Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


Humility and hot vintages in Martinborough and What's in my glass this week

Martinborough is no stranger to baking hot days and cool nights but is this year unseasonally dry or does it just seem that way after two rainy harvests in 2022 and 2023?

As I wrote the opening to this week's What in my glass column, the sun was shining and the wind blowing, both drying out the earth, on a day that was originally forecast for wind and rain. Fast forward to today and the earth remains as dry as a bone while the grass more closely resembles burnt stumps of hay. Pity the poor sheep trying to find moisture from dry sunburnt grass, but for winemakers, there is a strong sense of optimism in the air, despite predictions from some that this will be a smaller than hoped for vintage. 

One of those predictions comes from my neighbour directly across the road, a man who laughs if he is ever described as a winemaker because he began his working life in nursing. Be that as it may, my neighbour John Douglas was the first person to plant grapes on Te Muna Road in Martinborough in 1996, pioneering winemaking in a valley best described as magnificent. Its wide sweeping beauty is flanked with rolling hills on one side and the vast Nga Waka a Kupe hills of Maori legend on the other, which resemble three upturned canoes - you have to be there to see it. Back then, Te Muna was an outlier to the well known vineyards around Martinborough village; today there are approximately 320 hectares of vines growing in Te Muna which puts it almost exactly on par with Bannockburn in Central Otago, which has 340 hectares of vines and is home to famous brands such as Felton Road, Domain Road, Te Kano and Doctors Flat, not to mention Mt Difficulty and a some of the region's greatest vineyards. 

Back on the less well known Te Muna Road in Martinborough, Douglas may play it low key and his vineyard may be relatively small at 3.5 hectares, but his dedication to making certified organic wine (at a fraction of the cost of other neighbouring wines) makes for exceptionally good value. 

This year, Douglas told me he is planning to go back to his original aim; to make one wine and make it the best he can. There will no longer be a reserve wine, simply one Pinot Noir that he calls Te Hera, which translates in Maori to the sail. That's another story but here are my thoughts on the wine and its price, which undoubtedly needs to rise. 

What I'm drinking this week

2021 Te Hera Pinot Noir RRP $29.99

Certified organic grapes, hand harvested and given wild yeast fermentation are the back story to this full bodied expression of Pinot Noir from one of the windiest corners of New Zealand's vineyard scene - Te Muna Road in Martinborough. It is the most easterly area in the district in which grapes grow and also elevated so that the region's winds routinely decimate potential crop levels at flowering in spring. That said, the quality shines and especially in this new release from the 2021 vintage in Martinborough, which was a dry year with small grapes with thick skins, all of which translate into a dark, intensely aromatic Pinot with body to burn. Winemaker John Douglas aged this wine for 11 months in mostly old oak with 10% new oak sitting nicely in the background, framing the wine's smooth tannic structure and fruit depth. 

This is an outstanding Pinot Noir that can foot it with the best from this region and comes at a mere fraction of the price. Many wines of this quality sell for almost double the price, some for even more. 

  • Tasted blind with a team of wine professionals

2019 Royal Tokaji Harslevelu Dry RRP $32.99

This wine was one of the three highlights of last week's tastings. Was it a restrained Chablis, an aged Chenin Blanc or something else? I decided on the something else immediately as the creamy subtly spicy character and tinge of fresh thyme aroma suggested not only complexity but sensational balance. And here it is; a Harslevelu, which is a widely planted and popular grape in Hungary but pretty unknown everywhere else. The Royal Tokaji company is doing an absolutely stellar job with this wine. It tastes so fresh, dry and layered with flavour that its taste lingers long after the bottle has disappeared. 

Sealed with a screw cap. 

2018 Joseph Drouhin Moulin-a-Vent RRP $39.99

This wine puts forward an impressive case for great quality cru Beaujolais. Its ripe, smooth dark fruit flavours, hints of spice and firm full bodied structure all seem to suggest a more noble grape than the humble Gamay which shines in this great red. Drinking beautifully now. Undoubtedly has potential for another four to five years of age.