Thanks Paul Mason from Martinborough Vineyards for a fascinating look back at some of the first wines to put Pinot on the New Zealand wine map.
Individualistic, consistent and delicious are the words that sprang to mind at last night’s tasting at Regional Wines & Spirits with Mason, who led 23 customers (including yours truly, on behalf of the store – to introduce Mason) through a fascinating historic snapshot of Martinborough Vineyard wines.
The winery began in 1980 and was one of the first four vineyards in Wellington’s nearest wine region. The tasting was a great opportunity to see wines that have been remarkably consistent, despite a rollercoaster of vintage weather variation, three different winemakers and a change in ownership. The three different winemakers have clearly had similar ideas and are obviously responsible for carrying the style consistently – it’s an elegant style, for wont of a better word.
We began with three whites; Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. It was the Riesling and Chardonnay that gained the biggest fans in the room; both wines had noticeably fresh, crisp acidity which balanced the bells (15 grams of residual sugar in the Riesling) and whistles (creamy malolactic work in the Chardonnay.
The first wine was Riesling, which is the only grape that is not estate grown but is rather bought in from the nearby Jackson Block, situated on the left hand side of the road in to Martinborough. The winery used to produce a wide range of Riesling styles. Today Manu Riesling is the only one made and the 2017 vintage was from a challenging year, in which botrytis played a role in the wine – made from grapes harvested in three different picks.
2017 Martinborough Manu Riesling
A medium dry style with 15 grams of residual sugar, which tastes drier than the word ‘medium’ may imply. It is well balanced with high acidity and dialed up intensity of flavour with ginger, lemon grass and lemon zest. It’s medium bodied with medium acid, about 10.5% ABV and a long finish.
2017 Martinborough Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc
Intense aromas of fresh green herbs, green apples, medium body and long finish. Refreshing.
2016 Martinborough Vineyards Chardonnay
Fresh and full bodied with recognizable creamy flavours balanced by lively acidity and spicy appeal from the use of 25% new oak to mature this wine.
2014 Martinborough Vineyard Syrah Viognier
The two grapes in this wine were co-fermented and it includes a smidgeon of Viognier at 3%. A popular style with the tasters.
2016 Martinborough Vineyards Te Tera Pinot Noir
Really good Pinot Noir for the price with earthy flavours, light body, refreshingly lively acidity – the hallmark of Pinot Noir – and a lovely fruity appeal.
2015 Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir
A very small vintage from a low crop year due to poor flowering, so the flavours are of concentrated red fruit with earthy mushroom notes and a long finish. I loved this wine, which reminds of the very first Martinborough Vineyards Pinot Noir I ever tasted back in the mid 1990s.
2013 Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir
One of the best vintages for Pinot Noir, says winemaker Paul Mason, due to the fact the year was so warm and dry so there was low to no irrigation and the grapes were naturally well balanced. This wine is developing with earthy notes but still clearly has a long life ahead.
2009 Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir
A very hot year (hottest ever in Martinborough with 39 degrees in January following the Melbourne bushfires) which then turned cool and wet at harvest. This was quite a savoury wine early on and winemaker Paul Mason says it’s been interesting to watch it evolve further in that direction.
It made me want to reach for the kitchen and make mushroom risotto…
2013 Martinborough Vineyard Marie Zelie
Tiny volumes, 12 to 15 months in oak and a couple more years of bottle age are part of the story of this reserve Pinot from Martinborough Vineyard. Winemaker Paul Mason is not aiming to make a big statement wine with the Marie Zelie Pinots and since they are only made in certain years, he says it’s important to retain consistency as much as possible. So this wine is, like its little sibling above, an earthy style which is a step up in body, acidity and length. It’s named after Marie Zelie, a Frenchwoman who planted the first vineyard in the Wairarapa in the 1890s and then, due to a combination of phylloxera and near prohibition, the vineyard was pulled out. Maries’ great niece married Derek Milne, who was one of the founders of Martinborough Vineyard.
The 2013 vintage saw only 5 barrels of this wine made; only 1% of the winery’s Pinot production.
2006 Martinborough Vineyard Marie Zelie
This was a pretty warm vintage with deeper colour, higher tannins and richness of flavour.
Far fuller bodied and more robust; a very different style for Martinborough Vineyards and one that is immediately appeal and lush. Great to see what different vintages produce.
Martinborough Vineyards fact file
1980– the year the winery began with Larry McKenna as the first winemaker
2004 – the year that Paul Mason joined as assistant winemaker to Claire Mulholland
2014 – the winery was sold to Foley Family Vineyards, which also owns Te Kairanga Wines in Martinborough, Wharekauhau Lodge on the southern Wairarapa coast and Lighthouse Gin.