Wine talk: pruning with the phone on silent – a privilege

John Forrest is in the Waitaki Valley in North Otago when we speak this morning. It’s a region he holds close to his heart and his tasting glass.

“I love the wines from here, they express Chardonnay at its finest, with a crisp, Chablis-like texture and weight and the Pinot Noirs are incredibly too,” says the Marlborough winemaker, who gave up a career in neurophysiology for one in winemaking in 1988.

“The Government had announced it was pulling funds for science research and the writing was on the wall, so I went home to Marlborough to make wine instead. I figured, being a scientist, I could teach myself to make wine and I also learnt from some of the best, including Alan McCorkindale.”

Forrest segued into wine after visiting California, where the wines ignited his passion for good wine.

He plans to plant more vines in the Waitaki Valley, when vines become available. This will add to his currently modest tally of six hectares, which is all planted with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a little Pinot Gris. Forrest was one of the first to plant in the Waitaki Valley when he planted part of his Tatty Bogler Vineyard there in 2003. He and his wife Brigid, also a doctor, established Forrest Estate Wines in Marlborough in 1988. His first vintage was 1990 and that year he won the Air New Zealand Director’s Trophy for the 1990 Forrest Estate Rosé, a serendipitous wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. 

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Figuring out how to make halfway decent low alcohol wine. The biggest criticism when low alcohol beer and wine came along was that they were thin and dilute. We’ve sorted that out, without chemistry or trickery. It’s not all that I want to be known for. Watch this space.

What is your current state of mind?

Excited, energised and full of new ideas. My daughter has taken over the bullshit of running a company from me, so I’m having a ball being able to explore new ideas now.

I love pruning and last year I got to prune all our Albarino since I couldn’t go overseas. Every plant looks fantastic. I love it.

What is your favourite part of winemaking?

I love it all but blending is my favourite for the intellectual and physical challenges it brings.

Do you have a most treasured wine?

Old vine Brancott John Forrest Riesling. Those wines under screwcap from 2001 onwards are stunning.

Where is your favourite wine region?

Waitaki Valley. There’s an energy and a vibrancy about standing on the top of a hill in the Waitaki.

When and where are you at your happiest?

In my vineyard with no one else around. I love pruning because every good cut makes great wine. Doing it on a sunny day with my phone on silent is a special privilege.

What do you most dislike in wine?

Wines that are made to a formula or a process and don’t show any personality. Factory wines that could have been made so much better. I think: why?

What is your greatest fear?

Something biological that could turn the industry upside down, like Pearce’s Disease. When you have a monoculture like we have in Marlborough, we are at risk.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Good wine.

What is your greatest regret?

Not buying 100 hectares of bare Marlborough land about 12 years ago, given what it’s worth now.

What talent would you most like to have?

A musical one. I have a wonderful banjo that my daughter bought for me five years ago and I’m just hopeless.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Not having good friends and family.

What is the trait that you most deplore in yourself?

Impatience and intolerance.

What do you most value in your friends?

Good company and humour. I like having conversations with humour.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

At the moment, it’s caution. You’d never do anything in life if you were cautious all the time.

What is your favourite meal?

Fresh Marlborough blue cod, steamed Asian style with fresh ginger. Beautiful.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing what would it be?

Can I come back as what I am? A winemaker. I can’t think of a better life. A dog would also be nice with people who love you.

Six of the best… different wines for summer

These six wines are all new-ish in New Zealand, thanks to Ric Little and Mark Young, importers who have spent the past year working on finding fresh new styles to offer in this country via their company, Vintners New Zealand.

The Auckland based duo sent these six wines to glean thoughts about them from an independent wine critic, namely, yours truly. It’s a tough job and all that jazz. The word best sprang to mind because these wines offer variety;  the spice of life that wine can offer so much of.

18.5/20

2020 Dune Tirari RRP $26.99

Here’s a deliciously different wine from South Australian brothers Peter and Duncan Lloyd, who were brought up with wine in McLaren Vale, South Australia, which is an experimental hotbed for interesting varieties. Flavours here are all about ripe licorice balanced by soft plummy fruit flavours balanced by firm acidity which adds structure and length to every interestingly quirky sip.

They used five grapes which originate in five different countries to make this interesting new take on Australian red wine. The grapes are Touriga (originally from Portugal), Grenache (French), Negroamaro (Italian), Mourvedre (French/Spanish) and Shiraz (Australia’s stock in trade).

17.5/20

2020 Koerner The Clare Red RRP $48.99

A big bold Aussie classic from another pair of brothers, Damon and Jono Koerner, in this case, who won the 2019 Young Gun of the Wine award and are all about enhancing the place and grape variety rather than pushing ripeness too far. I love the slightly cooler climate expression of Australia in this wine, which is made from grapes grown in the Watervale area of the Clare Valley.

16.5/20

2020 Prosper Maufoux Macon-Villages RRP $29.99

France is the traditional home to the Chardonnay grape and this wine is an affordable expression of it made by the Piffaut family. This wine is medium bodied and refreshing with flavours of rock melon, citrus and white peach. It has a medium finish and offers good value for an insight into Chardonnay from Burgundy’s southernmost outpost. It may have been the bottle that I had, but I found this wine slightly short on the finish, hence my score of high bronze.

17.5/20

2019 Martin Codax Mara Martin Godello RRP $24.99

Godello is one of the most exciting white grapes in Spain today and this one offers depth and freshness without having to cut off a limb for the privilege of enjoying such a zesty flavoursome wine. It’s a great with-seafood drink and equally delish on its own. It’s made by a family which has traditionally specialised in the exceptionally trendy Albarino in Rias Baixas in Galicia.

17.5/20

2019 Nivarius Tempranillo Blanco RRP $22.99

Aromatic dry white made from an extremely characterful tasting grape with flavours of ripe peach, tangelos, mandarin zest and grapefruit. It’s off dry in taste and made by a family focussing entirely on white winemaking in a region devoted to red wines. This is made from Tempranillo Blanco, grown at 800 metres above sea level where local white grapes ripen slowly, retaining acidity and freshness thanks to the cool night time temperatures.

18.5/20

2018 Rocca delle Macie Tenuta Sant Alfonso Chianti Classico RRP $34.99

Good Chianti Classico is one of the great wines of the world. And most Chianti Classico is good. It’s a smaller wine region in Tuscany than Chianti and is governed by its own DOCG board. Mundane details aside (or not to us wine nerds), this is a sensationally full bodied, powerful and dry classic from a great family.

This wine is underpinned with structure thanks to high but balanced acidity which is barely noticeable thanks to its weight, body and long finish.

Lovely style – crazy good value.

Homecooked book launch in Featherston… Saturday 20 Nov

Food is a vehicle for story telling and it offers an endless amount of scope with its key characters, locations, drama and, hopefully, a delicious kind of resolution. Even a recipe is a kind of story, says food writer and author Lucy Corry, whose new book will be launched at this event. It is called Homecooked and we’ll delve into the inspiration behind her book and the challenges of writing, cooking and bringing the two together.

Join me for an hour next Saturday 20 November at 3pm for an artisan food fair and the launch of Lucy Corry’s new book, Homecooked,

* Buy tickets here for $25 per person on Eventfinda.

The event is part of Featherston Booktown and includes an artisan food fair that begins at 1pm at the Anzac Hall Complex and, yes, caffeine will be on hand, care of the Martinborough Coffee Company, alongside olive oil, kombucha, cured meats and a range of other local products from the Wairarapa.