Winemaker's Comment - Autumn 2015
Our cover photograph this year features the meeting of Blocks 1, 2 & 3 (bottom, top and right respectively). Whilst racking the 2014’s out of barrel the other day, I was contemplating the fact that it was 25 years ago that I experienced a meeting that proved to be rather significant: it was in 1990 that I met Stewart Elms, our founder (hence the Elm tree logo). Stewart and I were paired up as wine chemistry lab mates: myself, the youngest person in our class with the freshest science background, and Stewart as a “mature” student who had never studied sciences at university. Stewart was undertaking the post-graduate diploma in Viticulture and Oenology at Lincoln University and my written up lab reports were carefully and discretely used to help him through the course. A couple of very nice old bottles from Stewart’s extensive cellar were gratefully accepted but little did I know that 5 years down the track the real bonus would be his invitation for me to be a part of his project in Bannockburn (“Where is that?” I remember asking!). It’s worthwhile to note that Central Otago had only just released its first commercial wine a couple of years earlier when Stewart decided to be a part of these pioneering efforts.
People often ask me, what are the reasons for our success. There is a long list of them. But certainly Stewart’s initial solid foundations have been pivotal to our achievements. His deep interest and wide experience with the fine wines of Europe; his complimentary hotel, wine trade and farming background; his viticulture and wine studies; but most of all, his tenacity and determination to just do it right and do it well. After much careful research he selected a great parcel of land (The Elms Vineyard) and planted it with assiduous detail little seen in New Zealand vineyards at that time. He respected the changes in soil type, slope and aspect, and matched grape variety to each which gave rise to the thirteen different “Blocks” we have and the opportunity to craft site expressive wines. We built a winery and equipped it well, and he gave a young winemaker the reigns to fashion the best wines we possibly could. Stewart sold the business to Nigel in 2000, but it’s with much pleasure that we see Stewart often and he still joins us for the harvest every year. It is with a sense of gratification and deep respect each year that I pack a range of bottles for his “Founder’s Case”.
Back to the racking of the 2014’s! I taste every barrel to be sure there is nothing untoward happening, before it’s carefully racked off any sediment on its way to the bottling tank. This year I was staggered at the quality and harmony these wines possess. Across all the wines there is our characteristic plushness but it all seems to be at another level in 2014; they are going to be exciting wines to track as they develop. The pleasing news is that 2015, which we have just finished, is very similar to 2014. We are blessed with a consistency that our unique climate helps provide. I was reminded of this in an email I recently received from a long term customer who had just visited: “We loved the Barrel Tasting and felt I could see even in these young wines the different characters of the plots. I thought I could taste that Block 5 silkiness already! I meant what I said about your amazing consistency - there are no bad bottles ever. The purity of the varietal definition is there every year and is remarkable.” While there will be variation in personality from the influences of the vintage, this purity and definition that the wines display is something we always respectfully aspire to. Maybe we are lucky, maybe we were careful in our choice; but it takes a place to create a character, not a winemaker. I’m the midwife, not the alchemist, and the year’s new arrivals are a reflection of something much, much older than I am.