As Mae West once famously said, when it’s good, it’s very, very good and when it’s bad, it’s better. Or something like that. Only in this case, when it’s bad, there’s barely any of it to go around.
The ‘it’ in question is wine from the Waitaki Valley in North Otago, otherwise known as New Zealand’s smallest wine region and home to one of the newest wines in the country – Still Point Waitaki Pinot Noir; my favourite of a new trio of wines made in tiny quantities by Karl Coombes.
The entire production comes to a modest 200 cases; 66 Chardonnay with the remainder divided equally between two Pinot Noirs from different vineyards.
Coombes is not giving up his day job just yet – “Still Point will stay a side project for now. I love my job with Valli Wines and having Still Point as well makes me very satisfied and plenty busy.”
It’s understandable that Coombes loves his day job. He is one of the three winemakers at Valli Wines, which is owned by Grant Taylor; one of the most experienced hands at Central Otago Pinot Noirs.
The Still Point name was inspired by T S Eliot’s words: “At the still point of the turning world… at the still point, there the dance is.”
I like it.
I also like the wines, which I tasted for the first time today. All three wines are priced exactly the same and while I don’t always mention the war (wine closures), it’s interesting to see only two of these wines are sealed with screwcaps while the other (the Chardonnay) is sealed with Diam cork.
“The Waitaki grape yields are all over the place from year to year. In 2019, Valli got so little that I didn’t get any fruit but the van der Mark Vineyard in Central Otago is looking consistent and the Californian Chardonnay is something I haven’t done since 2017 – it’s there if I’m able to get there and do it,” explains Coombes.
In the meantime, he has a 2019 Chardonnay from a vineyard in Central Otago in Locharburn; about mid way between Cromwell and Wanaka.
Still Point Pinot Noirs
The two Still Point Pinot Noirs are made identically; no new oak (a Still Point philosophy to aged wines in pre-used barrels) and both have 50% whole bunch fermentation.
“I approached the winemaking by putting the whole bunches in the bottom, destemming on top and one pump over, walking over them once a day to keep the whole bunches and berries as intact as possible without working them too hard. No innoculation for primary ferment or malolactic. Aging in old oak for 10 months and one for 11 months (van der Mark).”
Both Pinot Noirs were bottled unfined and unfiltered while the Chardonnay was fined with bentonite to make it protein stable.
All wines have a recommended retail price of $64 and they are currently available at the Bannockburn Hotel, Millbrook Resort and Kinross; all in Central Otago; Decant in Christchurch has all three.
2018 Still Point Valli Vineyard Waitaki $64
This wine comes from a vineyard owned by Grant Taylor on a road called, coincidentally, Grant’s Road, It’s dry, medium bodied with vibrant flavours that remind me of cranberries, dried cherries and a little savoury hint of spice adds complexity to the wine. It’s a tasty summer red with elegance and ability to age – and drinks damned nicely now too, even lightly chilled. Screwcap.
2018 Still Point Pinot Noir van der Mark Vineyard, Central Otago $64
This Pinot has only one month more aging in oak but it tastes a lot bigger, richer and unmistakably more spicy and grippy, which is undoubtedly about the oak as well as climate. It must be the tipping point – the flavours are unmistakably Central Otago Pinot-like with red fruit and freshness, lively acidity and great length. More grippy tannins and more body. Screwcap.
2017 Still Point Chardonnay Sta Rita Hills California $64
Made from a friend’s vineyard on the Central Coast in California. This wine is full bodied, rich and creamy with powerful flavours balanced by refreshing acidity, which drives the taste of citrus and ripe stonefruit to a long finish. Sealed with Diam. I would prefer to see a screwcap preserve this wine’s freshness and ability to age.