In early July I made the pilgrimage across the Cook Strait to sunny Nelson. (Pilgrimage as a nod to the excessive costs of flights for the roughly half hour of travel.) The timing was based on what suited my schedule. Middle of winter is also a prime time for Nelson winemakers to close up shop and go on little pilgrimages of their own. So although I got to spend time with dear friends, I did not get to nearly as many wineries as I would have liked. My notes on this wee pilgrimage sat in a pile of other notes waiting for a bit of attention that the day job just wasn’t allowing for. Thankfully Todd Stevens, Neudorf’s winemaker, came to Wellington to promote their recent releases, allowing me a second look at the winery and the region.
Ah, Nelson. Let’s play a wee game of word association. If I say Central Otago, you’ll say pinot noir. If I say Gisborne, you’ll say chardonnay. If I say Hawke’s Bay, you’ll say Bordeaux blends (or maybe syrah if you wanted to discredit my predictive powers). So far, pretty easy. Now, if I say Nelson, you’ll say… what? Possibly aromatics. They do host an Aromatics Symposium every three years and it’s a party that most, if not all, producers can come along to. But the aromatics label is broad, brushing across sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, riesling and more. Sitting in Wellington I can pop over to the region, meet the producers, taste their wares and start to build an understanding of this region of tiny, independent producers. But as Nelson, like all of New Zealand, is focused on exports, what conclusion is the international market meant to draw? Brand ‘Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc’ is unmistakable. You know what to expect. But what’s in your glass of brand ‘Nelson aromatics’?
This is the difference between looking at a producer and looking at a region. When I head to Martinborough I’ll focus on the pinot noir as much as possible. If you’re looking to focus on the regional expression of Nelson winemakers, where do you look? This was a big point of discussion not only when I visited the region, but also at the Neudorf tasting in Wellington.
The evening at Regional Wine and Spirits wrapped up with Todd being asked: if he had a crystal ball, where would he see Nelson in 25 years’ time? He opted to swap the crystal ball for a magic wand and with the flick of a wrist he would see more of an uptake of Chardonnay as the champion variety in the region. (Of course, I believe this is also when he said he would deny this back in Nelson.) He wasn’t the only one making such bold statements, however. Geoff Kelly was also participating in the tasting and he remarked upon the success of the French model of picking the most famous wine from the region and hanging their hat on the wine’s reputation. He suggested that in the case of Nelson, that would be Neudorf Chardonnay.
Neudorf tasting at Regional Wine and Spirits
If you live in New Zealand, Neudorf is a producer that should need no introduction. They have a reputation for consistently serving up some of the best chardonnay the country has to offer. But it’s not just their chardonnay, this is a producer who consistently makes top quality wines across their entire range.
If you don’t know, in brief,Neudorf started in 1978 when Tim and Judy Finn planted their home block in the Moutere Hills, a site with clay gravel soils that are perfect for growing pinot noir and chardonnay (varieties they settled on after much experimentation). In time they extended their plantings to the stony alluvial soils of Brightwater in the Waimea plains, sites better suited to the aromatics that round out the Neudorf portfolio.
The tasting opened with the recently bottled 2014 aromatics from the stony, alluvial soils of Brightwater in the Waimea Plains, which are more suited to aromatics. The 2014 Maggie’s Pinot Gris was an easy drinking white with the clean fruit character of peaches and white stone fruit on the nose. With 20% of the wine spending time in old oak puncheons the wine has some textural weightiness that’s slightly oily, lending the wine a richness. Although the early releasing Maggie’s is intended to be a crowd pleaser – as opposed to the Moutere Pinot Gris that is a richer Alsatian style that spends more time in the tank – it is neither light in body, nor neutral in aromas. The 2014 Rose was introduced as being a rose made for rose, letting the drinker know that this is an intentional wine and style, not the a bleeding off of their pinot noir tanks. Made from 100% pinot noir, the wine is a bit spicy and savoury on the palate with bright red berries and cherries on the nose. With two grams residual sugar and 15-20% barrel fermented, the rose shows weightiness and structure as a refreshing option for pairing with olives and tapas.
At Neudorf the treatment of grapes is not distinguished based on the price point of the final wine. This philosophical approach to winemaking was repeated when looking at each of the chardonnay and again with the pinot noir. All Chardonnay is treated the same: hand harvested, whole bunch pressed, spontaneous fermentation and spontaneous malolactic fermentation. As you move up the tiers the difference is seen by the difference in clones used and the age of the vines. The 2013 Chardonnay (formerly called the Nelson Chardonnay) shows red apples, acorns and oak across both the nose and palate. This is a similar aroma and flavour profile seen on the Moutere Chardonnay from the same vintage. The 2013 Chardonnay is sourced from the Waimea Plains, the Moutere and the Hill Block. This combination results in 30-40% Mendoza clone being included. 100% of the wine is barrel fermented, in 15% new oak. The 2013 Moutere Chardonnay has a similar profile, however, it shows a much higher natural acidity with a zippiness to the palate, along with greater length and weight. These differences are all a result of site, clonal selection and vine age. The Moutere Chardonnay is sourced entirely from the Moutere, across the baby, young and old 100% Mendoza vines present. The wine is barrel fermented in 20-25% new oak.
The 2013’s are the current vintage, but as a peek at the future of where these wines can go, we looked at the 2008 Moutere Chardonnay, a wine from a difficult vintage that’s still drinking well. Where the 2013 vintage saw a warm summer that allowed for great ripening, 2008 saw more rain than any winemaker wants to see. The 2008 would have also seen a greater percentage of new oak, closer to 30%. The more recent paring back of new oak used is supported by the 2008 where the oak is still sitting on top of the wine and not marrying well with the fruit and forest floor characteristics. But for a wine from a challenging vintage to be drinking well, the hypothesis is that the 2013 will go a long way.
The pinot noir in Nelson sits at the savoury end of the scale and is more similar to Martinborough than Central Otago. This is as characterised by Todd, who spent five years as winemaker at Felton Road and before that as assistant winemaker at Quartz Reef. This is a man who knows pinot noir. The Tom’s Block is the fruitier expression than what comes off the Home Block and it’s designed for earlier drinking. The 2012 Tom’s Block Pinot Noir shows red cherries and Christmas spice. From Moutere stock we looked at the 2010 Moutere Pinot Noir and the 2011 Moutere Pinot Noir. The older of the two showed a lot more in the way of fruit and aromatics; the younger was much more tightly bound and would benefit from either time or food. Both have shared savoury, bay leaf characters with red fruits and florals.
The star of the evening was the 2010 Home Block Pinot Noir, a rich, supple, more feminine take on the Moutere. Beautiful and elegant with soft red florals and delicate red fruits on the nose. The palate has a weight and silkiness to it. This is the wine you would pick to sit back and sip, over the Moutere which would be better when sitting down to dinner.
A quick look at other producers
Visiting one of the more remote winemaking areas in New Zealand during winter may not have been the best idea. From my list of wineries I was hoping to get to, Greenhough were closed for the season and Kahurangi were undergoing some renovations. Many more that I hadn’t even heard of but would have been quite keen to learn a thing or two about had also packed it in for the colder months. And so this is merely a snapshot of what’s on offer in the region – it is by no means a complete picture.
A family owned and run vineyard and winery, Seifried Estate Winery has been making wines since 1976, making them, along with Neudorf, one of the pioneering producers in the Nelson region. Originally started by Austrian born Hermann Seifried and his New Zealand wife Agnes, the three Seifried children have all taken on roles in the family business. Sourcing grapes from six different vineyards from across the Nelson region, the Seifrieds produce a wide range of reds and whites from syrah and pinot noir to chardonnay, riesling, gewurztraminer and pinot gris. The only one of its kind in New Zealand, there is the 2009 Wurzer, a cross between Gewurztraminer and Muller Thurgau native to Germany. As the variety’s name would suggest, there is a bit of spice present on the nose, but the wine exhibits more riesling-like qualities than gewurtz. High residual sugar and high natural acidity combine for palate weight and the wine is bursting with very ripe summer peaches. The tasting was topped off with the award-winning 2012 Sweet Agnes Late Harvest Riesling from the Winemakers Collection range. Made from 100% riesling there is a rich bouquet of fleshy white pear and stone fruit, delicate spring floral notes, exotic spice and a spritz of lemon. All drizzled in honey. The palate is a medley of golden fresh peaches and mandarin. All of this sweetness and fruit is well balanced by a naturally high acidity.
Somewhat off the beaten path you’ll find Glover’s Vineyard, a small six hectare estate set up in 1984 and run by Dave Glover and his wife Penny. This is a producer who really loves what they’re doing. With more of a focus on experimentation and passion, these wines are unique and can surprise you. Known for powerful tannins, Glover’s Cabernet Sauvignons can take 20 years or more to really hit their stride. With a crisp and engaging 2013 Pinot Rose showing plenty of tart and tangy red apple qualities and the gritty, earthy, savoury 2005 Oasis Sauvignon Blanc that bursts with guava, orange peels and peaches and has the acidity to carry 60-80 grams of residual sugar but show only a touch of sweetness, there’s plenty to look at. But it was the Cabernet Sauvignon that really shone. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon came across more as a pinot noir with sweet and fruity aromas and lightish tannins. This was definitely not as overpowering as the variety typically produced. This more approachable style was intentional to give lovers of Glover’s wine something to sip while they waited the decades needed for the fuller bodied versions. Once you know it’s a cab sauv that’s when things get interesting. Finally there was the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon dessert wine, a huge chocolate bomb with plenty of dark, creamy cocoa all mixed up with stewed raisins and plums. For a wine with 20% abv and 200 grams of residual sugar, it’s surprisingly balanced. As a little something of interest, we also tasted a grappa-fortified Chardonnay that was showing orange peels, honey and lashing of new oak. If you’re after something a little different, I would recommend spending some time with these wines.
One of the larger producers with 150ha, Waimea Estate is a family run vineyard, winery and cafe established in 1993. They’re highly awarded nationally and internationally with a range of aromatics including pinot gris and sauvignon blanc, as well as pinot noir and Chardonnay. The cellar door tastings sit on the end of the bar in a busy cafe. Once you’re found your favourite, it’s nice to get a glass and sit yourself down to enjoy it in a more relaxed fashion. The 2012 Waimea Gruner Veltliner and the 2013 Waimea Viognier (they’ve now swapped over to the 2014 vintage) were the clear standouts from the tasting. The groovy gruner veltliner showed exotic cardamom spice and sweet vanilla with an attractive lift of white florals that spans the length of the wine. While the viognier was very big on peaches with an abundance of aromas along the lines of sweet honeysuckle, orange blossoms and stonefruit. The palate was textural and just lovely.