. It’s excellent with fruitcake, and also chilled in summer with ice and soda water as an aperitif to get the tastebuds going, she says.
On the other side of the main highway (take care crossing!) and up a slope is the 6ha Scott Base vineyard and a small, rustic tasting room and cafe, Space at the Base, run by Carolyn Murray who serves platters and sandwiches.
Scott Base is the Central Otago arm of Marlborough-based Allan Scott Family Winemakers - Allan’s holiday house is on the property behind some sheds. Besides the Scott Base Central Otago wines Carolyn also stocks some of his Marlborough wines, Josh Scott’s funkily labelled wines including a green ginger wine (riesling co-fermented with ginger), and beers from the family brewery, Moa.
After picking, the Central Otago grapes are trucked overnight to the Marlborough winery for vinifying although Allan has plans for a local, gravity-fed winery on site.
New to me was the Scott Base Emperor ($29) (named after the emperor penguins), a non-vintage sparkling wine only available at Scott’s cellar doors. Elegant and slightly biscuity with a subtle hint of citrus, it’s a blanc de blanc - made from chardonnay.
There are few sauvignon blancs made in Central but I suppose it’s inevitable that a Marlborough-based winery famous for its sauvignon should produce one here. Made from Gibbston-grown grapes, it is delicate with a hint of nettles and schist and a crisp finish ($31).
In true Scott style, the Scott Base chardonnay 2018 ($32) is a creamy, oaky style with suggestions of freshly sharpened pencil and citrus, and a crisp, lingering finish.
Scott Base Pinot Noir 2018 ($39) shows all the lovely dark cherry and savoury character of Cromwell Basin fruit backed by a hint of spicy oak and crisp, textural tannins.
Bigger and more oaky but still oozing dark cherries and savoury notes is the Reserve Pinot Noir 2017 ($47).
Many wine lovers know the story of the Wooing Tree, a large pine tree that still stands in the middle of the eponymous vineyard - the story goes that many a troth was plighted under that tree and some locals were even conceived there.
However, Stephen and Thea Farquharson and Stephen’s sister and brother-in-law, Jane and Geoff Bews are planning to subdivide some of the vineyard for housing to help meet the demand for land in Cromwell. The little tasting room and restaurant at present in the middle of the vines will move to bigger premises on the main highway over the next five to seven years. The surrounding vineyard will be smaller but as they already source many of their grapes from other vineyards the wine will not change a lot, Steve says.
The two couples, originally from North Otago, had been working in the UK (Steve had a wine importing business) but wanted to return to New Zealand for family and lifestyle reasons. Pinot Noir in Central was starting to take off at the time and they decided to join the industry, bought land and had the vineyard planted. They returned to New Zealand at the end of 2004 in time for their first vintage the following year.
Some of their wines have become well known for their quirky names: Blondie ($30), a fresh, white pinot noir with hints of stone fruit; Beetlejuice Pinot Noir 2018 ($28) - named after the rare and endangered Cromwell chaffer beetle that has its own reserve nearby - oozing red fruits with a hint of oak and spice and a fresh crunchy finish; and Tickled Pink ($40 350ml), a late harvest pinot noir rosé left to hang on the vine a month after the the rest of the crop was picked, that charms with floral aromas and all the sweet fruitiness of a late harvest dessert wine.
Wooing Tree Pinot Noir 2017 ($48) is darker, more savoury and textured with lip-smacking tannins, and the Sandstorm Reserve Pinot Noir 2014 ($85) is more complex and spicy, already developing mature tertiary characters at six years old.
And to accompany one of the platters for lunch there are also a delicious floral, textural Rosé ($27), a fragrant Pinot Gris ($32) oozing tropical and stone fruit but with a background texture from some barrel fermentation, and a creamy Chardonnay ($38) with fruit harmoniously supported by subtle oak.
A walk along the lake shore will take you to Misha’s Vineyard’s tasting room in a complex of shops and cafes across the main highway on the edge of town.
Although you can’t visit Misha’s actual vineyard a few kilometres up the lake, a huge photograph of the steep vineyard swooping down the hillside towards the lake in a series of north-facing slopes, gullies and terraces gives some idea of the splendour of its setting. From 210m above sea level to 350m at the top there’s a variety of microclimates and soils in the 57ha to suit different varieties and styles of wine.
Having spent several years living in Asia, Misha and Andy Wilkinson also embrace some aspects of Chinese culture such as the lucky number 8 and the auspicious feng shui of the stunning site.
The history of the site includes Chinese gold miner Ah Foo, the ruins of whose house stand near the top of the vineyard.
Misha, who describes herself as a “failed ballet dancer” and who worked in marketing opera (her mother was an opera singer), has taken up the theatre theme in the names of the wines - Dress Circle Pinot Gris, Limelight and Lyric Rieslings, The Starlet Sauvignon Blanc, and Cadenza late harvest Gewürztraminer.
Misha’s is one of the few Central winemakers to produce gewürztraminer, a variety that does well in the region. The Gallery Gewürztraminer 2016 ($32) is a stunner - powerful with a luxurious texture, oozing charm and intensity but yet elegant and beautifully balanced. Gewürz is a fickle grape and the wine is not produced every year, but if you find it, don’t miss tasting it.
As always in Central, pinot noir is the highlight, and they make several, the dark, brooding reserve Verismo ($75), the complex, savoury High Note ($48), the easily approachable Cantata ($30) and Impromptu ($30) which is not made every year.
Misha’s also serves platters which can be enjoyed with a glass of wine on the terrace.
AND ANOTHER COUPLE OF PRODUCERS
Although it’s not officially part of the Four Barrels trail, right next door to Misha’s tasting room is another, shared by Quest Farm and Matt Connell Wines. It’s interesting to compare the full-on, rich new world style of Matt’s wines with Mark Mason of Quest Farm’s old world styles which have more emphasis on structure and texture and which accompany food particularly well.
Matt set up his own label and contract winemaking business about five years ago after more than a decade working in other Central and overseas wineries. He is a keen hunter and angler - something reflected in his label which sports his initials twined with antlers.
Matt Connell Chardonnay, 2018 ($38) from Lowburn is barrel fermented with indigenous yeast and left on its lees to develop the rich, nutty undertones that bring complexity to this taut, fresh wine.
Matt Connell Rendition Pinot Noir 2018 ($44), described as the quintessence of Central Otago from a particular vintage, is a charming ripe, spicy pinot, rich and full in the mouth with dark fruit and supple, lingering tannins.
Quest Farm’s 20ha vineyard is hidden from the main highway up at Parkburn in the warm, north-facing foothills of the Mt Pisa Range. In 1986 Mark and his brother David Mason established Sacred Hill winery in Hawkes Bay but a dozen years later he came south for the skiing, discovered the briar covered hillside ideal for grapes and established yet another vineyard.
Most of his produce is exported but his wine can be tasted here in Cromwell. Lucky visitors will even find a few older vintage gems on the shelves. Try the floral, textural, beautifully balanced Quest Silver Lining Pinot Gris 2016 ($25) which includes a tiny percentage of gewürztraminer and viognier. Quest Pinot Noir 2016 ($40) has the lovely gamey, savoury character of mature pinot noir with fine grained tannins.
AND YET ANOTHER
If you are still up for more wine - and more substantial food than platters - call in at the Stoaker Room Bistro and Bar tucked away in marquees (and a small indoor bar and restaurant for cold weather) behind the buildings.
Californian Quintin Quidder, commercial diver and founder of Wild Earth Vineyard, developed a cooking method, part smoking, part steaming, in old wine barrels and found it the ideal way to cook seafood and game. Despite some remarkable competition successes with his Wild Earth wines, his emphasis has changed to food and catering, although he still produces his own label.
The. Stoaker Room has a meaty menu with seafood, burgers and sandwiches as well, although there are some plant-based dishes such as a grilled cauliflower steak. The best bet, if you are hungry, is to order the chef’s selection of five tasting dishes with matching wines.
The wines come in small bottles in a rack made of a barrel stave along with a single brandy glass - not exactly the best tasting situation, but the casual atmosphere in a marquee with an outdoor kitchen - and the food - are worth a visit.
PARADIGM SHIFT: How Global Warming is Effecting Australian Wine
“We’ve stopped trying to convince people that climate change is real,” says Senior Viticulturist at the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI), Dr Mardi Longbottom. “It’s not really a discussion anymore, whether it’s true or not. We’ve gone beyond that.”
Australia has warmed by just over 1˚C since 1910. Most of that warming occurred after 1950. The most recent 2018-19 summer was the hottest on record with average temperatures recorded at 2.1˚C above the national average. Viticulturists and their vines sweltered through extreme heat waves across many wine regions. The Hunter Valley recorded a vintage mean maximum of 42.35˚C, while McLaren Vale and the Barossa experienced harvest temperatures as high as 46˚C. Even in the relatively cool climes of Australia’s most southerly state, Tasmania, the mercury reached as high as 37˚C in the Huon Valley. Here, extraordinary bushfires ignited by a dry lightning strike in late December raged unpredictably across 187,000 hectares, sending vast plumes of smoke towards the east that billowed over thousands of hectares of vines, permeating their grapes with smoke taint.
“We had burning embers of leaves and bits of bracken just drifting and floating and landing on our property,” Tasmanian winegrower, Jim Chatto recalls of the bushfires that tore through Tasmania, last summer. “The whole place was just so dry. We haven’t had decent rain for two years, really.”
Off the back of the hottest summer on record, Australian winegrowers are experiencing the real time, season to season, day to day effects of climate change. The new normal for vintage conditions across much of the country’s wine regions can be summed up in just two words; hot and fast. Extreme temperatures are causing harvest dates to creep forward and vintage times to become compressed.
“Our observations have been that all regions in Australia will be effected by climate change in different ways,” Dr Longbottom says. “I think earlier harvest starts and vintage compression are the most obvious and immediate threats.”
One of the most consistent climate drivers imposing itself upon Australian winegrowers lies to the west of the continent, off the coast of Western Australia (WA), in the Indian Ocean. Whenever, what’s known as, the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is in a positive phase, the waters off WA are cooler than usual. This reduces the amount of moisture available to evaporate and be dragged across the country by storm systems. Researchers have determined that a positive IOD phase during the growing season can cause grapes to ripen faster and mature up to 42 days earlier than usual. A positive IOD also correlates with warmer weather, less rain, and therefore vintage phenomenons like harvest creep and vintage compression.
Vintage compression occurs when the time between the harvest of early maturing varieties, for example chardonnay, and later ripening varieties, such as cabernet sauvignon, becomes shorter. This can cause chaos for winegrowers as the logistics of vintage get disrupted. Coupled with this is increased pest and disease pressure and bushfires breaking out next to, near, or within nearly every single wine region of the country. All the while, access to water remains an ever-present worry.
“The trend in growing seasons is quite alarming; drier conditions overall with more extreme heat events leading to shorter ripening times is what we are seeing now,” declares Small Fry Wines Barossa winegrower, Wayne Ahrens.
Today, Australia’s winegrowers are being forced to seriously think about the ways in which they do business now and into the future, as the world’s greatest existential threat to life on earth as we know it comes rushing up to meet us all, ever-quicker, ever hotter, every year.
HARVEST CREEP & COMPRESSION
On average, across the country, picking dates have been moving forward 1 day per year. Canberra winemaker, Frank van de Loo of Mount Majura Vineyard has 29 years’ worth of data indicating a slow and steady harvest creep for early-ripening varieties, like chardonnay.
“Warm dry winters can lead to earlier budburst, plus an increased risk of spring frost here in Canberra. Early budburst is especially noticeable in the chardonnay,” says Frank. “We’re losing acids earlier and earlier. So, with chardonnay, we’re making less still wine and more sparkling styles. Only because we can pick the sparkling fruit base more on acid than on flavour.”
In Australia’s oldest continually producing wine region, the Hunter Valley, Tyrrell’s Wines make one of the world’s greatest chardonnays; Vat 47. Fifth generation winegrower, Chris Tyrrell is seeing signs of harvest creep amongst his chardonnay vines, but is cautious about lumping all the blame in with climate change.
“We’re definitely seeing picking dates move forward, but you’ve got to keep in mind that the style of chardonnay we make these days is a lot leaner than it used to be,” says Chris. “We’re picking our chardonnay 4 or 5 days earlier by choice to retain natural acidity and achieve a leaner, fresher style. We have 18 years’ worth of data, analysed by block and variety and what it really tells us is that we need more time to come up with more meaningful information, before we know exactly how climate change is affecting us.
“Having said that, for shiraz, our vintage is definitely compressed with most sites ripening around the same time, which puts a strain on the logistics of harvest,” Chris continues. “Thankfully, we now have four times the fermentation capacity in the winery so that we can keep picking until all the fruit is in, instead of waiting for space to free up.”
Extra tank space is not a luxury that most wineries can afford. Lacking ample capital, many winegrowers and viticulturists need to come up with novel and often inventive ways to beat the heat. For existing, traditional Australian wine varieties, like chardonnay and shiraz, increased canopy management and trellis modifications are being used to improve fruit shading and air flow. Other Aussie vitis are experimenting using anti-transpirant sprays, which act like sunscreen for vines.
“Heat waves aren’t ideal, but we’ve got tools to combat them when they come,” Hunter viticulturist Liz Riley says. “We use kaolin clay. It’s baked at ultra-high temperatures and then milled into a fine power, which we spray out onto the vines. It looks like snow and reflects heat off the canopy. So, instead of shutting down when the temperature gets above 35˚C, the vines have a bit of a buffer that enables them to keep on ripening. It’s a useful tool to help us to manage vintage compression when it gets too hot…
“I think we need to be trying new things and be open minded about using anything and everything that’s in our ‘viti toolbox’,” Liz continues. “More than anything, we need data, we need knowledge, so we can be as agile as possible throughout the seasons in response to this changing climate.”
Ashley Ratcliff from Ricca Terra Farms in the Riverland, South
Australia, is placing most of his future stocks into alternative
varietals as a way to mitigate the immediate and long-term effects of
climate change. Ashley manages over 500 acres of vines in the irrigation
capital of Australia.
Alongside classic varieties chardonnay, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc, Ricca Terra has become known for its many weird yet wonderful alternative varieties, hailing from regions in Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Names include vermentino, fiano, arinto, greco, negroamaro, aglianico, touriga, montepulciano, nero d’avola, and nero de troia, to name a few. Ashley has around 35 non-traditional wine grape varieties growing at Ricca Terra farm, and he is adamant these wine grapes will become the future of Australian wine in years to come.
“We started planting alternative varieties about ten years ago because we recognised early on the potential for these vines to grow well here. They seem to suit the low humidity, warm climate of the Riverland quite well,” Ashley explains. “Vines like montepulciano and nero d’avola are drought tolerant and use much less water than the traditional varieties.”
Despite its name, water is a scarce resource in the Riverland. Because of ongoing drought conditions, water allocations have been reduced to 33%. Right now, a 1000L or one tonne of water will cost you around $600, while the price to buy a tonne of chardonnay from Ashley is sitting at around $350.
“Obviously, that’s not sustainable over the long run,” Ashley says. “One or two years, maybe, but over multiple years, that’s a sure fire way to go broke, which is why we’re concentrating our efforts on these more drought tolerant vines.”
South of the Riverland, Gemtree Wine’s Melissa Brown is also pursuing alternative varieties as a viable option to help future proof her winegrowing business in McLaren Vale.
“We had virtually no rainfall for six months prior to the 2019 vintage, which included a five-day heatwave right as we were beginning to pick our reds. In the last decade we have seen riper fruit and higher alcohols,” Melissa explains. “Recently, we started removing varieties that were perhaps better suited to cooler climates, like riesling, pinot noir, and sauvignon blanc, and grafting over ones that we think are better suited to our climate, and which we hope will ripen throughout the season, instead of all at once.”
Research conducted by the AWRI has concluded that alternative vine varieties are a sustainable way to adapt to climate change, ensuring the long-term environmental and economic sustainability of the Australian wine industry. Melissa Brown, Ashley Ratcliff, and Liz Riley are living proof of how Australian winegrowers are facing up to the challenges of climate change head on; utilising – as Liz says – anything and everything in the ‘viti toolbox’ that they can.
Water, of course, is one of the most essential viticultural tools. However, in some regions of this dry continent water is fast becoming a premium, albeit crucial, element of grape growing. High prices, depleted aquifers and rising salinity issues are all at play as the climate changes around the world. According to Chris Tyrrell, their centurion old, dry grown vineyards consistently out-perform the irrigated blocks by some margin. And, elsewhere, winegrowers are following suit, trying to ween off their vines’ reliance on supplementary water from irrigation.
“Our dam used to overflow every year. Now, that seems to have reduced to two out of every three years, and falling,” says Blackwood Hill, Yarra Valley winegrower, James Calder. “In response to this, we are training our vines to become less dependent on irrigation. We’re using high nutrient foliar sprays, like fish-kelp mixes and are cultivating under the vines to open up and aerate the soil to encourage root growth depth and control competing weeds, which will, hopefully, make our vines more robust and resilient throughout the increasingly hotter and drier summers.”
Rather than remove the safety net of irrigation altogether, Barossa Valley winegrower, Wayne Ahrens has spent money upgrading his irrigation infrastructure, which includes a localised desalination plant.
“So we can better respond to heat wave events, we’ve installed subsoil moisture monitoring technology and are moving over to inline drippers to better control soil moisture along the vine rows,” Wayne explains. “We’re also installing a desalination plant to reduce the salinity of our underground water as the presence of salt is rapidly increasing year on year. Basically,” Wayne adds, “our focus is on increasing soil health by managing organic matter in the soil to help buffer the vines from the extreme weather we’re
NOT SO BAD
Not all wine regions across Australia are experiencing this dramatic climatic paradigm shift. Parts of South Australia and Western Australia have, so far, been protected from the extreme heat and wild weather events of other wine regions, due to their locations being closer to the coast than most. Ever consistent Margaret River, for instance, seems to be fairing quite well, experiencing cooler than normal conditions of recent years – perhaps due to the positive IOD phase – while the fledgling South Australian wine region, Limestone Coast, appears to be gently easing into this new world climate.
“We’ve just have the best vintage  we’ve ever had,” says Cape Jaffa winegrower, Derek Hooper. “Harvest dates have moved forward, but we don’t see vintage compression down here on the Limestone Coast. The cooling effect of the Great Southern Ocean means we don’t get those extreme heat waves, which makes everything ripen at once. It just hasn’t happened here… yet,” he adds.
“Margaret River is buffered by the Indian Ocean and climate change is not as present here as in other regions of Australia,” says biodynamic winegrowing pioneer, Vanya Cullen. “There was a recent study done by the CSIRO which found that the harvest date had not significantly changed here over the past 34 years, or so.”
Fortuitous geographical placement notwithstanding, Vanya is a firm believer in encouraging Australian winegrowers to begin working within the boundaries of nature; adapting, learning and evolving alongside any changes to the environment which occur over time.
“Our vines have been grown biodynamically since 2005, and we’ve been a carbon neutral property since 2006. We believe our place is in balance with Nature, our vines are in balance with the soil, and hence we have easily adapted to any changes brought about by climate change,” Vanya says.
If there are any positives to be gleaned from this particularly dire situation we find ourselves in, it’s that a changing climate is forcing winegrowers, not just in Australia, but around the world, to think, long and hard about the impacts their specific way of winegrowing has on the planet. For better or worse, the Australian winegrowing hand has been forced to comply, now, and move forward along the pathway that the Earth is currently leading them down. Put simply, Australian winegrowing must adapt and evolve.