Joelle Thomson Writer

Author, journalist, speaker

Month: March 2018 (page 1 of 2)

Inspiration in a competitive industry

Gisborne is the first city in the world to see the sun each day and Geoff Thorpe is one of the first to see it. He is the owner of the biggest vine nursery in New Zealand and was made a Fellow of the Wine Institute of New Zealand late last year. His story follows, as does the source of his inspiration in the stiffly competitive wine industry.

Geoff Thorpe, founder of Riversun Nurseries in Gisborne


What’s your favourite part of the day?

GT: Waking up at our Wainui Beach hillside home to the sun rising over the Pacific then walking down to feed the chooks, collect the eggs and go for my morning swim in the ocean.


What inspires you each morning?

GT: The views, the bracing swim, the rising sun, the waves (whatever the weather) and then returning to breakfast with my family – life is amazing and after all that, I feel I can take on the world every day.


What trends do you see emerging in New Zealand wine today?

GT: Sauvignon Blanc has become more dominant in our grafting book over the last five years, but we expect this to level out and rebalance over the next few years as all the new plantings of it come into full production.


Any other trends you see right now?

GT: Consolidation of our client base, as more grape growers start to sell or lease to the larger wine companies. It is increasingly tough out there for those who do not have very strong brands, distribution or economies of scale.


Which new grapes show the biggest promise?

GT: Albarino is gaining traction, albeit from a very small base. Of all the new varieties we have imported (30+), this one has seen people start to expand on their original trial plantings.


What are the biggest pressures you see in grape growing today?

GT:  Everyone struggling with the reality of steadily increasing costs, especially wages and spraying costs, thanks to powdery mildew, but with no ability to lift fruit or wine prices to compensate – the margins are under intense pressure for everyone.

climate change having?

GT:  Every year we are seeing things never experienced in 30 to 40 years of grape growing and seasoned growers around the country all say the same thing. Last winter was the wettest on record in most of New Zealand and Jan 2018 has been the hottest month ever. Humidity and overnight high temperatures caused intense disease pressure, Central Otago hit veraison almost a whole month  ahead of normal and was the first region to start harvest this year. It’s crazy stuff and very worrying. What next?


How is climate change affecting the taste of wine?

GT: With regard to climate change and the taste of wine, I am not sure. It all depends on the last few weeks of ripening – if we still get good ripening, we can still make outstanding quality wines. Brix levels and berry sizes were running well ahead of average in January and February this year but seem to have levelled out and now look to be coming more in line with long term averages.


How has your wine drinking changed?

GT: Less is more. I am definitely drinking less (smaller servings in the glass and only on occasions or after a really full on day, and I am drinking great wines whenever possible.


What is your favourite wine?

GT: It’s too hard to single one out. It all depends on the occasion, location and time of year


When did you decide to dive in and work with wine and vines?

GT: I started when my father planted a vineyard in Gisborne in 1977 and then I started grafting vines in 1983 when phylloxera arrived in Gisborne. I became committed to trying to make the best quality grafted grapevines in the world.


What makes wine and vines rewarding?

GT: The wonderful people in New Zealand and all around the world, be they our amazing staff, fellow nursery folk, scientists, breeders, growers, wine makers or marketers. We are so blessed to have many of the smartest and most talented people in the wine world right here in New Zealand. It’s also seeing our clients, large and small, realising their vision and knowing our baby vines have helped to play a small but critical part in their journey.


About Geoff Thorpe

He founded Riversun Nursery in 1982 to supply grafted grapevines to Gisborne vineyards following the discovery of phylloxera, which destroys vines by attacking their roots.

Riversun has since grown to become the biggest supplier of grafted grapevines to the New Zealand wine industry. In 2000 Geoff helped rescue a collection of grape  varieties, clones and rootstocks from a national collection at Ruakura. That year he also launched the first independently audited certification programme for grafted vines and in 2001 he  entered into licence agreements with ENTAV-INRA and other overseas plant providers to source new vines for the industry. Then in 2003 he established New Zealand’s first privately owned Level 3 grapevine quarantine facility to import new grapevine plant material. He is strongly involved in the New Zealand wine industry and has sponsored the Bragato Conference since it began in 1995.

5 top whites under $25

What was I drinking here? It was a dark and stormy night, so it was a red wine rather than one of my top white drops on this week’s blog, but I remember it being great value for money, which is what today’s post is all about.

It’s easy to wax lyrical about top wines when price is no object because that opens the  floodgates to the likes of Elisabeta Foradori and her incredibly inspirational Teroldegos, Nosiolas and wild yeast fermented Pinot Grigio, and if that’s not enough to make any hot blooded wine lover drop to their knees in admiration, her single vineyard wines are even more expressive; her wines are like the wine world’s equivalent of cutting edge fashion from World, Prada, Commes de Garcons and their like, but what about when budget is an issue? What are the best wines under $25?

Then what?

How do you sort the best from the rest at low prices?

It’s always been a mission of mine because when I began wine writing, my budget was at the lower end of the market, as was my junior journalist’s salary. Not that I can afford to buy  Foradori every day of the week now either, but these days I treat my wine buying like my clothes buying – by mixing things up. A little bit of high priced, very nice over in that corner and lots of budget buy basics over in that one.

So, without further ado, here are 5 top whites under $25, which always over deliver on their good taste and rarely cost as much as their supposed recommended retail prices.

Don’t you love a bargain?

Here are 5 of mine.

Top selling Riesling in New Zealand

2016 Giesen Riesling $15.99, 10.5% ABV

For a wine that can stake its claim as New Zealand’s biggest selling Riesling, this one is  remarkable consistently high quality, thanks to winemakers Nikolai St George and Andrew Blake, who source grapes from both Marlborough and North Canterbury to create a wine that is medium sweet and incredibly well balanced by high acidity from these two cool climate grape regions. Its light body, low-ish alcohol and intense flavour all add up to a succulent, deliciously approachable wine that can also age and evolve complex flavours for 4 to 5 years. What more could you ask for in a wine that is usually $12.99?

  • The latest MAT Giesen Riesling 750ml is the #1 value & unit ranked Riesling as shown by IRI NZ MarketEdge Scan Data, TKA period ending MAT to 6 Nov 2016.


Exceptional Main Divide Riesling

2014 Main Divide Riesling $21 to $22

If all natural health food tasted as good as this, we’d be a happier planet; “wine is a natural health food”, says the founder of Main Divide wine brand, Ivan Donaldson, whose four sons and partner in life and in wine, Chris, run the winery today. Main Divide is their gateway brand to the winery’s top drops under the Pegasus Bay banner. And while Main Divide may be the little bro’ to the winery’s top drops, it struts more interesting flavours that you would usually expect for this price. It’s full bodied, full of flavour and has layers of concentration from ripe mandarins and bold peachy tastes to layers of lime, lemon, luscious honey, a long finish.

Main Divide Riesling is an exceptional wine every year with consistent depth of deliciousness in every sip.


New icon Zephyr

2017 Zephyr Marlborough Riesling $24 to $25, 11.5% ABV

The Glover family were among the first to plant grapes in Marlborough in 1985 when they established a vineyard on the banks of the winding Opawa River, home to the grapes that make this delicious dry Riesling today. The Zephyr brand is co-owned by brothers Ben (winemaker) and Jack, who take their inspiration from the dry wines of the Rheingau in Germany, where Riesling tends to be dry, often full bodied and often with moderate to lower alcohol levels. Every vintage of Zephyr Riesling has remained true to style with between 8 to 10 grams of residual sugar, moderate alcohol, dialled up lime flavours and freshness to burn. The concentration is achieved by hand tending the vines, hand harvesting the grapes and taking a hands-off approach to the winemaking.

This wine is exceptional value for money, drinks beautifully now and will also age exceptionally well for a decade, possibly longer.


Beautiful Bone Line

2014 The Bone Line Riesling $23

One of my favourite wines of the past year and sadly a wine that is not made every year, thanks to the iconic approach of The Bone Line winemaking team. Winery co-owner Vic Tutton explains: Riesling is a response to the climate and the weather and there hasn’t been a vintage quite like 2014 since 2014. So, this medium dry Riesling from North Canterbury has impeccable flavour richness – limes, mandarins, green apples – in a light and super refreshing style with flavours that linger long after the last drop has disappeared. A stunner.


2016 Johner Gladstone Riesling $19-$20

For a wine that often costs $17, Johner Riesling from Gladstone in the central Wairarapa is another great white that over delivers on flavour every time, thanks to its succulence and high but balanced acidity, which adds nervy flavour interest to the intense citrus aromas here; orange and lime zest seem to combine with fresh white flowers and clover honey. It is off dry with 11 grams of residual sugar but it has such outrageously good balance of flavour that it seems to finish on a dry note, thanks to Riesling’s naturally, refreshingly high acidity,

Love these wines.

If you’re not – or think you’re not – a Riesling fan, try them.

Sicily’s passport to the world of wine

A taste of Sicilia in New Zealand… Italian wine importer Marco Nordio is the new official importer of Benanti wines to New Zealand.

He is pictured above (left) with Salvino Benanti at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington this week, prior to a tasting of two Benanti wines.

These are the gateway wines to the Benanti range – and are Sicily’s passport to the wine world.

2016 Benanti Etna Bianco DOC 12% ABV

This is 100% Carricante, which was fermented in stainless steel, where it went through a little malolactic fermentation to soften its naturally high acidity, and was then aged on lees to add a little complexity. The wine laws on Mt Etna allow producers to blend Carricante with the lighter tasting Catarrato grape, but Salvino Benanti says he and his family prefer the sharper, crisper, drier flavours of 100% Carricante. They like to age it in bottle for a few months prior to releasing the wine, which is medium bodied with zesty fresh, but balanced acidity. The Carricante grape can be oaked or unoaked; Salvino prefers those with low to no oak.

My mind and palate agree whole heartedly. This is a stunner; so fresh and refreshing.


2015 Benanti Etna Rosso DOC 13% ABV 

The family who own this winery sets a high benchmark for their entry level wines so that people get a good impression of Sicilian wine.

This wine is 80/20 Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio grapes and is fermented mostly stainless steel with about 25% of the wine then spending nine months in second fill neutral French barriques. This is an entry level wine and the 2015 was a rainy vintage on Etna, so there is a little more dilution than usual in alcohol; the wine is 13% whereas it is usually about 13.5% ABV.


The Benanti story

This year is the first time that Salvino Benanti has visited New Zealand and he was here to introduce his family’s wines from Mt Etna; Sicily’s highest mountain and Europe’s most active volcano.

His family moved to Sicilia from Bologna in 1734 when they were given land there and, over the past two centuries, they have  developed a strong interest in wine. His father was one of the first to start a winery on Etna, which he founded in 1988. Back then there was one other winery on the mountain. Today there are 176 brands. Despite the proliferation of labels, the hard core of Etna wine producers remains around 30, of which Benanti is one of the best known and most highly respected, thanks to being in early and forging a name as a producer of high quality wines.

To say that I was impressed the first time I tried an Etna wine is to make a wild understatement. It was about six years ago that I managed to track down a bottle of Tenuta Benanti Rovittello Etna Rosso, which was being imported to New Zealand by Oh So Pretty Wines, which is owned by Andrew Hedley.

That wine blew me away. I can’t recall its vintage (where was my wine database back then?) but it was about eight years old at the time and I loved the way its pale ruby colour completely betrayed its incredibly powerful combination of staunch full body, tangy acidity, truffly-mushroomy flavours and a fresh cherry bite on its long finish. The wine is a blend of Nerello Mascalese (90%) and Nerello Cappuccio (10%) grapes, grown in the Rivittello sub zone of Castiglione di Sicilia.

Talk about silky. Eat your heart out, Burgundy, Barolo or Barbaresco.

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