Wild Canterbury Pinot pushes beautiful boundaries

I’d heard vicious rumours of dry July but it must’ve been somewhere else because Martinborough was extremely wet last month and so were the insides of my wine glass. One of the best wines of the month was a wild ferment Pinot Noir from a region that is among my go-to, all time favourite places when it comes to drop dead deliciously good wines, most of which are made by small, family owned producers. That place is North Canterbury. And this pre amble is my segue into a long awaited review on one of New Zealand’s most individualistic wines… Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir.

It’s a wine that reminds of a blog I read this week about limits, which said that the limits we place on ourselves in life are often echoed in the way we live and work. The outcome of imposing staunch limits on ourselves can be a reliable one but may not always be an exciting or particularly adventurous journey along the way, which reminded me of the story behind the Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir; one of this country’s most maverick wines.

It was first made in 2012 as an experiment. The first bottles for commercial sale were made four years later from the 2016 vintage. Components of Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir can be blended into the Estate Pinot Noir, which can add complexity, softness and savoury flavours to that wine. The Vineyard Ferment Pinot, meanwhile, is definitely a different take on the Pinot theme. It can seem light, at first appearance, and this is because the cool temperature in the vineyard means there is less extraction than would be typical for a Pinot Noir made in the winery where cap management (plunging or pump overs of the skins through the wine) result in finished wines with more colour. But appearances can be deceiving and Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir is one of the reasons that this winery is consistently among my top five New Zealand wine producers every year. Its wines drink superbly well when first released and they taste even better with age; after they have been cellared for a few years in the bottle.

Wine of the week

19/20

2019 Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir $69.99

Best vintage ever of Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir, which has been made four times commercially and began life as an experiment back in 2012. I love this wine’s powerful body and velvety seductive flavours. It’s made from hand picked grapes  fermented in situ in the vineyard in small tanks, which are now permanently in place. Wild yeasts from the vineyard and cool night time temperatures both slow down the fermentation and the finished wine is aged for 15 months in barrels inside the winery. The oak is French and is a mixture of two to five years old.

Big wine, small volumes, sensational.

Paper Nautilus new release

There’s nothing like a massive writing deadline to put paid to nearly everything else in life and with the deadline looming faster than bears thinking about, I am extremely focussed on creating a good read and obsessively researching to ensure the facts are on the nail as well. The new project will be revealed in the fullness of time and in the meantime, here is last week’s blog, intended to be published on Friday but with a deadline hanging over me like a dark cloud, well, sorry, it’s taken a while but good things are worth the wait.

And with that thought in mind, the 2020 Paper Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc is a good thing. It’s named after the Paper Nautilus, which is said to be a rare sea creature which occasionally washes up on secluded beaches around the Marlborough Sounds. An apt image then for the distant cousin of the Nautilus which is the logo of this well known winery.

Wine of the week

18.5/20

2020 Paper Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc $35

Dry, fresh and medium bodied, the Paper Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc is a refreshingly different take on the well worn Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc theme and tastes of smooth, lightly creamy notes with a touch of fresh lemon zest on the finish. Like its sea creature cousin, The 2020 Paper Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc is something of a rarity too since only 300 cases are made from hand picked grapes which are fermented in large old oak barrels and at a warmer temperature than is typical for Sauvignon. This is to de accentuate the overt fruitiness of Sauvignon’s tropical flavours. It’s made from grapes grown on the oldest vineyard owned by Nautilus Estate Wines at Renwick in the Wairau Valley.

This is the fifth release of The Paper Nautilus.

The Chenin mystery, a wine of the week

Joelle Thomson’s weekly column is published on Fridays.

The decline of Chenin in New Zealand remains a mystery
11 June 2021

South African wines made headlines in one of the most respected newspapers in the world this year because of a relatively obscure grape variety, Chenin Blanc, which can hold its own with the finest white wines, wrote UK critic Jancis Robinson MW in the Financial Times last month. It will come as good news to South Africa’s winemakers whose industry has had it tough in the past 12 months due to three total bans on the sale of alcohol since the Covid pandemic began. It could also bode well for New Zealand winemakers looking for a segue from Sauvignon Blanc.

Wine of the week

18.5/20
2018 Astrolabe Wrekin Chenin Blanc $32

Another deliciously succulent Chenin Blanc from winemaker Simon Waghorn, who fermented this wine in a combination of oak and stainless steel to add complexity and roundness but retain fruit freshness. Wild yeasts were used in this wine’s fermentation which can accentuate a more diverse range of flavours in wines. This is all about fresh flavours of lemon with a hint of grapefruit, held together in a dry style with a medium body and great long finish, thanks to the acidity, which makes every mouthful taste zingy – and will also see this wine through to a ripe old age. Acid is a great preserver. A delicious Astrolabe Chenin, as always.

It’s always seemed unusual to me that Chenin Blanc produced in New Zealand tastes so fresh and ages so well but has declined in production over the past 20 years from 1041 hectares nationwide in 2001 to 79 hectares in 2010 to nothing mentioned today, which is code for unimportant and barely any left. The last time that New Zealand Winegrowers reported an actual figure was in 2016 when there were 24 hectares of it left. Today Chenin Blanc is lumped in with the ‘other varieties’ which total 395 grapes and include some unpromising interlopers as well as this great white.

Sad. It does make me sad because the quality of good Kiwi Chenin Blanc continues to rise, as a new wine from an old winery showed a group I was doing staff training with this week at Wellington’s biggest independent wine store, Regional Wines & Spirits.

One of the wines I showed the tasters (which was presented blind, alongside another dry white), was my wine of the week, above, the 2018 Astrolabe Wrekin Chenin Blanc, whose maker says that Chenin flourishes in the New Zealand climate. Winemaker Simon Waghorn makes this wine from grapes wine was grown on a clay slope on the Wrekin Vineyard in Marlborough’s Southern Valleys. This vineyard is in conversion to organic certification with BioGro New Zealand. All the grapes are hand picked, fermented with wild yeasts, partially in barrel, partially in stainless steel to retain fruit freshness. “I love Chenin Blanc because of its crisp acidity and ability to age…” says Waghorn.
I’ll echo those sentiments. If only we had more, sob sob. It really does seem a shame, especially when so many winemakers talk about finding an interesting alternative and dive deep down the pathway of even more obscure, harder to pronounce varieties such as Gruner Veltliner, Viognier and Arneis but won’t venture down a path with a proven track record of greatness, namely, Chenin Blanc. It’s not that those other whites will not do well in this country. Some will. Some won’t. But Chenin Blanc is one of the greatest whites in the world in terms of its vibrant personality and ability to age for decades and its natural tendency to produce relatively large crops. This means it is easier to make money from than, say, Viognier or Gewurztraminer, which are both tricky to grow and harder to pronounce, making both a challenge to sell. Chenin Blanc is easy to pronounce and even easier to understand because it is nearly always dry and rarely has new oak which keeps its price down. Despite the small volumes, there are many good and some outstanding ones in good vintages, such as Chenins from Forrest Estate, Mount Edward, Easthope Family Winemakers, Margrain Vineyard and, best known of all, The Millton Vineyard.

The quality is always high and the prices never are. The decline of Chenin in New Zealand remains a mystery.

Find out more about South African Chenin Blanc at www.chenin.co.za