When the Naish family purchased Black Estate in 2007, daughter Penelope and son-in-law Nicholas set about stamping their mark on the vineyards and wines. In recent years the addition of the very classy restaurant (winner of Cuisine Winery Reastaurant of the Year 2017) and purchase of the Damsteep and Netherwood vineyards has continued the quality evolution and focus. Winemaker Nicholas is all about letting these hand crafted wines taste of place. The vineyards have been converted to bio-dynamics and the wines are made as naturally as possible. From the original Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines, the range has been extended to Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Nicholas is also happy to explore more natural wines (they produce an Orange wine) and the Pet Nat wines take that a step further. Operating a restaurant also keeps the focus on producing food-friendly wines. Black Estate have become an important part of the North Canterbury wine scene producing wine of undisputed quality and character.
John Forrest has been hosting tastings with us for the past 24 years and it is always good to catch up with the latest from Forrest Estate. With John you know that there is always something in the wings. He has never been one to just cruise along or follow convention. He has been an early adopter of not only wines styles but regions. Gimblett Gravels, Waitaki Valley, Screw-caps, the low alcohol wines of the Doctors range are all examples. From the early success of the Doctors Riesling John has extended this low alcohol range to other varieties and in this John is probably a world leader. John has also never been afraid to look at other grape varieties and tonight we tasted his new Albarino and Petit Manseng. Across the diverse range, quality is always there.
In 1969 Annies father first planted grapes on the Opou vineyard in the Gisborne region, growing for the likes of Corbans and Montana. In 1984 when Annie and James returned from their OE, they took over the vineyards and also set about establishing New Zealand's first organic and bio-dynamic winery at Te Arai. They were the first NZ winery to get the organic Bio-gro certification in 1989 and the first to get the Dementer Bio-dynamic certification in 2009. However, the focus is not on being organic for the sake of it; it has always been about the quality of the wines and year after year the proof has been in the wines. Millton wines always have a sense of 'wholeness' or 'completeness'. You can taste and feel the vineyard in the wines. Tonight we had Annie hosting (James was unable to make it down), and she was aptly able to present the new release Clos Ste. Anne wines which James calls his "Grand Cru" and dedicated to Annie. The hillside Clos de ste Anne vineyard covers 12ha planted in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc, Srayh and Viognier and the whole site includes forest, amenity trees, olives and livestock all farmed bio-dynamically.
Marlborough born and bred, Dave spread his wings and ended up as a flying wine maker in France, Spain and Argentina for 9 years. The company he worked for specialised in taking over old wineries and adding a bit of "Down Under" modernity. Three of those years was spent in Corsica where Dave learnt about Rosé. Upon returning to Marlborough Dave set up Two Rivers in 2004. Anyone who has travelled to the UK will have seen his value brand Black Cottage throughout the country. The Two Rivers label is the premium label and it is with this he can really make his mark. Dave is not afraid to challenge the conventions. In 2015 he purchased his own Brookby Hill vineyard, adding another great resource to the brand. And being innovative he is at the forefront of things like Egg Fermenters, natural wines, whilst keeping his eye firmly on quality. Tonight Dave took us through his current vintage wines which include some different 'takes' on styles. All the wines have an added dimension which sets them apart.
Ben's parents, Owen and Wendy Glover, planted vines in 1985, growing grapes for various wineries from their 30ha. vineyard beside the Opawa river at Dillons Point. In 2007, joined by sons Ben and Jack, the family's own label Zephyr was introduced. Initially the production was very small with a focus on a couple of export markets, but last year Ben left his position as Accolade Group Winemaker (Mudhouse, Waipara Hills) to concentrate on Zephyr. Expect to hear a lot more about this label over the next few years.
Tonight's tasting focused on Hunter's 20 years of Miru Miru sparkling wine. Hosted by winemaker Inus van de Westhuizen who has been the specialist Sparkling wine maker at Hunters for over 10 years. Hunters can rightly claim to be Marlborough's premiere sparkling wine producer, winning numerous awards and trophies both here and internationally. They have had particular success at the Sparkling Wine World Championships (UK) winning the Trophy for Champion NZ bubbly for the past three years.
Mention Man O' War wines and eyes light up. The biggest winery on Waiheke Island, in recent years their wines have become very sought after. Partly due to the amazing location on the East end of the Island. The aspect of the cellar door rivals the best, whether you drive out there or cruise on up (just don't forget about the outgoing tide while you sup your wines!). But it is probably no coincidence that the arrival of wine-maker Duncan McTavish heralded huge quality improvements both in wine-making and viticulture (The "Skill of the Winemaker" was mentioned!). The 120+ small vineyard plots have been focused to just 74 including those on neighbouring island Ponui - still a lot of plots, but now much more focused. There is quite an extensive range of wines and styles and tonight Duncan tasted us through a number of them. Great stories; great wines.
Tonight Brett Crittenden, Guigal's International Brand Ambassador took us through a ranging representation of this top Rhone producer's wines. Although Guigal is one of the world's most recognised wine brands, its history in European terms is relatively recent having been established in 1947 by Etienne Guigal. In 1961 his son Marcel took over and then more recently Marcel's son Philippe has been in charge. The family only own around 67 ha of their own vineyards, but these are some of the best in the Northern Rhone - in Côte-Rôtie; carefully selected sites in both Condrieu and Saint Joseph; four parcels in Hermitage; and some of the finest vineyards in Crozes-Hermitage. The rest of their wines are sourced from contracted growers in the North and from the South they purchase unfinished wines as they ferment - these selections are based on quality and it is very financially rewarding for growers to have their wine selected for a Guigal wine. uigal unusually have their own cooperage and also select their own oak trees for barrel production. The focus is always on quality control. Such is the quality, supply and demand of Guigal's top wines, we sold out of many of the wines tasted on the night.
Elephant Hill have become one of Hawkes Bay’s leading wineries since planting the first vines at Te Awanga in 2003. The winery and restaurant is now a ‘must visit’ destination. The company also has vineyards in the Gimblett Gravels and even more recently in the Bridge Pa sub-regions. Under the very capable guidance of wine-maker Steve Skinner the wines sit alongside Hawkes Bay’s very best. Steve learnt his craft well when he was at Trinity Hill and across the varieties these are standout wines. These would be the best releases we have seen from Elephant Hill and I’d have no hesitation in saying they are all of at least Gold medal standing, with the Reserves well above that. They don’t come much better.