Monday, 27 June 2011

Au Revoir Les Beaux Cailloux

Homesick for my old stomping ground, one thing guaranteed to fill me with jubilation and fluffy rays of sunshine is being given the chance to spend a few hours back in my beloved Hawke’s Bay. But a recent sojourn to check on how things were looking in Craggy Range’s Gimblett Gravels vineyard had me reaching for the Prozac.  Adjacent to their state-of-the-art Highway 50 Winery and smack in the middle of some of New Zealand’s finest syrah and Bordeaux reds is a collection of vines responsible for one of my favourite New Zealand wines, the Les Beaux Cailloux chardonnay.  French for ‘the beautiful pebbles’, it’s a chardonnay which oozes elegance and sophistication and its so sublime I’ve actually been known to dribble a little bit whenever a glass is poured in front of me. 
Rod Easthope, Craggy Range
And yet the vines which have given me so much pleasure over the last decade have been reduced to little more than stumps. “You might’ve noticed some severe pruning going on” says Rod Easthope, Craggy’s chief winemaker.  “We’ve chain-sawed them off and they’ll be removed” he says as I stifle a wail.  “When you plant a 100ha vineyard it’s hard to predict what you’ll need in ten, twenty, fifty years time and you’re not always going to get it right.  But I reckon Steve (Smith MW, and Rod’s boss) got it about 80% right in terms of our varietal mix here which is a good first stab at it”. 
Some of these chardonnay plants were also being affected with leaf roll virus year after year.  “This chardonnay was good but it wasn’t the best in the world; and if it’s compromising the rest of your vineyard containing potentially world-beating reds, then it’s a no-brainer that you’ve got to sacrifice it.”  I reluctantly concur. Then Rod adds “and hopefully the next generation can be standing here next to a 50 year-old healthy merlot vine producing something pretty special.”
Ensuring consistent quality fruit isn’t an easy task.  “But the interesting part of the Gimblett gravels is tens of thousands of years ago when these rivers were actually flowing and creating the gravel, there was very little volcanic activity in New Zealand. So there’s no real fertile topsoil, it’s just silt and stone. This provides some amazing benefits because when the rain does come it drains straight through the soil.  We’re always trying to confuse our vines into thinking that they need to ripen their fruit quickly or they’ll cark it”. 
But surely that’s not all it takes to eke out the best from your vines? 
Oyster shells reflect valuable UV rays back up into the canopy.
"Think about New Zealand wines being ripened by the sun rather than by heat"
 says Rod Easthope, Winemaker.
According to Rod there’s also a lot of cultural work to be done to make sure their fruit reaches ideal ripeness and intensity, and it doesn’t come easily.  One thing I immediately notice is the high-density planting with narrow rows and short spaces between each vine. “This increases the number of vines per hectare which is a good way to utilise our site” Rod explains, “it kick-starts inter-vine competition which exhausts the available resources and you begin to see a ‘bonsai’ effect. Everything becomes dwarfed, creating smaller vines and most important for us - smaller bunches and smaller berries. That means more extract, more colour, more tannin and more flavour.” 
“We also train our vines slightly lower than what’s considered normal in New Zealand to take advantage of the ‘electric blanket’ effect from the stones. This gives the canopy some extra warmth which might just be the thing that gets you across the line.  We also bunch-thin to one bunch per shoot.”  
Left unchecked they’d happily sprout 3 or 4 bunches per shoot, but with grapes the correlation between yield and quality is definitely less is more.  Part magpie, my eyes are also drawn to the sparkly white things scattered underneath a row of merlot.  “We’ve got a little bit of an oyster shell trial here” he explains.  “Over in Bordeaux they’ve got similar gravelly sites, but there’s also lot of ‘white stone’ material there as well so we thought we’d have a crack at it”.  Remember that scene in ‘The Young Ones’ where Neil the hippy, fearful of nuclear bombs, paints himself white to deflect the blast?  It’s the same concept; the whiteness of the oyster shells reflects the suns rays away from the soil and back up into the canopy to help ripen the fruit faster. 
We may not reach the same high temperatures that other countries do, but one thing we do have plenty of is UV. We’re about 30% higher in UV here than our corresponding latitudes in the northern hemisphere, so it’s a significant factor. Rod agrees.  “When I host people from overseas I tell them to think about New Zealand wines being ripened by light rather than heat and suddenly a light goes on.  That freshness, vitality and brightness in our wines suddenly all makes sense.  People get that.” 
Bonsai vines, low-training and oyster shells.  These tiny little things all have a cost and they all take some management, but collectively they help grapes ripen in a marginal climate.  “We like sites and vines that make winemakers look clever” Rod adds as we leave.  “There’s actually no accountability in my job because when the wines are really good I’ll happily take the credit and when the wines are crap you just blame the weather.  It works out well for me most years anyway.”
And now for something completely different…
Having lived in Christchurch for the last five months I’ve grown to expect the unexprected.  But when a bottle of Rex Attitude Peat Smoked Strong Golden Ale by the Yeastie Boys Brewery arrived on my doorstep it threw me into a spin.  It smelled a bit like old-school 1980’s plasticine, grandad’s tweeds and whisky-soaked silage.  It tasted super-smoky and had an unmistakeable malty tang to it.  “They said that we couldn’t use more than 5% heavy peated malt in a beer” says the back label.  “So we carefully considered their advice and went with 100% instead.” According to the Yeastie lads it’s the first time a beer has been made this way in the entire world as far as they know.  It’s got a green T-Rex on the front and is “inspired by French Techno and the whisky of Scotland’s west coast”. Confused? Me too – but in an “I like you because you’re strange” kind of way.  I’m confident that serving this beer will either win you friends or get you sent to the loony bin.  To purchase visit
Craggy Range Les Beaux Cailloux Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay 2009 $62 êêêê½
“2009 was a tough year for chardonnay, in fact it came incredibly close to being a total disaster” says Steve Smith MW, but clearly there’s some talent in the winery because the last-ever version of this wine boasts delicate peach, spring florals and brulée aromas on the nose and a fresh, citrus-forward minerally elegance on the palate.  Crunchy-fresh, it’s still very young so I’d really love to try it again in one year’s time.
Mission Estate Hawke’s Bay Riesling 2010 $16 êêêê½
Already a gold medal winner, this snappy little riesling is scented with beeswax, honeysuckle, and white peach while crisp, clean lemon-lime flavours explode in the mouth.  It’s just sensational value for money and wickedly good with sweet chilli chicken.
Waimea ‘Trev’s Red’ 2010 $23 êêê½
This very drinkable blend of Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Malbec from Nelson is named after the godfather of grapegrowing on the Waimea Plains, Trev Bolitho.  It’s a food-friendly red that’s packed with personality, so if you’re a fan of plums, spicy dark berries, cocoa and coffee then this has got your name on it…well if your name is Trev that is…

Monday, 20 June 2011

Jailhouse coffee at Addington Coffee Co-op

Bleak day, doctor, dentist, one child home from school with continual sneezing.  When she hadn't sneezed for 15 minutes I decided she was well enough to come out - I needed coffee.
Addington Coffee Co-op makes the most sublime flat white, the wee one had a Phoenix Organic Cola and a piece of Louise Cake the size of a BBQ brick.  I had a salmon and spinach omelette - superb.

Friday, 17 June 2011

New look for Nautilus

“And on the left is our guest house” announces Nautilus winemaker Clive (CJ) Jones as our bus tootles alongside their Kaituna Valley vineyard.  “If you’re ever in Marlborough and need a place to stay, you’re sweet there.  It’s even got an awesome dress-up box.”  It’s safe to say that at that moment everyone in the bus including myself and a bunch of too-cool-for-school Auckland restaurateurs and wine trade people, all looked sideways at each other.  “Aw c’mon, it’s not like that” back-tracks CJ, “it started ages ago when we had some visitors from the UK.  They needed costumes for a party, so we let them loose in the local Salvation Army shop with $20 each– the costumes stayed and now it’s just become a bit of a tradition”.  He can see we’re only half-believing his story and quickly quips “Ahem, oh look, ladies and gentlemen on the left is our compost heap…”

After deftly distracting us by explaining the finer points of the Bokashi method for successful decomposition, we’re given a sneak preview of their 2011 sauvignon blanc.  “These are three tank samples of sauvignon from our different vineyards with different soil types which are blended together to create the Nautilus style” says assistant winemaker Brett Bermingham. “But just remember these are unfinished wines” interjects CJ, “they’re cloudy, they’re pretty gassy and they’re really acidic.           So enjoy!”

These are three very distinctive components out of a possible 25 that CJ and Brett can use for the final blend.  I fall in love with the last one, a sauvignon from their Awatere Valley vineyard which curiously has been fermented in a 5000ltr oak cuve.  It has delicious lemon verbena, basil, passionfruit and tomato leaf characters along with a touch of toastiness.  Although Nautilus are not in the business of making ‘single vineyard’ wines, there’s every chance that because of its distinctive character, this little number “may end up one day becoming a stand-alone sauvignon” according to CJ. 

A vertical chardonnay tasting is up next, but not before we’re given a taste of Nautilus new project, Gruner Veltliner.  Gruner is the signature grape of Austria, and Nautilus has a teensy four barrels worth sourced from new vines out in Kaituna.  Amongst the group murmurs of “florals”, “nectarine stone”, “lemon”, “and chalky minerality” and “white peach” are offered.  I also love the creamy, custard-apple texture on the finish.  Plus there’s a gewürztraminer from their Renwick vineyard which I could quite happily sip on all day such is its heavenly rose-petal, ginger and lychee aromas and sweetly crisp, spicy fruit flavours.
Nautilus winemaker Clive (CJ) Jones

While it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Nautilus pinot noir and think that the fruit they harvest from their Clay Hills vineyards out in the Omaka Valley is nothing short of sensational; it’s their chardonnay which really spins my wheels.  Marlborough chardonnay is something else; and sadly underrated yet when well-made it has incredible fruit intensity combined with elegant minerality, texture and length.  Crisp, clean yet dense and juicy – current favourites of mine are the Fromm La Strada 2008 and the Dog Point 2009; but chardonnay hasn’t always been a favourite for CJ.  “When I arrived here at Nautilus in 1998 I had thousands of litres of chardonnay in tank that we didn’t know what to do with and an almost equal amount in barrel that was ‘stuck’*  so back then it was a huge challenge for us to make and sell.

But I had a chardonnay epiphany a couple of years later when I was over working at Domaines des Comtes Lafon in Burgundy where I tried my first Montrachet.  I learned two things from Mr Lafon; one - always employ great-looking cellar hands, and two - that it’s ok to make just small amounts”. 
The key to great chardonnay is not to be greedy, he learned.  So these days the vineyard team at Nautilus crop the chardonnay right down to only about 2kgs per vine, whereas a few years back the vines were allowed to carry three times that amount.  “It’s all about fruit concentration and purity for us” he adds.

“I think that correlates to what’s going on in the marketplace” adds Clive Weston, head of Negociants, Nautilus’ distributor.  “The world is full of chardonnay whether it’s French, South African, Californian or Australian – so if you’re going to make chardonnay, you have to make a wine that’s distinctive so that when people see it they can tell it’s a great wine that stands out from the crowd”. 

Back in 2007 Nautilus were only making 250 cases of chardonnay, five years on the wine is still going strong albeit having developed some nutty, mealy notes alongside its still-fresh acidity and tropical fruit. 2008 saw production increase to 750 cases and the use of indigenous yeasts became the norm – and it has a funky, sweaty character to it.  Still carrying peachy, tropical notes it’s definitely more broad and creamy than the first.  2009 is a different beast altogether with deliciously fresh grapefruit, peach, tangelo and toasty characters making it ultra-fresh and flavoursome – sadly for me it’s practically sold out – but the 2010 has huge potential (see my review below). 
Extra for experts…
* ‘stuck’ fermentation is a fermentation that has stopped before all the available sugar in the wine has been converted to alcohol and CO2.
* The Nautilus shell possesses a special kind of spiral curve which often appears in nature. This logarithmic spiral, equiangular spiral or ‘growth spiral’ as it’s sometimes known is an example of nature and mathematical precision aligning to create something incredibly beautiful.  The same can be said for making great wine.

Sip of the week
Nautilus Estate Marlborough Chardonnay 2010 $31 êêêê½
This is an exercise in restraint and elegance, showing nectarine, citrus and lemony loveliness, tangy, toasty texture and solid length of flavour.  I’d love to try this wine again in a years time because I think its’ destined for great things.  It’s also the first chardonnay out bearing the new Nautilus label (3 years in the making) which will be rolled out over the coming months.  Available from fine wine stores or via
Sacred Hill Wine Thief Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2010 $30 êêêê
Created from fruit sourced from the famous Riflemans vineyard out in Hawke’s Bay’s Dartmoor Vineyard.  It has downright sexy aromas of peach, buttered crumpets and honey with juicy, tropical intensity and freshness on the finish – it’s a lovely chardonnay which would suit seared scallops wrapped in bacon – sublime.
Margrain Martinborough Pinot Gris 2009 $30 êêê½
Soft quince, pear and hints of honey lead to razor-sharp dryness and minerally riverstone, lime and white peach characters.  Ultra-clean length of flavour makes this a perfect match for thai red chilli prawns.
Kaimai Brewing Co. Porters Rye Ale $4.90 330ml
Smells like marmite mixed with treacle and yet it is surprisingly fresh, with dried grassy notes, cocoa and lovely malty magic.  Clinging length of flavour and smooth, smoky texture makes this a definite new favourite for me.
Monteiths Doppelbock Winter Ale 330ml $15 (6pk)
Attractive auburn colour with a dense, creamy caramel-coloured head.  It’s unique, six-malt brewing method makes for a smoky, malt-driven aroma and smooth, bitter cocoa notes and a super-rich finish.  Yum.  Widely available. 
Mount Riley Seventeen Valley Marlborough Pinot Noir 2009 $38 êêêê½
Baked strawberry, cherry, sweet rhubarb and cocoa notes merge with lush, clean acidity, savoury spices in the mouth.  It has excellent density, weight and lovely length of flavour.   

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Fair suck of the sav' mate!

New Zealand wines banned from entering leading Australian wine shows...
In a case of fair suck of the sav’, some of New Zealand’s leading wineries have been refused permission to enter their wines in the upcoming Royal Hobart Wine Show according to an article written by Giles Hine of Royal Hobart’s reason for their stance, as given by their Chief Executive Officer Scott Gadd, is that, “After lengthy deliberations over two years the committee has decided to no longer accept entries from outside Australia. This difficult decision is the result of a feeling that the original spirit of the agreement to open the show to New Zealand winemakers has not been honoured.”

“We believed that efforts would be undertaken to ensure that Australian judges would be invited to participate in the New Zealand International Wine Show in exchange for inviting the New Zealand wine industry to our event. Unfortunately despite repeated efforts from our end over the past 2-3 years, no such invitations have been forthcoming. It was also hoped that our initiative would lead to the ability of Australian (or at least Tasmanian producers) to enter New Zealand wine shows.” 

The New Zealand International Wine Show is, and always has been, run by Kingsley Wood of First Glass in Takapuna who makes the following statement:

• All correspondence for the N.Z International Wine Show comes to me. I have never received any correspondence of any description from the Royal Hobart Wine Show, or in fact any other Australian Wine Show.
• It is a fact that both Huon Hooke and Kym Milne MW have judged at the NZ International Wine Show. On several occasions Australian winemakers have been invited but were unable to attend. This year Gynneth Olsen, winemaker at McWilliams Wines in the Hunter Valley will be judging. She is Australian.
• Earlier this year Kym Milne MW was invited to once again judge at the NZ International Wine Show but the timing of the event clashed with other judging commitments he has. Kym has asked to be included in next year’s panel.
• Tasmanian wines are regularly entered into the NZ International Wine Show. In fact many of the categories are usually dominated by Australian wines.
• The NZ International Wine Show is now in its 7th year. From memory the Royal Hobart Wine Show has been in place and accepted New Zealand entries for many more than the 7 years of the NZ International Wine Show. I am therefore at a loss in attempting to understand how there could have been any "agreement" to open the Hobart competition to NZ Wines. The timing or in fact the suggestion of any such agreement doesn't make sense. has also learned that both the Perth and Canberra wine shows have also excluded New Zealand wineries from entering. Bugger me days mate!  Where’s the ANZAC spirit in all of this?  Is Kingsley Wood’s International Wine Show being used as a scapegoat for some Australian wine industry protectionism?  After all New Zealand wines are relentlessly gaining market share there and, furthermore, the past two champion Pinot Noirs (a variety in which Tasmanian wineries pride themselves) came from New Zealand wineries.  Someone is clearly coming the raw prawn.

yours truly judging some darn lovely moscato's at the Gisborne Regional Wine Awards
Gizzy gets busy…
A week or two back I was lucky enough to be invited to be a judge at the inaugural Gisborne Regional Wine Awards along with Larry McKenna (Escarpment Vineyards) Simon Nunns (Coopers Creek), Simon Waghorn (Astrolabe), Ant McKenzie (Te Awa + Kidnapper Cliffs) and Australian wine writer Ralph Kyte-Powell.  Chaired by the fabuous Jane Skilton MW, it was a fantastic event which really opened my eyes to what Gisborne is capable of.  Chardonnay still reigned king with Villa Maria scooping the Supreme Wine of the Show Trophy for the now iconic wine, the Villa Maria Reserve Barrique Fermented Chardonnay 2009, with the 2010 vintage also walking away with a Gold medal.
Villa Maria founder and Managing Director, Sir George Fistonich commented on the awards: “Fourteen years ago we found our prime vineyard sites in Gisborne, after searching for days by helicopter to find the perfect and unique topography that would make these outstanding wines. Year after year this wine is consistently good, so we’re ecstatic to have it recognised as the best in the region.”
Marlborough Wine and Food goes high tech
With less than 100 days until the Rugby World Cup hits New Zealand, Wine Marlborough Ltd (organisers of the long-established Marlborough Wine Festival) has launched ticket sales for its unique Marlborough Wine and Cuisine event to be held at Brancott Vineyard on Thursday 6 October 2011.  Hoping to lure international visitors keen on seeking a wine and food experience, the team at Wine Marlborough Ltd are hoping to sell around 4000 tickets to their event.
Tickets cost $55 and Wine Marlborough are using a new ‘card ticketing’ concept supplied by – a unique online paperless ticketing solution and New Zealand’s only card based ticketing platform.  Each card is personalised with the ticket purchaser’s name and account number.  The new system also offers the benefit of eliminating the issues associated with lost, stolen and counterfeit cards.  If the ticket is lost or stolen, the account attached to the card is simply cancelled. 
Coupled with this is a revolutionary iPhone application which allows people to purchase tickets using their iPhone.  The iPhone app scans the quick-reference (or QR) code on a poster, flyer or advert and the ticket page is loaded automatically. The ticket can then be scanned from the iPhone for entry into the event.
Wine Marlborough’s Event Manager Andrea Craig is excited about the new ticketing solution and sees its potential for the organisation’s events longer term.  “We are running an international event with Marlborough Wine and Cuisine, and we felt that using an innovative ticketing system that international audiences were comfortable using, would add to this event’s professionalism and appeal.”

Sip of the week

Saint Clair Godfrey’s Creek Reserve Marlborough Pinot Gris 2010 $25 4 stars
Nashi pear, crème caramel and quince aromas lead to a silky, oily, citrus and apple-skin character on the finish.  It has crispness and richness at the same time making this a fantastic autumn sip – just don’t chill it too much
Shoestring Wines ‘Lil’ Rippa’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010 $12  3.5 stars
This wine is produced from fruit grown in Marlborough’s Awatere Valley and it’s just lovely.  Oozing lime, lemon, passionfruit and all those classic herbaceous aromas like crushed nettles and basil – all those things wash forward onto the palate.  A very drinkable sauvignon that’s crisp, vibrant and tangy – and really leaves an impression on the tastebuds.  There’s a lot of ‘ok’ sub-$10 sauvignon out there but if you just fish around for another 5 bucks it’s amazing the quality you’ll find.
Seresin Sun & Moon Marlborough Pinot Noir 2008 $125 5 stars
Try to think of this as less of a wine and more of an incredibly sensuous experience.  Great pinot noir has mystery.  It confuses even the experts who struggle to pinpoint exact aromas and flavours because the wine changes in the glass and offers layer upon layer of beguiling character.  The sun and moon is a rare wine only produced in exceptional years using organic, biodynamic methods.  Roasting pan juices, dried herbs, aromatic bitter chocolate, cherry, autumn forest-floor notes and a burst of baking spices open the gate  for luscious, savoury fruit, smoky oak and an elegant, emery-like, mouthcoating texture to finish.