Joelle Thomson Writer

Author, journalist, speaker

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Wines of the week… First hillside vineyard comes of age

It seems fitting that a trio of German brothers should be the ones to make New Zealand’s biggest selling Riesling, even if it is a miniscule trickle of their total wine production. I’m talking about the Giesen bros, who arrived in New Zealand from Germany in 1979 and started making wine on a whim in 1981, bottling their first wines in 1984.

They made Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc right from the start, even though they were based in Canterbury, so it’s no surprise that they later moved their winemaking, lock, stock and all the oak barrels up to Marlborough. It was a smart move for a savvy (if you’ll excuse the intentional pun) bunch of brothers. Theo, Alex and Marcel later decided to bid for Marlborough’s first hillside vineyard and that has turned out to be one of the best moves they’ve ever made.

In 2015 they acquired Clayvin Vineyard; the first hillside block ever to be planted in vines in Marlborough. It’s 100% certified organic with BioGro NZ, the country’s leading and best known  organic certifier.


Size counts…

Giesen may be a big name but like most large wine producers, there is a long history and steady supply of capital to underpin its production. This means there are plenty of resources to fund the exacting standards of organic certification and the high quality of relatively low priced wines, such as New Zealand’s biggest selling Riesling – Giesen Estate Riesling. A delicious drop, even if I do say so myself – and I say so not only as a wine journalist but as a wine lover and drinker who regularly purchases this wine.

One in every four bottles of Riesling sold in New Zealand is Giesen Estate Riesling and in Australia it is in the top five. That’s no mean feat in a country where Riesling now lags significantly behind the relatively neutral but safe gateway provided by Pinot Gris. 

Last month, the Giesen team invited me down to look around the vineyards, taste through their entire production and learn more about this big and impressive winery. It was a chilly day standing on Clayvin Vineyard, sipping on the 2014 Clayvin Marlborough Pinot Noir, but the cool temperatures were more than made up for by the greatness of this wine, which puts forward a strong case for high quality Marlborough Pinot Noir.

Bargain buy

2018 Giesen Estate Riesling $14 to $15

Lime zest, green apples, fresh, fruity, refreshing, lingering… Every box of good taste is ticked in this youthful Riesling from Giesen, which was made from a single vineyard in Marlborough’s Awatere Valley this year. The source of grapes changes each year and the aim is to produce a consistent, concentrated and refreshing Riesling. It succeeds in all those things and more – it’s outstanding value for money. The style is medium dry.

Treat of the week

2017 The Boneline Wai-iti Pinot Noir $32.99

Hand harvested grapes and fermentation in small vats are the story of this outstanding Pinot Noir from the tricky cool weather of the 2017 vintage. Not that you’d know it was a tough year because this wine walks a tasty tightrope of beautifully balanced red fruit flavours with refreshing high acidity, a full body and a long, succulent finish. The grapes were grown on a terraced vineyard on the Glasnevin Gravels in North Canterbury. The winemaker is Paul Goodege. This is a stunning North Canterbury Pinot Noir.


Reaching for the stars

2014 Clayvin Marlborough Pinot Noir $55.99

This top shelf Marlborough Pinot Noir was made from hand harvested, organically certified grapes grown on Marlborough’s first hillside vineyard. It is full bodied but elegant thanks to the balance of zingy acidity that adds freshness to every lingering sip.

Worth it? Absolutely.

A total stunner that drinks well now and has another eight to nine years up its sleeve; possibly longer.


 Clayvin vineyard fast facts

Now owned by Giesen – purchased in 2015

Previously owned by Fromm

Certified organic vineyard with BioGro NZ

Planted by Mike Eaton

Low planted vines at high density

Marlborough’s first hillside vineyard

Wines of the week… Walking and wine

Spanish wine is hot but its most famous walk is not always so, as a new Kiwi film to hit the big screen this week shows in bold and beautiful colour. Camino Skies is the brainchild of Fergus Grady and Noel Smyth, who co-directed, co-produced and walked the entire 800 kilometres while filming, running ahead of the traumatised trekkers to reveal the place as well as the raw emotion behind the walkers’ lives.

It’s pretty punishing to walk 800 kilometres when you’re feeling sick with shock and sadness but that’s the whole point, say Grady and Smyth, whose film covers the journey of six Kiwis and Aussies who walked the Camino to come to terms with their personal struggles, including depression, shock and heartbreak. It’s a positive and uplifting film, despite the subject matter.

Read my review of Camino Skies over the Good magazine site here:

And while we’re talking about uplifting, this week’s trio includes wines from Spain and New Zealand, including a ten year old museum re-release from one of the South Island’s most famous wineries, Pegasus Bay.

This winery began to keep a small supply of its great wines from top years back in 2006. The aim was to offer wine drinkers the chance to taste wines in full maturity; something that is relatively rare.

Pegasus Bay’s vineyard and winery are in the Waipara Valley, North Canterbury; one of this country’s most under the radar wine regions. Its vines may look out to the majestic Southern Alps, but they live in the shadow of their even more dramatic looking southern neighbour, Central Otago, where Pinot Noir rules the roost with 80% of the region’s vineyards.

The wines of North Canterbury can be every bit as statuesque as their southern counterparts, as the 2009 Pegasus Bay Prima Donna below shows.

Bargain buy

2017 Telmo Rodriguez Dehesa Gago $19

Spain’s most continental wine region is Toro DO in the  north west; home to the grapes in this deep, dark and flavoursome 100% Tinta de Toro  – aka Tempranillo with bells on. Toro’s hot days, cool nights and low harvests combine to create bold, spicy, full bodied reds, often made from bush vines. All grapes in this wine were hand picked. Good quality and great value.


Treat of the week

2017 Luna Estate Pinot Noir Martinborough $28ish

Tricky vintages often produce the best wine or should that be: good winemakers tend to put their best foot forward in tough years. Joel Watson of Luna Estate in Martinborough has done just that in this newly released 2017 Luna Estate Pinot Noir from Martinborough. Concentration, vibrant freshness and a long finish are all present and counted here. The wine is made from hand harvested grapes, which were given a long pre ferment maceration to extract structure. A great response to a chilly year.

Reaching for the stars

2009 Pegasus Bay Reserve Prima Donna Pinot Noir Aged Release $120

Prima Donna is a selection of Pinot Noir from the best barrels at Pegasus Bay, chosen by winemakers through meticulous tasting research in the cellar and it’s a huge step up from the already outstanding Pegasus Bay estate Pinot Noir. All grapes in this wine were harvested from vines that are over 30 years old, many ungrafted (also rare these days). About 33% were fermented as whole bunches with wild yeasts and  maturation was in French oak from Burgundy (40% new) . This full bodied ten year old North Canterbury Pinot Noir has a great balance of earthy, spicy notes, refreshing acidity and a long finish.

Wines of the week… Winter whites that are Zen

The first Zen Chardonnay from 2017 Skeetfield Vineyard in Hawke’s Bay






Everyone’s trying to make the most kickass Chardonnay New Zealand has ever seen so it’s no surprise that two them have passed my lips (and made my eyes water with their high prices) in the past fortnight.

Are they worth it? It’s a million dollar question, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Chardonnay is the third most planted grape in New Zealand, a position it holds onto by the skin of its early ripening vinous teeth. The ever popular Pinot Gris is nudging Chardonnay’s dominance in third position but it can never make the big, buttery, creamy styles that Chardonnay lovers desire.

These flavours and more are all present and counted in Tony Bish’s new Zen Chardonnay and in the new full bodied Le Beaux Cailloux (French for the beautiful stones) from Craggy Range. Both are from Hawke’s Bay’s 2017 vintage and both cost $139.99 per bottle.

Tony Bish says his 2017 Zen Chardonnay is a world first.

Hand picked grapes grown on the Skeetfield Vineyard were fermented in an ovum, hence, the world first claim. And if you haven’t heard of an ovum before (I hadn’t), it’s a large egg shaped French oak barrel made by Taransaud in Cognac near Bordeaux. Bish bought it to ferment Chardonnay in because its oval shape provides conditions for a different spectrum of flavours to develop while the wine ferments. I’m no expert on the physics of fermentation but Zen is pretty impressive and tastes more like a dry white burgundy than a fruit forward New Zealand Chardonnay. Not that one is necessarily always better than the other just because of its origins. Zen holds its own for several days after being open too. The name came from how it made him feel, living with the ovum in his cellar for a year.

Reaching for the stars

2017 Zen Chardonnay $139.99

Hand harvested, whole bunch pressed Mendoza Chardonnay grapes from the Skeetfield Vineyard were fermented with indigenous yeasts from the vineyard for two to three weeks. No cold settling took place and there were no settling agents or any additions made to the wine. The wild vineyard yeasts played a critical part in the development of the wine, says Tony, because they add their own nuances to the complexity of the wine.

Natural malolactic fermentation took place and the wine matured for 12 months in the ovum, in a temperature-controlled barrel room. It was then racked several times and bottled without fining or filtration.

The grapes grown on the Skeetfield Vineyard are dry farmed, which means they never receive any irrigation. This encourages their roots to reach deep into the water table below the ground.

This wine is smooth and creamy, dry and nutty in style with zingy acidity providing a lingering finish to each sip.



Treat of the week

2018 Sons of Eden Cirrus Riesling,  $52.99

Dry Riesling grown at 520 metres altitude in the Eden Valley; the cool climate that borders the better known Barossa, in South Australia.

This is the third vintage of this wine made by Corey Ryan, co-owner of the new-ish Sons of Eden wine brand. He produces a modest 1200 bottles each year. The wine is fermented with wild yeasts without lees contact  to make a pure expression of the Riesling grape.

This wine tastes clean, fresh, medium bodied and citrusy. It’s drinking well now and has a very long life ahead; up to 20 years, in a good cellar, thanks to the wine’s zesty acidity, which will preserve it over time, and to the screwcap closure.

Bargain buy

2018 Mount Edward Pinot Blanc $26.99

Pinot Blanc might be the lesser known cousin to the hugely popular Pinot Gris, but I prefer it by far, thanks to fresh dry whites like this one. This is nearly full bodied with zingy vibrant acidity adding a super long finish to a dry, classy white. It costs a little bit more than most bargain buys but once tasted, it’s easy to see why it cruises into my bargain buy – drink less, savour the moment, push the boat out. Try it.

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