Many people have a dream retirement job while others retire so that they can dream. Steve Davies was in the first camp when he longed for a small vineyard of his own to plant in grapes, make top notch wine and fund his later years and create a job he loves. In 2002, he began to do just that, buying about four hectares of land on a windy, elevated site on Hall Road in Bannockburn, Central Otago. He built a modest house, planted three hectares of Pinot Noir right next to it and has since set about creating a successful brand of Pinot Noir. The Central Otago winemaker named his site and his wine Doctors Flat Vineyard Pinot Noir. He has since added Chardonnay to the schist soils on site, which were carved out by glacial ice deposited approximately 480,000 years ago. It won’t take quite that long for his first Chardonnay to appear but he is in no rush to coax a full bodied, dry textural white from the site. It’ll take a couple of years for the first grapes to come on stream and when they do, he will wait until the flavours and structure of the crop can provide what he’s looking for. In the meantime, Steve pours his energies into refining his Pinot Noir, adapting his pruning methods and farming the land along organic guidelines, though he is not certified organic yet.
Wine of the week
2017 Doctors Flat Bannockburn Pinot Noir $51.50
The tight tannins in this wine are the result of super low crops in 2017, which wasn’t a hot year and had poor flowering in December, so the overall volume of wine was significantly reduced. Add to that a staunch nor’ westerly wind, which can cool off Doctors Flat Vineyard, creating thicker grape berry skins and more robust, dark fruit flavours, accentuated by savoury spice flavours and a firm, long finish. This wine is super youthful right now and will benefit hugely from another six to 12 months in bottle, which will give it time to mellow and get comfortable in its own firm tannic skin. It is a big, dark fruity style. Robust, potentially long lived, although perhaps not since it tastes deliciously spicy right now, when decanted and given time to open up in the glass.
- The first vintage of Doctors Flat Bannockburn Pinot Noir was 2008 with 200 cases. This has grown now to about 800 cases, occasionally more, when the wind doesn’t decide to decimate potential production of Pinot.
Tony Bish is, for many, the Hawke’s Bay king of Chardonnay. Not that he is alone in producing superlative dry whites in New Zealand’s second biggest wine region.
He has earnt the mantle as King of Chardonnay because he has dedicated his Urban Winery (a bar, restaurant and working winery) entirely to Chardonnay; the world’s most popular wine grape. The wine at the top of his Chardonnay tree is called Zen and it’s not cheap. A single bottle goes for $139.99, give or take, depending on where you shop. Its named Zen because that’s how Tony felt when he was making this wine and it was fermenting in the French oak egg that he used to produce it.
Zen is made from dry farmed old vine Mendoza clone Chardonnay grapes grown on the Skeetfield Vineyard in Hawke’s Bay. I tasted it with five others in the weekend, including wine lovers and professionals. We all found it to be a wine that wowed us. It is a full bodied, creamy textured, silky expression of Chardonnay with a weighty body, ripe citrus and stone fruit flavours, zesty acidity to add freshness and a long finish. Whatever it is that maturation in a French oak egg does to a wine, it certainly gives this stunningly textural full bodied Chardonnay the X factor.
2019 Tony Bish Zen Chardonnay $139.99
I can’t say it better than this: Zen is a full bodied, creamy textured, silky expression of Chardonnay with a weighty body, ripe citrus and stone fruit flavours, zesty acidity to add freshness and a long finish. Whatever it is that maturation in a French oak egg does to a wine, it certainly gives this stunningly textural full bodied Chardonnay the X factor. If you thought you liked Chardonnay beforehand, you’re bound to love it after drinking Zen.
- The bottle of Zen that I tasted (and yes, also enjoyed drinking) was 1666 of 2450 bottles produced from the 2019 vintage.
- In an increasing bid to make this website more relevant, I am writing the first of what I hope will be many Best new releases, to be published when time permits in the life of a full time writer and wine adviser.
It’s big, it’s bold, it’s voluptuous and it nearly died out last century, but now Viognier has its own international day.
The first International Viognier Day was launched this year by Yalumba Wines. This South Australian winery has done much to revive this grape’s flagging fortunes by working on Viognier clonal selection and setting up the first ever Viognier Symposium in 2002 as well as encouraging other wineries to produce this full bodied, flavoursome white wine, which has distinctive intense peachy aromas and tends to lend itself to high alcohol, viscous (high glycerol) dry white wines. There are now (at last count) at least 500 Australian wineries making Viognier and at least 4,395 hectares of Viognier grown around the world, according to the Wine Grapes encyclopedia. There are 299 hectares of Viognier growing on record in New Zealand, which may not sound like much but which is also a far cry from the miniscule 14 hectares which were grown world wide in the mid 20th Century, all of them on the steep right bank of the northern Rhone Valley in France.
“Viognier first caught the eye of the family owned Yalumba Wines in the early 1970s. At the time, plantings were limited to the tiny appellations of Condrieu and Côte Rôtie, France,” says Robert Hill-Smith, of Yalumba.
In 1980, Yalumba planted 1.2 hectares of Viognier vines in Eden Valley, which represented the first significant plantings of Viognier in Australia. These plantings are now amongst the oldest in Australia.
There are now four Viogniers produced by Yalumba. The top wine is Virgilius, named from the vineyard of the same name in the Eden Valley in South Australia. www.internationalviognierday.com