A Memorial to Mike’s great wines and great mind

Mike Weersing passed away in his sleep on 12 November and will be sorely missed by all who knew him, leaving a legacy of great wines from the rare, isolated, 2.2 hectare vineyard he established in 2000, in North Canterbury. His desire was to make great wines modelled on the best from Burgundy and every detail of his vineyard pays homage to this dream. He spent years researching soil types, climates and the aspect of the land on which to plant the grapes he most wanted to use to make wine. This exacting research and absolute quest for the best site possible on which to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are among the factors that set him apart from most winemakers. But there was much more to Mike  because his focus was 100% on biodynamic farming of his land. When I stayed with him and Claudia in the early 2000s, I saw this from the food we ate for dinner to the wines in our glasses. Not that we stuck to the parochial by any stretch. The Pyramid Valley wines that he and Claudia produced were another level and clearly the result of an artist as much as a winemaker.

Mike was born and bred in California but had a fascination for New Zealand from a young age and when he eventually arrived here, it was with an impressively significant CV of winemaking. He studied winemaking and viticulture in Burgundy, working for winemakers such as de Montille, Potel, Pousse d’Or, Kreydenweiss, Deiss and Loosen. In 1996, he and Claudia moved to New Zealand, working for Neudorf Vineyards in Nelson before buying the land on which they created Pyramid Valley vineyard and winery. This is now owned by Smith & Sheth, a partnership between Master of Wine Steve Smith and Brian Sheth, a US businessman.

Mike was a quiet thinker with an amazing ability to communicate his passion, underlining it with facts and experience. I was lucky to have enjoyed many great wines with him, including, most memorably, a Conterno Barolo, of which he said: “If I’d known how incredible Barolo was when I first started, I would’ve been on a quest to grow Nebbiolo.”

Mike Weersing’s warmth, open mindedness and humility, as well as his winemaking talents, will be marked at an event planned for Saturday 21 February 2021 at his favourite place, Lion’s Tooth Vineyard at Pyramid Valley in Waikari, North Canterbury.

Wines of the week – It’s Sauvignon but not as you know it

To say it’s been a hell of a year is an understatement for most, including those of us who remain gainfully employed, but there are silver linings as well as the dark clouds brought on by Covid-19. One of the silver linings is being able to spend more time working from home, most of that time incredibly productively spent too, and when it comes to wine, another silver lining is the high quality of vintage 2020 in New Zealand.

This year’s wines are steadily pouring out of wineries now, starting with the whites, including one this week’s top wines – the Churton Estate Sauvignon Blanc. It’s not your usual style, that’s for sure.

Here are two dry Sauvignon Blancs from our biggest wine region, Marlborough, but they both taste incredibly different to the fruity fresh style that defines most Sauvignons. One of them is from 2020 while the other is a new release of an older wine, fresh from the museum shelves at Dog Point Vineyards in Marlborough.

19/20

2019 Churton Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc $24.99

Churton Estate is a family owned winery in Marlborough dedicated 100% to certified organic and biodynamic wine production. It was established and remains owned by Sam and Mandy Weaver and their sons, Jack and Ben, in 1997.

This wine shows Sauvignon Blanc in a succulent, complex and deliciously savoury new light. It’s full body, rounded creamy flavours and high acidity are all interwoven in an extremely impressive wine,which is fully certified organic and biodynamic.

18.5/20

2014 Dog Point Vineyard Section 94 Marlborough $39 to $40

This is a museum release Sauvignon Blanc from Dog Point Vineyards’ Section 94; a plot named after the original Lands & Survey map. It is dry and full bodied  thanks to 100% barrel fermentation in new French oak, which adds savoury notes and depth as well as a smooth texture. It has creamy flavours to burn and a long, zesty, citrusy finish.

How wine forges connection – the new 2019 Felton Roads

Joelle Thomson’s wines of the week are published every Friday

You never know who you’ll run into on the way to the dog park and today I ran into a fellow dog owner and wine lover, who has a cellar full of so many Felton Road wines that before I knew it, another hour had passed and we standing in his wine cellar looking at row upon row of beautifully cellared wines. We met via our dogs and, because we’re in Martinborough, we’re now on a first name basis. Martinborough is like that. A bit like Cheers, only it’s walking, cycling and coffee that connects people as easily as a glass of something. Which brings me to my wines of the week. Ironically, they are from Felton Road and, as a long term follower of this winery, I was as impressed by the three new Chardonnays as I was by the more famous Pinot Noirs from this well known producer in the world’s southernmost wine region.

Central Otago or “Central”, as it is best known as in New Zealand, is home to more Pinot Noir than you can shake the proverbial stick at – over 80% of its grapes are Pinot Noir. And since there are only  2000 hectares of producing vineyard land, this leaves only a miniscule 63 hectares of Chardonnay, a third of which goes into sparkling wine.

It’s precious little but the wines made from Chardonnay in the deep south are drinking better than ever. Is it the reduction in oak use by winemakers there? Or is it to do with climate change? Or is it vine age and winemaker experience? I would wager a bet that it’s about all three, so here without further ado, are my wines of the week from Felton Road. They drink well now and will all cellar well too for 10+ years in a decent cellar.

Happy weekend and wine collecting.

New Felton Road wines

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2019 Felton Road Block 2 Chardonnay
East facing site with more pronounced acidity which provides this wine with its zingy, fresh, smooth and extremely long finish; a stellar wine with flavour from fruit and citrusy appeal rather than flinty reductive character. A great white.

18.5/20
2019 Felton Road Block 6 Chardonnay
Block 6 is a north facing warmer site and produces more broad fruit expression; more fruit expression. .This is the best of the three Chardonnays; it has an extremely commanding style. 16 months in barrel. Texturally wines can benefit from longer air time in barrel. No inert gas used in the winery.

17.5/20
2019 Felton Road Bannockburn Chardonnay
A blend of several vineyards; less than 5% new oak for 13 months; the idea is to make a classic expression of Central Otago Chardonnay with lees influence, without chasing sulphides in a strong way. No fining or filtration in order to preserve the maximum expression of Chardonnay — which is also the rationale behind the low use of oak. As Walter says: “Why would we want our Chardonnays to smell of French oak when we are capturing beautiful fruit flavours.”

17.5/20
2019 Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir

Made with grapes from four vineyards; about 4000 to 5000 cases of this wine is produced every year from four vineyards. The wine is made the same way as Felton’s single vineyard Pinot Noirs with 30% new oak for 13 months with no fining or filtration.

18.5/20
2019 Felton Road Block Cornish Point Pinot Noir
Commanding. Youthful and powerful in a silky, elegant style with 30% new oak for 13 months and no fining or filtration. Firmer tannin structure and more elevated acidity than the Bannockburn Pinot. This is a powerful, structured and impressive Pinot Noir which has grown from an initial 700 cases annually to about 1300 cases today.

19/20
2019 Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir
My fave every year. I love Calvert Pinot Noir in the hands of Felton Road wines. This vineyard lies just below the hills of the Bannockburn gold sluicings and makes beautiful wine, one of my favourite Central Otago Pinot Noirs every year with its great fruit purity. approachable and pure with great 4.6 hectares of Pinot Noir.

18.5/20
2019 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir
This vineyard has been in conversion to organic production since 2004. The wine has great structure, a full body, silky finish; it’s drinking well now but tastes really youthful. Made from 26 year old vines.

  • We didn’t taste the 2019 Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir, which was released earlier in the year.

2020 Felton Road Dry Riesling
This wine has 6 grams per litre of residual sugar and is a dry style with great balance of fruit flavour making it an approachable and deliciously succulent drink now. Needless to say, it’ll keep well too – as Rieslings do.

2020 Felton Road Bannockburn Riesling
Here’s a big style change; a wine with 57 grams per litre of residual sugar making it a sweet to luscious style. Not that you’d know it thanks to the lovely balance of acidity. It’s made from grapes picked at the same brix level as the dry Riesling and the ferment was chilled to stop fermentation.

2020 Felton Road Block 1 Riesling
This wine has 64 grams residual sugar but also higher acidity. It’s a very Mosel like style; very focussed with great fruit purity.

  • This column is a retrospective of a tasting last week in Wellington of Felton Road Wines, whose winemaker Blair Walter describes the 2019 vintage as one of the best of the past 25 years.