Weekly wine Q&A… new phase at Luna

Joel Watson is the winemaker at Luna Estate; the new incarnation of the amalgamated Alana Estate and Murdoch James wineries.

Joel spoke with me early this week after the 25th Toast Martinborough wine, food and music festival, which gave us a chance to talk about replacing Sauvignon Blanc with Pinot Noir, moving countries and rebranding wineries. He was hired in January 2015 as winemaker for Alana Estate and Murdoch James, which have now been combined into  Luna Estate – which also happens to be the name of the daughter of the winery’s Wellington based owners, Charlie and Nancy Zheng, who are  property developers with a passion for Pinot Noir.

Here’s a little snippet of our chat.

How long have you been drinking wine?

Joel Watson: I had my first glass of wine when I was 14. Tim Turvey from Clearview Estate in Hawke’s Bay gave it to me; he’s an old family friend. I was a little kid and helped him put nets on his vineyard. I remember that wine really well, it was a poignant moment for me. It was  Chardonnay. He said ‘here, have a taste of this’ and I remember thinking it was really rich and round. I’ve been drinking wine ever since.

How has your wine drinking changed over the years?

Joel Watson: I drink less but better quality. I don’t try and taste now. I try and figure out how a wine feels in the mouth. I’ve got a thing called synaesthesia where one sense can cross over to another, so when I taste I see colours and shapes. I didn’t realise I was doing it until I seriously got into wine.

What’s your favourite colour or shape in a wine?

Joel Watson: I like it when I smell pink. When I taste that in a red wine, it reminds me of flowers.

When did you decide to dive in and work with wine?

Joel: When I was about 19 when I moved to Sydney and later to Melbourne where I worked in a big restaurant and this guy said ‘you’ll be perfect as a wine waiter’. I wanted an adventure, so I did it.

Do you miss hospitality?

Joel Watson: Sometimes. I must do because I opened up Little Square Pizza in Martinborough. It’s a massive change from serving wine to making it, but once you’ve done a few harvests, it’s amazing the cross over in skills that are needed in both.

What inspires your winemaking?

Joel Watson: Quality of fruit. We’ve got some amazing vineyards and it sounds cliché but wine does start in the vineyard. We have refocussed at Luna on Pinot Noir. We are spending more time and energy in the vineyards rather than in the winery.

What factors make wine so rewarding?

Joel Watson: Time and place. There are very few things that capture time and place as wine does, and there’s certainly no other agricultural product that inspires time and place in the way that wine does. Even when you’ve finished the bottle, there’s still a reminder of what you do. It’s a tactile reminder.

What trends do you see emerging with wine today?

Joel Watson: Low fi winemaking, which I support. I balk at the term ‘natural winemaking’ because there’s no such thing. Winemaking is a profoundly unnatural thing. But low-fi I like. So, I low-fi on most of the wines; particulary the single vineyard stuff. I add sulphur very late – I’ve got no problem using sulphur but it’s how you use it.

And young people who love wine as their alcohol of choice are an important trend. Wine is losing its air of exclusivity. It’s becoming more of an everyday thing. It’s about growing the culture of wine, for me. There seems to be more mindfulness now about wine and how it is enjoyed.

Three Luna Pinot Noirs

2016 Luna Pinot Noir $35, 12.5% ABV


This Pinot Noir will be made in significant volumes going forward and it’s an upfront fruity soft red with a medium body and fresh red cherry, plum and redcurrant flavours with a clean, dry finish. It drinks well now.


2016 Luna Eclipse Pinot Noir Martinborough $55, 13.5% ABV


Stony soils were home to the grapes that made their way into this bottle of Martinborough Pinot Noir, which puts its fruity foot forward in a very youthful, full bodied Pinot Noir, which is underpinned with savoury notes, in part due to being bottled unfined and unfiltered. It drinks well now but needs decanted two to three hours prior to drinking. It has potential for aging for four to five years, possibly beyond.

2016 Luna Blue Rock Pinot Noir $55, 13% ABV


Blue Rock Pinot Noir is my pick of the two top Pinot Noirs from Luna Estate  in Martinborough, thanks to its juicy, succulent, earthy flavours and and its full bodied style. It’s made from grapes grown on an elevated hillside vineyard south of Martinborough, planted in the Abel clone of Pinot – the region’s most highly prized Pinot clone. Blue Rock Vineyard is a slightly warmer site than many in the region, says winemaker Joel Watson, and this translates to the wine’s full body and earthy taste. It was bottled unfined and unfiltered and drinks best when decanted two to three hours prior to drinking. It can age for four to five years, possibly beyond in good cellaring conditions.

Taste history… Ata Rangi with Helen Masters on 19 October

I’ve always had a soft spot for Ata Rangi winery in Martinborough because it was one of the first and was pioneered by a man who knows how to follow his heart. Clive Paton. He’s at least as dedicated to environmental work these days as he is to wine because he has something of a penchant for replanting native trees all over the country in his role as advisor, fount of wisdom and passionate lover of nature for Project Crimson, but that’s another story.

Back when he founded Ata Rangi Wines, Clive was a single dad and a shear farmer with a love of red wine in a country awash with Lion Brown. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good beer, if you’re that way inclined, but Clive wasn’t. He lived in the Southern Wairarapa and had heard of a few fledgling wineries in Martinborough, so, one Saturday, he decided to go and take a look for himself, his young daughter Ness was along for the ride. He looked at a piece of land and instantly decided to buy it and grow vines to make wine. If you know Clive – or met him for the first time – you probably wouldn’t call him rash. He is quietly spoken and seems to be extremely considered, but that instant decision to follow his heart into wine was one that was not only spur of the moment, but changed his life for the better. His young daughter is now married with children of her own, which she shares with her husband who is another great winemaker – John Kavanagh of Te Kairanga Wines.  And Clive also has a long term partner in life and in wine in the fellow winemaker Phyll Pattie (who rarely talks of her days in winemaking since she manages marketing and pretty everything else at Ata Rangi).

The winemaker today is Helen Masters, who will present a stellar line up of the Ata Rangi wines at a tasting at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington on Thursday 19 October from 6pm to 8pm.

The cost is $50 per person and bookings are essential.

Book by calling Regional Wines, phone 04 385 6952 or hook onto the website here to book at Regional Wines…

The line-up on the night

2017 Ata Rangi Lismore Pinot Gris

2011 Ata Rangi Lismore Pinot Gris

2016 Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay

2012 Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay

2016 Ata Rangi Crimson

Ata Rangi Crimson (vintage TBC)

2014 Ata Rangi  McCrone Vineyard Pinot Noir

2013 Ata Rangi  McCrone Vineyard Pinot Noir

2015 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir

2010 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir

2008 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir

2014 Ata Rangi Célèbre

Craggy’s new top shelf reds launch…

It was frosty, clear, cold and intense start to the week at Craggy Range in Hawke’s Bay, but in the upstairs wine lab at Craggy Range, the following trio of reds shined a warmer light on the third strong New Zealand vintage in a row – 2015. Like all top shelf reds, this trio have been mellowing in barrel prior to their official release onto shop shelves and into our glasses this week.

Craggy’s top trio of 2015 reds

Craggy Range’s new Prestige Collection reds launched in June this year and represents the third consecutive strong vintage in a row, says winemaker Matt Stafford, who says yields were down 50% for 2015 Craggy Range Aroha Te Muna Pinot Noir and also, to a lesser extent, for 2015 Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah, due to a cool start to vintage but a warm dry summer resulted in these beauties.

New Craggy Sophia

 2015 Craggy Range Sophia $115

Three grapes vie for attention in this top new red – made from 73% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Cabernet Franc, all contributing body and fruit weight. The soft richness comes from the hefty Merlot component while the two Cabernets provide dark fruity notes.

The 2015 Craggy Range Sophia was aged for 19 months in French oak (45% new).

It drinks… well right now but will further age for 9 to 10 years; possibly longer.


New Le Sol Syrah

2015 Craggy Range Le Sol $135

A cool spring provided plenty of nervous anticipation to the Craggy Range wine team but a warm dry spell in mid to late January saw temperatures rise over 30 degrees Celcius and the result is this lovely wine that’s intense in every way from its deep purple colour to its full body, high but balanced tannins and acidity and its long, smooth finish.

The 2015 Le Sol was aged for 17 months in French oak (30% new oak).

It drinks… well right now and has strong aging potential for 9 to 10 years +.


New Pinot

2015 Craggy Range Aroha Pinot Noir $135

First made in 2006 and produced every year since, with the exception of 2010, this Martinborough Pinot Noir is made 100% from grapes grown in the Te Muna area; 9 kilometres west of the township. A higher proportion of whole bunches are used than in the past – now 50%, which add what Stafford describes as a spicy note. And there has also been a significant reduction in the use of new oak (now at 30%).

The 2015 Aroha was aged for 9 months in French oak (30% new).

It drinks… well now with smooth full body, and can age for 9-10 years.


These wines are in store now at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington where I spend a portion of my week working on tastings and all manner of other fascinating, tasty wine related things.