I’m kind of freaking out because I’m not going in chronological order here, but I figure it’s kind of my own fault for slacking so much in the blogging during Wine Adventure Week. So, since Central Otago (Thursday and Friday) is freshest in my mind, it gets to be written about. Sorry, other regions!
Almost as an afterthought today as we were driving through the vineyards, I remembered all I’ve read about how Central Otago is generally regarded the most beautiful wine region in the world (in competition with Stellenbosch, South Africa). I’ve mentioned the tidbit in a bunch of NZ wine write-ups in my time, but it didn’t really hit me until I was looking at the perfectly clear mountains reflected in the water. So beautiful, and I don’t even have a picture of it. But here is a different water pic, courtesy of Cody:
We only visited a few wineries in Central Otago, but the visits were super rich – almost as rich as the manure-fed soils we sifted through our fingers at one of the sites. We’re talking like 2-3 hour visits at each winery, and this is with winemakers still finishing harvest, who hadn’t slept in weeks, and one whose firstborn child is due to be born on Monday. We felt so overwhelmed with hospitality!
Thursday started with Valli Wine, where the founder/winemaker Grant Taylor showed us around the winery and tasted us through a couple 2013 wines in barrel. The cool thing about Valli was that Grant was one of the first winemakers in the region, so he and Cody talked for a long time about Central Otago sub-regions. Terroir is complicated like that, I suppose – a place has a place-ness, but there is always a smaller place within that place. Within the New World, New Zealand; within New Zealand, Central Otago; within Central Otago, Bannockburn and Gibbston and Bendigo and Waitaki; within each of those sub-regions, vineyards; within those vineyards, blocks; within those blocks, rows; within those rows, vines. Labeling certainly hasn’t gotten to the point of distinguishing one vine from the next, but the differences between each “place” (however far or near those places’ boundaries stretch) matter bigtime.
We then had a tour at Felton Road with a small group of young ‘un wine geeks like us. Felton Road was recommended to us by a lot of our industry connections, and they’re favorites of Wine Advocate and the like.
Again, the hospitality here was amazing – even with tons of vineyard and winery work to do, the vineyard manager and winemaker spent hours with us, first explaining the conversion to Biodynamics, then tasting us through the 2012 and 2013 wines and talking about everything from whole cluster pressing and different strains of yeasts to blending trials and aging.
We’d heard from a few winemakers already about Biodynamics, and seeing more and more vineyards using those growing practices makes me more and more eager to read more about it. At Felton Road, in particular, the vineyard manager’s eyes were lighting up as he told us about the new wildlife appearing in the vineyard because of the changes implemented in the last years, particularly removing chemicals (which has more to do with organics than biodynamics, but still).
Cody’s and my favorite at Felton Road was the 2012 Block 3 Pinot Noir, which they’re hoping to release in the next week, so we couldn’t snag a bottle, unfortunately. All wine descriptors aside, it was just really super yummy.
Next we popped into Mount Difficulty, which was fun for me after writing about one or two of the wines before. The view there was amazing – my pictures don’t do it justice, but…
We left Mount Difficulty just in time to see Max Mariott to taste his Auburn Wines in Cromwell; we were ridiculously excited about this one, because Auburn Wines. Specializes. In. Riesling.
Oh, sweet (or dry) Riesling, how do we love thee? Let me count the ways. No, let me not count the ways, because I’m trying to get on with the story here. But I. Love. Riesling. Enough to start using crazy, interruptive punctuation all over the place.
Max is one of those cool young winemakers who is just PUMPED about what he’s doing, which makes tasting the wines an amazing experience. I took a zillion pictures of the bottles to make sure I remembered what we’d tasted, and we’re heading back to the states with one of his 2012 Rieslings.
The highlight of the evening was when Max pulled out two 375ml bottles of succulent dessert wines, made in a TBA style, or Trockenbeerenauslese (yep, saying “TBA” is a lot easier), made from carefully-selected, botrytised Riesling berries. In the 300s for residual sugar = Emily is a very happy, sugared-up camper.
Bonus linguistic exercise: Max named Auburn for a couple reasons; one, because Auburn is the color of Central Otago most of the year round; two, “Au” is the chemical symbol for gold, and “burn” is Scots Gaelic for river, so Auburn = gold river. So cool.
On Friday, we kicked things off with a visit with Rudi Bauer at Quartz Reef.
As you can tell from the winery’s name, soil matters – a LOT. Here is Cody analyzing some rocks from the vineyard:
Quartz Reef’s vineyard is biodynamic, and Rudi showed us the different preps and the garden where they grow the materials needed for the different preparations.
Biodynamics deserves a much more dedicated post, but the underlying principal is that a vineyard is treated like a holistic organism, and the primary tools to nurture the vineyard come from the land itself: preps made mostly of compost and cow manure, as well as dried herbs. These schedule for how these preps are administered follows the lunar calendar.
I was extra excited about Quartz Reef for a couple other reasons, too – first of all, I was joined (or really, I was the joiner) in the backseat of the car by three winery dogs – love!
Secondly, the winery team welcomed us with open arms. We arrived just in time for smoko (New Zealandese for morning break ;), and sat right down with the staff for toast and quiche and coffee and tea and cookies (sorry – biscuits :) and lots of jollity. Rudi took the rest of the morning, right through lunch, showing us the vineyard, winery, and wines in the tasting room.
Thirdly, Quartz Reef is know for… SPARKLING WINES. Yes. We haven’t tasted many over here, and I most definitely have a soft spot for bubbles. We are heading back to the US with a Quartz Reef Pinot, but are chilling a bottle of their Blanc de Blancs in our hostel’s fridge tonight (Sunday) to sip in honor of our last night in New Zealand. Mmm!
We grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading over to Burn Cottage, where the lovely Sarah had a few samples for us to taste. Burn Cottage is another biodynamic vineyard that makes only one wine; the winery is owned by Ted Lemon, whose Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs are quite possibly Cody’s favorite in the whole entire world.
Ta da! That is Central Otago. By the time I finished writing this one, we’re at our hostel on the morning of our LAST day in New Zealand. Tomorrow, to Fiji we go.