Winemaker’s Comment – Spring Newsletter 2006

This is something of a landmark for us: the first release of wines from our tenth vintage. At the winery it has caused us to reflect on that decade and the changes which have taken place, the progress we have sought to make, and importantly, how that progress is reflected in the wine we offer you. 

It has never been our philosophy to try to manipulate a wine to our palate. So if we want to change what we see, we need to think about (literally!) the root causes and go back to the vineyard to seek solutions. Then there is the inevitable wait to see if we are headed in the right direction. 

That has, more than anything, been the story of the last ten years: taste… learn… back to the vineyard… wait… taste… learn, and so on. 

It is now exactly six years since we first sat round a table and said we'd like to go organic. It takes time, and while our conversion of the productive vines was largely achieved by the end of 2003, for a long time we had no practical method to weed around the delicate stems of very young vines without unacceptable damage to them. Thankfully, we are able to achieve this, so even when we plant new vines we can stay fully organic. 2003 also saw the beginnings of our moves to Biodynamics. This is a complex subject, with which we could easily fill ten of these newletters; we hope to send you more detail in the future. For now let me summarise it this way: Biodynamics in many ways is the positive side of the switch to organics in that the organic label largely refers to what we don't do: we don't use chemical fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides etc. What we use in their place is a regime which seeks to bring us closer to the land and the subtle cycles of nature. 

So ten years of learning, changing, growing. Where has it taken the wines? 

I think today they are definitely wines that speak more of their place and less of their winemaker than they were ten years ago and I personally regard it as a compliment to myself that my signature is less evident. They are more mineral, definitely far closer stylistically to their historic benchmarks in Europe, yet always showing the unique signature of Central Otago. Long may that continue, for while I revere the great wines of the Mosel and Burgundy and they are always our benchmarks, we aren't trying to copy them. Personally, the greatest satisfaction I have had is seeing how the wines show an undeniable consistency of personality: I can honestly say there has never been one that I couldn't immediately feel "That's a Felton Road". That, more than anything, is a tribute to the quality of the sites we are privileged to own and cultivate. 

Talking of every wine we have made, I'd like to congratulate long time mail order customer David Thompson for correctly listing all the wines we had bottled - we trust the extra 12 bottles of 2005 Pinot Noir (one of our finest) will be enjoyed over the next several years. 

Well, the 2005 Chardonnay finally finished its malolactic and made it to the bottle in August. Were very pleased with the wine and regret to say that it is now all sold out. We do have some explaining to do to long time supporters who will notice that it does not have the description Barrel Fermented on the label. We decided to drop the words as over the last few years we have been using less and less new oak on this Chardonnay, now around 10-15% new. It seemed counter-productive to call a complex mineral Chardonnay with subtle and carefully integrated oak characteristics Barrel Fermented. The 2006 Chardonnay Elms is the stainless steel tank fermented wine that used to be labelled simply as Chardonnay. 

As part of our biodiversity plan we now have a flock of chickens pecking and scratching around the vineyard supplying us with incredibly delicious Block 3 eggs while also finally giving Penny (Caroline’s Border Collie) some company. Up in the hills behind Block 13 we also have some rent-a-goats grazing the briar and look forward to getting our own flock as they breed. These are meat goats that originated in the Kalahari Desert, so we are also hoping for some goat tagine from Nigel's kitchen pretty soon! Gareth also managed (amongst pruning the vineyard and learning to be a chicken and goat farmer!) to spend 3 weeks of the winter visiting top growers in California, Oregon, Germany and France; most of which were organic and biodynamic. These trips are not only about seeing different viticultural ideas and methods; they are hugely inspirational and help us to continue to push the quality of our vineyards and wines. 

My winter trip involved visiting our markets in the USA, Denmark, Belgium, Dubai, Singapore and Bangkok. Its especially satisfying to see the appreciation of our wines from such diverse international markets but also very levelling as the restaurateurs and retailers are all very discerning about the quality of wine that they want for their lists. I managed to squeeze in a week to visit Burgundy and the Mosel with Nigel where we had some amazing visits and tasted some incredible wines. A highlight was watching a gnarled figure who was busy ploughing the vines in de Vogués Musigny walking behind a magnificent shire horse. He stopped and chatted to us in our broken French. On learning we were from NZ, he nodded, then said "you'll know Matt and Lynette" our good friends at Pegasus Bay, a reminder how small and cosmopolitan the wine world is. Also a reminder of how the wine world has changed in the last decade: even five years ago when I would visit Burgundy, not many people even knew there was Pinot Noir in New Zealand. Today, our wines are known, respected and it is hugely satisfying to be received at their top Domaines as an equal. 

I mentioned the magnificent Domaine of Comte George de Vogué just now. They declassify vines that are less than 30 years old and sell the wine from these vines as a lesser wine. We are ten years in production, with our oldest vines now coming up to their 15th birthday. That is a nice reminder that, while we've come a long way, you ain't seen nothing yet!


Blair Walter