The French knew a thing or two when they decided to introduce the appellation system. It was a system of dividing the wine-land into designated areas that produced specific levels of quality wine. Areas like Bordeaux, Champagne, Burgundy, Chablis and the like. I have a similar thing going on in my garden, the fertile right hand side is known as ‘good cabbage’ whereas the left hand side I call ‘average cabbage’ because the hose doesn’t reach that far and the handle fell off my watering can.
New Zealand is slowly starting to allocate names to its great grape-growing land too; the most famous of which is the Gimblett Gravels, an area that covers 800 hectares of gravely soils, laid down by the Ngaruroro River which was exposed after a huge flood in 1867. It’s an unattractive, infertile heat-trap that before the wine boom, was considered a waste of time for agriculture. I remember it wasn’t much more than a decade or so ago when crops wouldn’t grow, you couldn’t graze stock and word was the farmers ‘couldn’t give the land away’- now it’s some of the most expensive vineyard land in the country!
The thing that makes the Gravels so good is that every type of grape seems to grow well there. It’s where you’ll find succulent chardonnay, mouthfilling merlot’s, chunky, chewy cabernets, amazing aromatics and even international award-winning pinot noir for goodness sake! But the variety that’s ripping the wine-worlds knickers right now is Gimblett Gravels Syrah. Before I get started let’s get one thing clear, especially if you’re a first-time reader. Syrah and Shiraz are the same. Two wines, two different names, same grape.
But the Gimblett Gravels produces a unique style of Syrah that recently collected four out of the 7 gold medals awarded at the prestigious Air New Zealand Wine Awards last month.
Wines from the Gimblett Gravels also swept all 4 trophies for the fuller bodied red wine categories at the awards. Newly elected Chairman of the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers Association, Nick Aleksich of Mills Reef Winery, was especially pleased at the consistency demonstrated by the wines coming from three different vintages: 2007, 2008, and 2009.
“This result confirms what we in the Gimblett Gravels have long felt; that the Gimblett Gravels can produce fantastic quality wines consistently from vintage to vintage – marking it as a truly great terroir.
Wine lovers can take assurance from the fact that every vintage since 1998 has produced gold medal winning wines from the Gimblett Gravels.
Of course, we’re not resting on our laurels and are focused on continual improvement which is promising an extremely exciting future”.
The Champion Merlot trophy went to Church Road Cuve Series Merlot 2007, the Champion Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot Cabernet blend trophy went to Te Awa’s Leftfield Merlot Malbec 2009, while the trophy for Champion Syrah was awarded to Gavin Yortt for his Squawking Magpie “The Stoned Crow” Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2008. Trinity Hill’s Gimblett Gravels Tempranillo 2008 took home the “Other Red Styles” trophy.
Further cementing Gimblett Gravels’ performance was its dominance in the gold medals awarded to fuller-bodied red wines, dramatically scooping 10 of the 14 golds awarded. Before it was planted in grapes, this patch of land was home to a hot-rod drag strip, the Hastings dump, I think there was a motorcycle gang’s headquarters out there and I think not much else. However looking back over the last decade, wines from this formerly useless patch of dirt have amassed a whopping 400+ gold medals and over 140 trophies in domestic wine competitions. Congratulations are clearly in order.