This column was first published in the Dominion Post on Saturday 2 February 2014 in Your Weekend magazine.

It is republished here by request.

A Martinborough couple have debunked the downward trend of wineries closing and built a brand new grape processing facility

It’s not every day that a family tragedy becomes a living memorial, but Colin Carruthers has created just that by dedicating his vineyard and brand new winery to his late son, James.

The property is at Te Muna; 9 kilometres west of the little town of Martinborough. He bought the land in 1996. The following year, 1997, his son James passed away and the land lay bare for three years.

Grieving and unsure of what to do next, Carruthers needed help to move forward. That help came in 1999 when his friend, fellow lawyer and winemaker, John Porter (of Porters Pinots) introduced him to winemaker Larry McKenna. Together they helped Carruthers to plant 9 of the 11.5 hectare site in grapes. Alongside the usual successful suspects – pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay – there is a small, triangular shaped portion of the vineyard planted with syrah and viognier vines. This is Carruthers’ tribute to the great red and white wines of France’s Rhone Valley; where syrah and viognier originate – he’s a fan.

For the first few vintages, he and his wife, Deborah Coddington, made the syrah and viognier themselves on site with help from local winemakers. Then they employed northern Wairarapa winemaker Jane Cooper from Matahiwi Wines, who has done a sterling job to date. The 2008 Redbank James Pinot Noir, made by Cooper, was one of the star wines at last year’s Martinborough Wine Centre’s Consumer’s Choice Awards, where locals gather to choose their favourites of wines served blind. But now Carruthers has put his money where his passion is and built his own winery. He always wanted to be directly involved in the transformation of grapes into wine. Now he will be. The new winery is a mere metre from the vineyard, so it’s a gentle journey for the grapes and easy for Carruthers and his new winemaker, Simon Groves; co-owner of the Martinborough Wine Centre, which he runs with his partner, Amanda Ritchie. This year Groves has made three styles of pinot gris from Redbank Vineyard. The first is bone dry. It’s a wine he describes as Martinborough meets Northern Italy and it will be labelled Pinot Grigio, accordingly. Then there’s the off dry French inspired pinot gris. And last but not least, there’s a sensational wild dessert pinot gris. Quantities are tiny – just 600 bottles all up. But the wine’s big taste makes up for that.

Wines of the week

Shoestring sensation

2009 CDA Old Vine Garnacha $12 to $20

Master of Wine Stephen Bennett has broken new ground in New Zealand with great Spanish reds – and while this wine is low priced, it’s top in taste, thanks to the long hot summers that the grapes it’s made from receive in the Carinena Denominacion de Origen (DO – a protected wine area). This gutsy garnacha grape drinks well now with a smooth, silky mouthfeel and full body. From Moore Wilson and liquor stores or distributors Bennett & Deller, phone (09) 378 9463.

Treat of the week

2008 Redbank Estate James Pinot Noir $40

This wine does Colin Carruthers proud with its velvet smoothness, its luscious core of red fruit and ist drink-me-now style. Six years old and just coming into its own, it’s a lovely drink now. From the Martinborough Wine Centre or redbankjames.wordpress.com

Reaching for the stars

2005 Capitel Monte Olmi Amarone Della Valpolicella $75

Amarone translates to something along the lines of big and strong, and there’s no disputing it’s a powerful style of wine from Italy’s Veneto region. This one contains a massive 16% alcohol, which is balanced beautifully by dark mocha aromas and intense black fruit flavours. It’s a sensational drink. From the Martinborough Wine Centre.