Friends. We’ve all got them and here are a couple of mine, whose wine websites are invaluable sources of information, great writing, humour and reliably chosen high quality wines to beat a path to.

Needless to say, the list will grow. Watch this space.

The Cellar 

Drink in the romance of Italy and wines from all over the world from this new online wine store, which is the brainchild of Aucklander Connal Finlay, who completed the exacting Wine & Spirit Education Trust Diploma this year and then promptly embarked on a chemistry degree at the University of Auckland – and opened this online store.

Tim Atkin is one of my favourite writers for his great turn of phrase, dry wit and insightful thoughts on wine – and life. He is a writer, journalist and Master of Wine in the UK. 

The online home to the global queen of wine writing, Jancis Robinson, Master of Wine and editor (with fellow MW Julia Harding) of the Oxford Companion to Wine – also known to many wine lovers as the wine bible, and it must be at least as well read too, if not more so.

Alternative Gisborne wines

Wines like Albarino and Petit Manseng not only sound like a foreign language (which they are to English speakers) but they are so unfamiliar to many New Zealanders that it can be difficult to get these wines into the mainstream. Unless… you also happen to have three Chardonnays that tick three different price boxes.

Enter Spade Oak Vineyard.

This Gisborne based wine brand is owned by Steve and Eileen Voysey, who are partners in wine and in life. Last week Steve was in the so-called windy capital city (on a sun drenched, windless day) and he popped by with his wine distributor, Sue Davies of Wine2Trade (her business) to taste his  wines.

We started with Albarino – a wine that may be offbeat in New Zealand but is very much on trend in the Northern Hemisphere right now where it is having a renaissance, along with all things Spanish relating to vino and food.

Albarino is made in a wide range of styles from fresh, flinty and green in taste to big, bold and creamy. Voysey likes to make (and to drink) the fresher style, avoiding using any malolactic conversion in his winemaking because, he feels, this makes the wine taste too heavy and big. Not that he’s adverse to using plenty of malolactic fermentation in his Chardonnays, of which we tasted three.

But first Albarino, which is originally from the maritime north west of Spain, most notably Rias Baixas DO, a defined wine production area north of the Portuguese border. Heading south into northern Portugal takes a visitor to  Vinho Verde, the region where the same grape is known as Alvarinho.

Both of these areas have relatively high rainfall, which makes fungal diseases one of their biggest issues when it comes to growing grapes. This means that thick skinned grapes, such as Albarino / Alvarinho can fit the bill  nicely. Many winemakers here in New Zealand can relate, which is why Albarino is working a treat, particularly in Gisborne, which is home to Riversun Nurseries – the biggest grapevine nursery in New Zealand and therefore the main gateway for disease-free grapevines which are certified in identity (important in a young wine country, such as this one).

The Voyseys are not the only ones making Albarino and Steve says it’s thanks to the biggest producers, such as Villa Maria Wines, that this grape is gaining ground in people’s minds.

Albarino is currently the most promising newcomer grape in New Zealand at the moment, in my view. Its thick skins, vibrant acidity and green flavours make it a natural fit for this cool, mostly maritime country. And I am impressed not only with the Voyseys’ version of Albarino, but with all of the other wines made from this white grape, given that I have been fortunate enough to try nearly all of them and several times alongside each other too. The other wineries making Albarino currently include Cooper’s Creek, Hihi, Matawhero, TW and Villa Maria and one that I have not yet tried, Tono.

It is not the only thing that Steve and Eileen Voysey are doing well. They  make three Chardonnays in different styles, and are also dabbling with Petit Manseng, which traditionally grows in Jurancon, south west of Bordeaux, where it makes some of France’s greatest but least known sweet wines.

Petit Manseng is a late ripening, high acid grape with small thick skinned berries, which tend to shrivel on the vines rather than be prone to the ‘noble’ fungus we call botrytis.

The following Spade Oak Vineyards wines were tasted by me with winemaker Steve Voysey in August this year.

2015 Spade Oak Vineyards Heart of Gold Albarino RRP $23ish

This is the fourth vintage of Albarino from Spade Oak’s one hectare of Albarino grapes, so volumes are pretty small and it’s still early days, despite which the style of the wine is one that winemaker Steve Voysey is consistent on. He picks the grapes for this wine slightly earlier than the other grapes he harvests, which enables him to make a wine that retains its fresh flavours and also cruises in with a lighter style at 12.5% alcohol.

Voysey has also been to Rias Baixas and tried a range of different Albarinos, including sparkling versions, higher alcohol and creamy styles  (made using malolactic fermentation) but he prefers to make (and drink) the fresh vibrant styles. Otherwise, he feels, the wine tends to lose the freshness that so distinctly marks out what he describes as “the New Zealandish white wine flavour and strong point”.

He prefers to save the big creamy bells and whistles for the variety where they are expected… Chardonnay.

My top wines from Spade Oak Vineyards, August 2016

2014 Spade Oak Vineyards Chardonnay $18-$19

This is a big, creamy crowd pleaser with all the soft, smooth Chardonnay bells and whistles, moderate acidity and a full body. It delivers good value at this price.

2014 Spade Oak Vineyards The Prospect Chardonnay Ormond $25

Machine picked grapes don’t usually tend to be treated to a full, 100% barrel fermentation because it’s a high cost winemaking technique, but it also results in an impressive, full bodied Chardonnay in this wine. It’s made from grapes grown on two historically important Gisborne Chardonnay vineyards (both formerly owned by Montana Wines and, later, by Pernod Ricard, but now owned by the contract winemaking facility, Indevin). This wine is a blend of grapes grown on both sites; Ormond Vineyard is warmer at night, has an earlier for harvest and adds the softness and roundness to the wine whereas Patutahi tends to provide grapes with a little more acidity and freshness due to higher day-night temperature variation.

2015 Spade Oak Vineyards Vigneron Chardonnay Gisborne $33

This is the flagship Chardonnay from Spade Oak wines and is the youngest of the trio here, made from hand harvested grapes and given full malolactic fermentation (which means 100% of the wine went through a second fermentation to soften the sharp malic acid into softer lactic acidity). It’s an impressive full bodied Chardonnay which is more about savoury flavours than buttery appeal, but successfully straddles both, thanks to wild yeast fermentation, which can tend to accentuate savoury flavours. This wine has rich flavours, a full body and a long finish.


2013 Spade Oak Vineyards Petit Manseng $32, 375ml (half bottle)

Four long rows grapes is a minuscule .4 of a hectare (in case you didn’t see the dot, that’s less than half a hectare) of very small grapes, which grow in very loose bunches and develop their pronounced ripe yellow raison-like flavours purely from hanging on the vines long after all other grapes have been harvested. Petit Manseng grapes have very thick skins, so they do not tend to develop fungal diseases and therefore they shrivel, which reduces their moisture, resulting in tropical fruit flavours of mango, pineapple and dried fruit flavours of figs and raisons. This grape was picked at 30-32 prix (high high high) and it still had 9-10 grams of natural acidity at harvest, which helps to balance its intense richness. It was my absolute favourite of this tasting, due to the balancing freshness of that impressive acidity, which stretches out the wine to a long finish.

Voysey has made four vintages of Petit Manseng and released two so there are two more in the pipeline.

This wine will drink well with tasty hard cheeses and will cellar for up to a decade, possibly beyond because its acidity lends it a long life.

2015 Spade Oak Vineyards Late Harvest Viognier RRP $32, 375ml (half bottle)

Saving the treacliest wine till last, this has a deep golden colour with intense orange and spice-like flavours and a medium plus finish. It’s like liquid honey in texture and will drink well with sweet creamy desserts.

Hawke’s Bay Pinot…

This story first appeared in New Zealand Winegrower magazine, August 2016.

Let’s play a word game: a winemaker says cool climate, active limestone and early ripening black grape variety. You say a black grape that fits the bill, which consumers know, like and want to buy.

If Pinot Noir springs to your lips, Hawke’s Bay probably doesn’t spring to mind because it has historically been considered this country’s most suitable region for mid to late ripening grapes, such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

The region’s winemakers are now keen to add another string to their red winemaking bow and they are increasingly experimenting with earlier ripening black grapes than traditional wisdom dictated.

Enter Pinot Noir and Gamay.

The two can stand on their own two feet and can also, literally, be thrown together to make Bourgogne Passetoutgrains, whose French name means all thrown together. This wine comes from Burgundy and must contain at least 30 percent Pinot Noir. It is described as a red thirst quencher in the new Oxford Companion to Wine and, while very little leaves France, a significant amount is produced there; almost two thirds the amount of Bourgogne Rouge.

The concept was inadvertently used by Grant Edmonds, head winemaker at Sileni Estates in Hawke’s Bay, where the winemaking team are sourcing Pinot Noir from vineyards in cooler areas in the Bay than where their Merlot and later ripening grapes grow.

They have also blended a smidgeon of Gamay into one of the winery’s accessibly priced Pinot Noirs, with good success. The amount was well below the threshold of 14.9% – it was in fact less than 5% – so did not need to be and was not named on the label.

“We get a little bit of Gamay from a grower and we find it works well as part of the blend. It has good colour, which is always handy to have with Pinot Noir,” Edmonds says.

Pinot Noir is the second most planted grape variety at Sileni Estates and is gaining importance for the winery, which is one of the biggest producers in Hawke’s Bay.

Edmonds and his winemaking team are sourcing Pinot Noir from two relatively cool climate vineyards.

The first of these is at Te Awanga, where the growing season is shortened by the cool coastal winds and the second is inland at Mangatahi, on the south side of the Ngaruroro River. The vineyard there is 120 metres above sea level, which instantly knocks one degree Celcius off its ripening temperatures.

The winds that sweep along this exposed hillside vineyard (planted at 150 metres above sea level) also cools down the temperatures there.

In viticultural terms, Edmonds suggests that the grapes ripening on this vineyard are ready to pick approximately seven to 10 days later than the other grapes that he sources from the plains.

“This is the difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy in terms of temperature. When we look at where the potential is to expand vineyards for Pinot Noir, we are looking beyond here to areas, such as the old river beds in Central Hawke’s Bay, mainly Waipawa and Waipukurau across to Highway 50 and beyond.”

Edmonds is not alone in seeing Pinot Noir’s positive potential in the Bay but because Sileni Estates’ wine production is relatively large, he can see it having a significant impact on the volume of Pinot from the Bay. He is therefore keen to shape a positive profile for Pinot Noir there.

Winemaker Rod Easthope from Easthope Winegrowers is likeminded.

“I have always thought Pinot Noir should and would work in Hawke’s Bay and I’m talking about greater Hawke’s Bay, not just pockets of it. In terms of calling us warm – as many do in a New Zealand context – we are still a cool climate by world standards. Therefore I don’t think our climate precludes us from producing good Pinot Noir at all.”

Easthope sees the biggest issues for Hawke’s Bay Pinot Noir as being the sometimes relatively high humidity and the rainfall, which is spread throughout the year. These factors produce big bunches, large berries and naturally high vigour. For this reason, he suggests that naturally high yields are the biggest issue, in terms of making high quality Pinot Noir in the Bay.

“I think it takes a bit more discipline to get the Pinot down to low numbers compared to what we are used to in the Bay. The results are there – Emma (Easthope – his winemaking partner in life and in business) and I did all the viticulture on it – one bunch per shoot and it works, in terms of quality. That’s why I come back to the commitment to really doing the business in the vineyard, which will give the results for high quality.”

While Easthope acknowledges that Syrah has been a success story for the Bay, its production remains relatively small – and, interestingly, barely more than Pinot Noir, in terms of plantings.

Cool, rainy vintages and lack of consumer knowledge also mean that Syrah has yet not gained the traction that many accolades suggest it could.

“Syrah’s volume is capped not by quality but rather because the consumer does not understand Syrah particularly strongly, whereas they instantly get what Shiraz is. That lack of consumer understanding of what Syrah is – coupled with Pinot Noir’s current global popularity and the odds are that mid ripening, medium bodied red wines are safer to bank on in this region,” says Easthope.

To date, the best known Hawke’s Bay’s Pinot Noirs have come from Lime Rock Wines in Central Hawke’s Bay, an area that Edmonds from Sileni is keen to explore.

“A lot of us in the Bay have talked about the potential for years but the distance has been off putting to us. Now, given the popularity of Pinot Noir, the time is right to consider it more strongly.”

Back in the Bay, Easthope’s punt is on Gamay, the traditional Beaujolais grape and also an ingredient in Burgundy’s Passetoutgrains, as mentioned in this story.

“I think Gamay is better suited to us for making a mid weight elegant red, which is the wine style that suits the way the world seems to be going. I’ve got a grower planting some for me and we’re managing a small parcel from Lucknow Estate at Maraekakaho, which is slightly inland, has plenty of daytime heat and slightly cooler nights than the Gimblett Gravels.”

While Easthope concedes that Gamay’s image has been somewhat tarnished by the Beaujolais Nouveau movement, he is keen to emphasise the high quality potential of Gamay grapes and the best Beaujolais, such as the villages and cru wines.

“I had a 1929 Morgon six or seven years ago, which was an incredible wine at a cru level (the top quality tier in Beaujolais). That was from an incredible vintage right across France but it also proved to have the ability to age in the long term,” says Easthope.

“I think Gamay could be our thing because it’s pretty much only New Zealanders who drink our own Bordeaux style reds and they’re expensive, so I think our future is on pretty, soft floral wines with serious structure, such as Gamays, perhaps Pinot Noir and also Syrah.”

The first Easthope Family Estates Gamay will be released in August this year from the 2015 vintage.


Fast facts: Grapes in Hawke’s Bay

The latest statistics show the three most planted grapes in Hawke’s Bay today as: Merlot (1080 hectares), Chardonnay (1006 hectares) and Sauvignon Blanc (937 hectares) followed by Pinot Gris with 439; Syrah with 332 and Pinot Noir with 331. Cabernet Sauvignon has declined from over 600 hectares in 2004 to 249 hectares today.