Take ten with Hamish Kempthorne

On the eve of the biggest Pinot Noir event ever in New Zealand, meet Waimea Pinot Noir, made by Hamish Kempthorne

Who is your winemaking inspiration?

My earliest inspiration was my own grandfather making fruit wines in his garden shed and recording all manner of detailed winemaking notes in cherished and tattered notebooks. Many years on I have been lucky to enjoy the strong collegiate environment of New Zealand winemakers as we all share and aim for similar goals of making exceptional wines for the world. I have learnt a lot from talented winemakers along the way, including Alan McCorkindale and Andrew Blake who have since become good friends.

What do you see as the role of oak in red winemaking? And why?

Oak plays an important role in wines, providing tension and focus, yet hopefully never the brightest star on the stage. The role of oak in quality Pinot is to sensitively support the fruit and work alongside the natural grape tannin from the grapes… The barrels also provide a good place to sit my three kids when they are waiting for me to finish…

What’s the most important thing to you when making Pinot Noir? 

There is never one single thing. Pinot is devilish and unforgiving in both vineyard and winery, but this adds to the reward when it comes together. The vineyard is always near the heart of Pinot Noir and I try to bring honesty to the wine’s sense of place and have confidence in the vineyard to pick it early, while the natural acid is still adding focus and length to the finished wine.

What’s the best thing you can do to make great Pinot Noir?

Get out amongst the vines and develop a deep understanding of the vine and the soil, then get that sense of place into the bottle with as little interruption as possible. Now that we have Pinot Noir vines reaching 20-25 years in the ground, they are getting to a level where we now have the potential to re-evaluate and build wines to support a longer legacy in the bottle.

Anything else that helps in the winery…?

Pink Floyd – compulsory on any quality focused barrel hall playlist.

What are New Zealand’s most underrated Pinot noir regions?

Aside from Nelson…

Marlborough – the recently exploited southern valleys with their fragmented clay seams and higher vine planting densities are starting to show real class as vine age develops and we are able to manage Pinot Noir-specific blocks, rather than converted widely spaced Sauvignon Blanc vineyards.

North Canterbury – its odd environmental curve ball between vintages with the occasional frost and extended flowering, has fabulous hillsides and terraces that combine with chalky  soils to provide lovely tension and elegance in Pinot Noir.


Try this Pinot Noir…

2015 Waimea Pinot Noir RRP $25, 13% ABV

Nelson may be best known for its white wines but its reds can level peg in quality and value as this lively new Pinot Noir shows with its taste of red berries and red cherries, its dry style, its refreshing medium body, soft tannins and earthy flavours. This young red has complex flavours and drinks well now, but will definitely benefit from further aging, which will enhance the integration of flavours and a smoothness over the next five to eight years, possibly beyond.

4.5 stars – Joelle Thomson


5 of the best… wines this year…

Reposted by request as the top blog to end the year on a high note…

It’s still early days and the highs and lows of relocating from this country’s largest city to its capital are still intense. Not only because of 7.8 earthquakes over the past month but because 17 years is a long time in any place and Auckland and Wellington are like chalk and cheese. One contains our closest friends, the other is home to family and my new partner. One is warm, wet and cloudy while the other has intense sunshine but is cooler. One is where we had to be, the other is where we wanted to be.

It was a big decision to move but it was the easiest big decision I have ever made.

Still, 2016 has not been an easy year. For many, it has been one shocking political event after another, while on the home front, my year has been one of intense travel for the three ‘t’s – teaching, talking and tasting wine.

First world problems.

So, without further ado, here’s another:  how does a wine writer whittle thousands of wines down to the 5 best?

With difficulty. But these  5 wines made the most positive impression on yours truly this year.

5 of the best… wines in 2016

Prices are recommended retail

Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut, $99, 12% ABV

Big and beautiful. Bollinger never fails to impress. This year I have tried and enjoyed old and new bottles of Bolly – from 1966, 1976, 1982 and 1990 at a retrospective champagne tasting in May – followed by brand spanking new bottles to celebrate a milestone. It has everything I love about champagne; character, toasty aromas and savoury flavours, richness and depth and a long finish. What more could you ask for? Stunning.

2014 Terrazas de los Andes Malbec, $27, 14.5% ABV

Take a man with great foresight, an under-appreciated black grape (Malbec) and a little known corner of the wine world (Argentina) and meet one of the best value, high quality reds on Earth – in my view. The late Robert Jean de Vogue pioneered this wine on high altitude terraced vineyards (above 1000 metres in the Andes mountains) in the 1950s, and this latest wine does him proud – it’s deep purple in colour with a burst of intense fruit flavour and a long finish. It has a full body, is earthy and bone dry in taste. A stunner.

2005 Pegasus Bay Chardonnay, $50

This bottle was pulled from the best place possible – the winery’s own cellar – and it was enjoyed outside on a warm autumn morning at Pegasus Bay in North Canterbury. The disclaimer is that I worked (unpaid) a couple of days of vintage there (for the third time) this year, which was to gain insight into wine’s finer details. This full bodied, rich and savoury, complex and delicious Chardonnay is underpinned by zesty citrus notes and a fine thread of bright acidity providing its nerve and zing. Sensation.

2007 Quartz Reef Pinot Noir, $50, 14% ABV

If only I had bought more of this Pinot Noir; half a case wasn’t enough but 9 years of ageing did seem like the perfect time to catch this deep southern red at its tastiest peak of savouriness (is that even a word?). There’s no shortage of good Central Otago Pinot Noir but, in my view, eight to nine years of patience is a small price to pay to enjoy the great ones at their best. Bravo to Rudi Bauer; winemaker of this exceptional drop.

2008 Mount Edward Morrison Vineyard Pinot Noir $65, 14% ABV

Another aged stunner from Central Otago, pulled from my modest wine cellar, which now has a walk-in home (it’s called the other half of the laundry and is not a bad space to mature wine in). This wine still has plenty of time up its tasty sleeve but its soft smooth tannins and bright fruit flavours are moving into a delicious earthy taste.


This year, I have been woed and wowed by vintage champagnes, great bottles of dry Austrian Riesling and exceptionally good French Vouvray, but the wines above are those that have provided the most pleasure – and the biggest sense of surprise.

Every day in Wellington rewards me with the feeling of clarity when I look out of the vast two storey windows of our apartment at the harbour, the hills and the houses precipitously perched on their seemingly impossibly steep slopes. The architecture seems to defy logic as much as our decision to move to a quieter place, which has brought with it an unpredictable sense of relief.

 The sense of clutter I felt when living in Auckland has evaporated and I even enjoy frequent trips back there for work. So, was I suffering from other issues than merely a sense of feeling cluttered?

Undoubtedly. But as an old friend and therapist, Jill Goldson said earlier this year, when suffering from anxiety, feeling overwhelmed or under connected, the best path forward is kindness – to yourself. She sums it up perfectly: “Take time to reflect on conflicted feelings and to seek another perspective, which might be the very best place to start.”

And it’s also a high note to end a strangely conflicted year on.

Happy holidays.

The Boneline: small scale North Canterbury wines

The low down and high quality on the South Island’s Boneline wines…

She’s the owner, he’s the winemaker and this week they came to Wellington to unveil their newest wines from Boneline – one of the few New Zealand wineries that actually can lay claim to calling itself an estate – which means all of their wines are made from grapes grown on their own land. In this case, that land happens to be in North Canterbury, one of the windiest corners of the country for grapevines to call home, which can be a factor in reducing the yield of grapes per hectare – and raising the quality of wine at the same time.

Vic is one of the owners of The Boneline and Paul is the winemaker and we will keep things on a first name basis in this article because their focus was firmly on the wines, which taste pretty awesome.

The tasting they hosted with Wellington wine woman Jeannine Mccallum was at Loretta’s in Cuba Street – one of Wellington’s best places to eat (don’t even get me started on the delicious cauliflower with almonds).

The Boneline wines…

The Boneline began life in 2013 as the new lease of life for the brand previously known as Waipara West (now the label for exports from this winery).

The vineyard is planted on three terraces on the banks of the Waipara River, approximately 5 kilometres from Amberley township. There are three distinct soil types here, which can attribute different aspects to the taste of the wines. The slightly different altitude on each terrace may also play a factor in flavour.

Paul worked his first harvest this year, 2016, and talked about the defining factors of the region being its very dry climate (drought is a frequent issue) and also the sea breeze, which cools the region.

The name Boneline is a reference to the fossils that have been thrust up from the riverbed – there is a visual line in the river where the soils and stones change colour. All wines are made with grapes that are 100% grown on the winery’s own vineyards. No grapes are bought from other growers. Vines were planted there in 1989.

Here are my highlights of this Boneline tasting

2015 The Boneline Dry Riesling

Dry Riesling is the gateway for many to one of the world’s greatest quality but so frequently misunderstood wines – by using the word ‘dry’ on the label and by ensuring this wine lives up to its name, the Boneline team hope to harness a new following for this fresh, light bodied, vibrant refreshing wine. Think lime zest on speed… it’s delicious.

2015 The Boneline Riverbone Sauvignon Blanc

This is a rich, full bodied style of Sauvignon with flavours of green apple, fresh herbs and creamy flavours – lovers of French wine will recognise its Bordeauxesque style in its rich, oily feel in the mouth. This wine is made from four rows of grapes grown on the Waipara River banks in North Canterbury. All grapes were hand picked and whole bunch pressed straight to oak (approximately 30% new oak) with the creamy notes coming from the oak and lees stirring. Low crop levels and lots of hand work adds the bells and the very subtle whistles to this high quality Sauvignon Blanc.

2014 The Boneline Waipara Cabernet Franc

Described by its makers as ‘an everyday and lighter style of Cabernet Franc’, this wine is made with grapes grown on Claremont limestone soils  and it tastes ripe and smooth with big tannins and dark fruit flavours; it’s an approachable style to drink now rather than to age.

2014 The Boneline Waipara Waimanu Pinot Noir

Big full body, dry with high acidity – so far, so technical, but this Pinot Noir puts the South Island’s best foot forward for Pinot Noir with its red and dried fruit flavours, its freshness and its long finish – a stunner.

A parting shot

2014 The Hellblock Riesling – made from grapes grown on the bottom terrace close to the river, which enables the grapes there to develop noble rot, which shrivels them and reduces their moisture, leaving elevated levels of sweetness in the grapes’ natural sugars, so that this wine cruises in with 46 grams of residual sugar, putting it firmly in the ‘sweet’ category. Its high acidity (cool climates retain that) means it has the perception of a medium sweet wine with a lingering finish. Very seductive…