Lauren Swift is the winemaker at Ash Ridge in the Bridge Pa Triangle, Hawke’s Bay, and she’s in Wellington today to taste her new wines with writers here.

The winery she works for is owned by Chris Wilcox (who runs the vineyard in a hands-on fashion) and Sonia, his wife. He is an ex banker who dreamt about having his own winery and bought 9 hectares of land in 2000, which was planted in grapes in four stages from 2005 onwards. In 2007, he retired from corporate life, moved his family to the Bay and made his first wine, a Syrah, in 2007. Initially, the contract winemaker was Trinity Hill.

Winemaker Lauren Swift began at the end of 2012 and has since grown production by about eight fold from 1500 cases to 8000-9000 cases. The estate vineyard is planted in Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah and a little Viognier – used to co-ferment with the Syrah.

The Ash Ridge wines

There are three tiers of wine made at Ash Ridge. The estate range  includes a barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Rose, Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah, all priced at $20; the premium range (which often includes one off wines that Swift likes to experiment with) and includes Malbec, Viognier, Chardonnay and Syrah, all priced at $30, and the reserve wines, which include Chardonnay at $40 and a Syrah at $50.

The closures… everything is sealed with a screw cap

Cork was used to seal the reserve wines in the past (Diam) and Swift does not think it added anything to the wines but she prefers the screw caps – “much prefer them”.

The wine tasting…

Body to burn Chardonnay

2016 Ash Ridge Reserve Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay $40, 12.5% ABV

Chardonnay clones 15 and 95 were used to make this wine from grapes grown on the Ash Ridge estate at Bridge Pa, Hawke’s Bay. This is a succulent wine with high acid, balanced by a full body, soft mid palate lactic tones and ripe grapefruit, peach and nectarine fruit flavours with a  long finish. Lots of lees stirring, 25% new oak, no fining but the wine has been filtered.

Fruit is the hero Syrah

2015 Ash Ridge Reserve Hawke’s Bay Syrah, $50, % ABV

Two clones of Syrah are grown at Ash Ridge estate vineyard and this wine is a near 50/50 blend of both – the Chave clone and MS (mass selection).  It was bottled unfined and unfiltered.

The wine included 25% whole bunches in the fermentation. It’s ruby in colour and overtly peppery in aroma with juicy, bright, intense deep black fruit flavours; 30 per cent new oak was used but the fruit is the hero on the long finish.

Fortifed Syrah…

The 2016 Ash Ridge Ruby Syrah is 20% alcohol and is fermented on skins with 90 grams residual sugar in the wine when it’s fortified. It’s barrel aged for 12 months and sells for $25 at the cellar door.

Hot new Syrahs – Doppio, $150 for two-pack

Doppio is a new wine range from Ash Ridge in Hawke’s Bay was to conceived by winemaker Lauren Swift pin point differences in two Syrah clones – MS and Chave.

“It’s not so we can say one is better, although we all have our preferences,” says Swift.

The two new wines were made from the same vineyard site from which Swift had noticed big differences in the taste of the wines made from each clone. “The Chave clone behaves extremely differently and is always balanced with very little done to it. We spur prune it and have a very open canopy and hardly fruit thin at all whereas with the MS you need to fruit thin a lot – the bunches are huge, it grows a lot of leaf that you’ve got to remove and we trim it two to three times a season whereas the Chave we only trim once when it gets to the top of the posts.”

MS is the clone that is most widely used in Hawke’s Bay.

The wines were aged in barrel for nearly two years and bottled a year prior to release. They are available only in two-packs directly from the winery and were bottled straight from barrel with a smidgeon of SO2. Just 280 two-packs were produced. See website below for further details.

2014 Doppio MS 13% ABV

Bigger bunches of grapes provide big red and black fruit flavours in this full bodied, fleshy and succulent Syrah, which has been the crowd favourite, to date.

2014 Doppio Chave 13% ABV

Thicker skins and smaller bunches are characteristic of the Chave clone, which results in a wine with darker fruit flavours, more mocha and chocolate notes, a fuller body and longer finish. The brix are typically 21 at harvest.

Find out more at: www.ashridgewines.co.nz