Courage and curiosity formed Chard Farm

Rob Hay first set eyes on the land that he planted in grapes at Chard Farm in August 1986. The arid slopes on the south side of Gibbston Valley were a merino sheep farm and locals regarded a vineyard there as an enormous waste of great farming country, but how times change. Yesterday’s lucrative farmland has become one of today’s most evocatively beautiful vineyards in the world. Chard Farm, for all its beauty, is not the only place vineyard that Rob owns or sources grapes from. When he planted the first grapes, he was a young university graduate and, in his own words, a failed computer scientist who had studied winemaking in Germany. A lucky connection with a cousin who worked on an orchard called Chard Farm got Rob and wife Gerdi interested and the rest is history. Chard Farm now encompasses vineyards in Gibbston as well as in Lowburn, Pisa, and Bannockburn. Rob and his long term winemaker John Wallace both make Pinot Noir that delicately reflects these dramatic landscapes. Oak is in the background. Red fruit flavours are in the foreground. Savoury flavours reign supreme in these gorgeous southern Pinot Noirs. Here are my notes on their latest.

2019 Chard Farm Mata-Au $45
This Pinot reminds me of the iron fist in a velvet glove  analogy. It’s made from three vineyard blocks in the Lowburn and Pisa area of Central Otago, which is slightly warmer than the Gibbston Valley, something this earthy, medium bodied, savoury tasting Pinot reflects beautifully. The wine spent 11 months aging in French oak with an extremely modest 18% new oak, which  is nicely integrated. The vineyards are Tiger, Viper and Mason (formerly owned by David Mason). All are now owned by Rob and Gerdi Hay of Chard Farm.

2019 Chard Farm River Run $33
Here is a light bodied, refreshing Pinot Noir made from estate vineyards in Gibbston, Lowburn and Pisa. This blend of grapes from two different sub regions in Central Otago is reflected in the earthy notes (flavours that always remind me of Gibbston Valley Pinot Noirs) and bright fruit flavours (more typical and classic of Lowburn and Pisa). It spent 10 months aging in oak, 13% new.

2019 Chard Farm Finla Mor $42
A bolder style of Pinot made mostly from grapes grown in the Cromwell area of Lowburn and Bannockburn. Powerful fruit flavours are held in check by Pinot Noir’s trademark fresh acidity and the wine spent 10 months French oak, 24% new. Of all three wines, this may be the one that most easily delivers on many wine lover’s expectations of a classic southern Pinot Noir, but each of these three wines delivers beauty in its own, individual right.

NZ Pinot Noir quality rising

Central Otago Pinot Noirs come in all shapes and sizes from light, fresh and fruity to deep, dense and full bodied because the diversity of this southernmost wine region in the world is enormous. Far from being a one trick pony, Central has at least four distinctive sub regions for grape growing, which is reflected in the wildly different styles of wine that come out of this vast area. In reality, there are more than four nuances and the areas include the Gibbston Valley (home to the earliest wineries in the modern days of Central wine), Bannockburn, Cromwell, Pisa, Lowburn and Northburn through to Wanaka in the north west and Alexandra in the south east. They range from dry and arid semi continental climates (most of them) to places with a hint of maritime influence, which is felt in Wanaka’s vineyards due to the lake and strong westerly winds that blow through.

Wine of the week

The wine of this week is Coal Pit Pinot Noir, a small scale wine made entirely from estate grown grapes on a sloping hillside, 12 hectare vineyard in Gibbston Valley, Central Otago. Soils here are schist on warm north facing slopes and Pinot Noir clones planted are a mix of 115, 10/5, 777 and 5. Some vines here date back to the original plantings in 1994 and remain on their own roots while others are now grafted. The Coal Pit Winery is owned by Rosie Dunphy, who bought the vineyard in 2001 and built a winery onsite in 2007. She named the Tiwha Pinot Noir in tribute to her late father. The Coal Pit winery name pays homage to the early pioneers and gold miners in the region.

2019 Coal Pit Tiwha Pinot Noir $56

This Coal Pit Pinot Noir is an outstanding expression of wine from the cool, late ripening Gibbston Valley where grapes are typically the last to be picked in the entire Central Otago region. The 2019 vintage was drier than usual and all grapes in this wine were hand harvested, 30% of which were added as whole bunches to the  ferment with wild yeasts and about a month of skin maceration time to extract colour and structure in the wine, which was aged in French oak for 10 months with 28% new oak.
The cool climate, elevated hillside vineyard and small production are key ingredients that go into making Coal Pit Tiwha Pinot Noir a wine that stands out from the crowd with its earthy robust style and delicacy. It is the classic iron fist in a velvet glove.

The artwork on the Tiwha label is by Chris Heaphy and the original painting hangs inside the winery tasting room.

The story and wines of Mondillo in Central Otago

American born Domenic and Ally Mondillo developed 65 hectares of vineyard land in Bendigo in 2001 when they stuck vines on three terraces of arid land in this warm corner of Central Otago. It’s a long way from the United States to the world’s southernmost wine region but the couple pioneered their vast vineyard here because Domenic believed the warmer climate in Bendigo provided ideal ripening for grapes. The mix of grapes they grow reflects the region’s strong dominance in Pinot Noir; overall Central’s vineyards are 80% planted in this early ripening red grape. It suits the cool climate and variable growing season. In homage to this, Domenic and Ally grow 10 hectares of Pinot Noir (clones 5, 114, 115. 667, 777 and Abel on four different rootstocks) and they have two hectares of Riesling. It was my privilege to taste their four latest wines; one Pinot and three different styles of the world’s most misunderstood mainstream white grape; Riesling, of course.

Domenic Mondillo has completed 49 vintages in total, 25 of them in Oregon in the United States of America, with the remainder in New Zealand.

New Mondillo wines

2018 Mondillo Pinot Noir $45.99, 13.5% ABV
This latest Mondillo Pinot Noir is made with grapes grown in the hottest summer on record in Bendigo, Central Otago. It’s often the first area in the region to harvest each year, in this case the grapes were picked in mid March 2018 and 100% destemmed before being fermented to 14.5% ABV. The finished wine was aged for 10 months in French oak, 25% new, which flatters this wine’s elegant red fruit flavours, providing silky flavours and textures. This wine drinks well now and will benefit from bottle age of at least four to five years. This is a lovely expression of Pinot Noir from the deep south.

2020 Mondillo Central Otago Riesling $25.99, 11.5% ABV
Delicious aromas of ripe peach, honey and kaffir lime seem to leap out of the glass as soon as this wine is poured. These bold, bright fruit flavours are balanced by a light refreshing body and lingering finish. If I had to nominate a first wine of the night, here it is; a medium style of Riesling with noticeable sweetness on the front palate and a crisp finish.

2020 Fantail Central Otago Riesling, 9% ABV
A sweeter style of Riesling with intense flavours of honeysuckle, candied lemon and limes, all combining to create an intensely flavour some wine with a super long finish.

2020 Mondillo Central Otago Nina $32.99
Nina is the sweetie of the Mondillo wine range, made from Riesling in years when natural botrytis occurs on the grapes, in this case an impressively high 60% botrytis, which occurred in cool autumn weather . The grapes were hand picked in the second week of May 2020 and just 960 bottles were made of this lusciously honeyed and lime zest tasting Riesling. It will match citrusy desserts beautifully, with its high acidity adding balance to the sweet taste. This is a rare wine made in small quantities which can evolve beautifully for 10 years plus.