Wine is part of telling the story of who you and your wine are.
So opened the Pyramid Valley tasting with winemaker Mike Weersing from California.
This guy is a story teller. If you ever have the opportunity to to hear him talk through his range of wines, you should jump at it. Just make sure your calendar is wide open.
His personal story saw him leaving his job in publishing to head to Burgundy to drive around in a VW van for three years studying winemaking. From there he went to Australia after meeting wine writer, critic, winemaker and senior wine competition judge, James Halliday. In 1995, he started his New Zealand wine career working with Tim and Judy Finn at Neudorf as an Assistant Winemaker.
After starting Pyramid Valley, Mike put the call out for the wild and wonderful. If a grower had an obscure variety and especially if they were considering pulling it out, Mike wanted to hear from them. This is how he found the Pinot Blanc and the Savagnin Rose.
None of their wines see any oak, there’s no fining or filtering, they’re not hot or cold stabilised and there’s nothing added. In their winemaking repertoire a two year ferment is not uncommon.
The result are a series of wines where none of them are perfectly clear and all of them are a little bit different.
Not only are the wines a bit different, so are the names of the wines.
The Grower’s Collection
The Grower’s Collection is not from purchased grapes, but rather from leased sections of vineyards. The Pyramid Valley team approach growers who have the grapes they want, they lease a section of the vineyard and then they do all the farming themselves following the organic and biodynamic principles they believe in.
Body Electric Riesling 2010 13% alc/vol
There is visible sediment and a fresh stream of bubbles showing in the glass. The bubbles are the result of re-fermentation in the bottle that was not intentional. The wine is pale lemon with a touch of residual sugar. There’s nothing terribly varietal about the wine, it’s funky and sharp on the palate, spritzy on the finish.
Riverbrook Riesling 2010 11.8% alc/vol
The Riverbrook Riesling is youthful moving towards developing with a highly aromatic nose and is characterised by a yeasty quality. Unlike the previous Riesling the wine shows some of its varietal nature with sweet notes of white florals and honey. It’s rather pleasant, with dry fruit sugars present, a medium body, but a rather thin texture and a nice, long finish. Even with all the familiar elements, there is still something a bit different to the wine. Unfortunately, the vineyard is now sold so this is the last in line for this wine.
Savignin Rose 2010 13.9% alc/vol
Savagnin Rose is a rare grape variety. It is one of the parent varieties to Gewurztraminer with several pseudonyms including Klevener and Roter traminer. Most of the Savagnin Rose that has come into New Zealand has come in under the guise of Gewurztraminer.
Because Savagnin Rose is not a well-known variety and therefore a more challenging commercial entity. As a result The New Zealand Wine Grower’s Association passed legislation that Savagnin Rose grapes can be sold as Gwertz. In turn the section of the block rented and managed by Pyramid Valley has been taken back by the growers as they’re now selling the grapes as Gwertz.
This particular example of Savagnin Rose is pale gold and freshly aromatic with good legs and an oily texture. The wine is sharp and earthy with sweet honey, floral and perfumed notes. This wine is very sweet with good body and texture. However, the yeast and fermented nature that is threaded through all Pyramid Valley wines is still there. It’s different, I quite like it. There’s a touch of Gwertz spice on the palate.
Pinot Blanc Kerner Estate 2011 14.5% alc/vol
This wine is medium gold in colour with an oily texture. It’s dry with a now expected fermented character and dominated by dried apricot, tobaccos and white florals. The wine is wrapped up with a slightly bitter finish. Although the Pinot Blanc is clearer than the rest, some sediment still remains.
Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc Orange 2011 14% alc/vol
Both the previous Pinot Blanc and the Orange are made from the same fruit, from the same vineyard, both having undergone only pressed-juice fermentation. Both are sulfur-free. Where they diverge is that the Orange undergoes a second fermentation on its skins for ten months. The theory for Pyramid Valley is that 95% of goodness in the grapes lives in their skins.
In the first year the wine was fermented on the skins for five months before it was stopped due to the huge amount of sludge that was sitting in the tank. Winemaker Mike couldn’t cope with the look of it. In 2011 he didn’t let the less than appealing appearance bother him.
This wine is medium salmon in colour with notes of almond and apricot candy character on the nose. This wine has a nutty, kernel quality that’s slightly bitter and oily. It’s a curious mix of apricot and astringency. I don’t know that I would drink this again for fun, solely for educational purposes. It’s nothing if not different. The struggle is that it’s hard to match to any pre-existing knowledge.
Cabernet Franc Howell Family 2010 14% alc/vol
Pyramid Valley have been working with the Howell Family vineyard since since 2006 in Hawke’s Bay. The 1.9 acres of Cab Franc that makes these wines, and the entire block, has been converted by the grower to Organics. The red soils that grow the Cab Franc are high in iron content, which is supported by the folk lore from the Loire that ferric iron gives better tannin and colour to the wine. Both of which are seen in this example.
The wine is at its best where the grapes are at their viable limit of where it can grow. Growers need to put the work in to grow the grapes.
That extra effort pays off. This example is medium garnet in colour with plenty of cigar box and spicy notes, but mostly it’s exploding with green capsicum. The wine has a subtle acidity, with rich tannins but not much body. I would prefer this one with food or age.
Pinot Noir Cowley 2010 14% alc/vol
A vibrant nose of red fruit, grown on gravelly silty soil producing a medium garnet wine with notes of black olive and sweet cloves. There’s more red fruit on the palate with an underlying earthy nature. The Cowley is a bit of a shy wallflower, but rather excitingly it’s quite varietal. Unusual in this lineup.
Pinot Noir Calvert 2010 14% alc/vol
The Cowley and the Calvert share the same vine age, the same clones and the same winemaking approach. Grown on schist soil, this wine is medium ruby in colour and it is the life of the party as it has quite a lot of funk to it. There’s a touch of red fruit on the nose but it’s a bit subdued. The palate see darker fruit with quite a lively, spicy and more savoury expression. Seen side-by-side going back and forth between the two, the Calvert is the brighter and bigger of the two.
The Home Block
The Home Block is the heart of the Pyramid Valley wines. As described by Mike, these wines speak of a place. For him these wines should not show winemaking techniques or a grape variety but rather they should show the place. “The grape is not the voice,” he said. “It’s the vehicle, it’s not the message it’s the messenger.”
Because these are the wines of a place, the names of the Home Block wines need to be unique to the place. And so Mike and his wife, in the hours spent weeding in their early days, set about trying to identify what was unique about each block. What they came up with were the weeds. As the soil and the aspect changes, so does the weed, therefore, in the Home Block range, the wines are named after the dominant weed of the block. As weeds have been everywhere for so long, they have a range of names. The dominant weed in the Lion’s Tooth block, for example, is the dandelion.
Field of Fire Chardonnay 2011 13.5% alc/vol
This is a varietally familiar wine in a family of black sheep. It’s dominated by a nutty character with notes of almond essence and an oily texture on palate. The wine is richly flavoured and rather interesting with a touch of citrus, crisp acid and a funky cheese aftertaste. Overall it is a clear, clean wine with good acidity.
Lion’s Tooth Chardonnay 2011 13.6% alc/vol
I struggle with this wine, as I have with others as I keep reaching for the technical descriptors of Chardonnay, oaky, the presence of malo. However, none of these exist. Rather than focus on what the wine doesn’t have, let me switch to what it does. This wine is lean citrus notes with a touch of apple, plenty of crisp acidity and a hit of lemon on the finish. There is a fresh sweetness on the nose, the palate is rich, oily and thickly textured. It’s an interesting wine, and it’s one I quite like.
Angel Flower Pinot Noir 2010 13.7% alc/vol
A young, budding tomato vine is the first thing to hit on the nose, violets come in time. Then it’s more tomato plant. This is a bone dry wine that’s earthy and savoury with plenty of darker fruit on the palate. It comes with soft tannins, a rich body, subtle acidity and a long finish.
Earth Smoke Pinot Noir 2010 13.8% alc/vol
A bone dry wine with medium tannin, medium acidity and a soft, round body. This wine is developing from the red and black fruit to a more prominent mix of funky, black olives and a yeast-like, fermentation quality. The wine has a hardness about it.
Late Harvest Semillion Hille 2008 13.4% alc/vol
This wine is infuriating in that there is something on the nose, something on the palate, there is something I cannot quite place my finger on. There’s a unique mix of dandelion and chamomile, cream corn and pineapple coming through in the wine. On both the nose and the palate I find a savory element of wild honey and almond kernel nuttiness that helps add a rich textural element to the wine.