Waipara

To maintain some sense of order in this flurry of quick blog posts on this, our final day in New Zealand, I present the next in a reverse-chronological order of our NZ Wine Adventure Week tastings: 
 
Waipara.
 
I remember the first time I learned that Waipara was a New Zealand wine region, I was just plain confused, thinking it must be some sub-region of Marlborough or something. But nope, Waipara is its own cute little region just north of Christchurch, and we popped in there for two nights before coming down south (west) to Queenstown (Central Otago). 
 
Here is a quick Googles Image of New Zealand:
 
This is kind of a rough sketch, but you can see the little asterisked Waipara Valley in region #9, Canterbury. 
 
Waipara literally translates to Muddy Water (wai -> water, para -> mud), so we were pleased to see the good ol’ Muddy Water wines (which Cody and I are both familiar with from former jobs) being poured at Greystone, the first place we visited. Greystone recently acquired Muddy Water, so we tasted the wines together and got to do some fun side-by-side comparisons. 
 
(Incidentally, it was really hard to get a good picture of the label. But there ya go).
 
After Greystone, we hopped over to Pegasus Bay for a quick visit. Pegasus Bay is probably the best-known of the Waipara wineries – it’s a favorite of Robert Parker’s and often wins the Winery Restaurant of the Year award. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to check out the menu, but we did get to taste some yummy wines. My favorite thing there was the super fun music-themed names of the different wines, like Encore (Noble Riesling), Maestro (Merlot), and Finale (Noble Semillon). We tasted the Encore, and mmm. Riesling that also happens to be dessert wine = yummm. 
 
Our last Waipara stop was a tour at Pyramid Valley. This was our longest visit, and a definite highlight of Wine Adventure Week. 
 
First of all, the winery is as “natural” as you can get – when we tasted a barrel sample, we were literally drinking grapes. No added acid, no sulphur, nothin’. The wines were incredible, and our steep hike up the vineyard was well worth the view.
 
The coolest takeaway from this tour was when Nik (in the blue shirt above) started talking about “hands-free” winemaking. It’s kind of a market trend to talk about leaving grapes to just do their thing, and hands-free is sort of synonymous with no added sulfur/acid/alcohol/sugars/etc. What Nik said, though, was that their wines couldn’t be further from hands-off. When the Chardonnay is fermenting in the clay amphora (pictured above), the winemaker will check on the fermenting juice every two hours, all through the day night. Instead of punching down the Pinots with a plunger tool, he climbs into the vessel and sort of swims the skins around, bathing them in the liquid to increase color and tannin extraction. Cool, huh? 
 
That is Waipara in a nutshell – and both nights we were in the valley, we slept in… 
 
…a renovated train car. It was so cool! We totally got to be the boxcar children, and the room was even well-stocked with the fixins for tea and coffee, and the electric heater and lots of blankets did the trick to keep us warm. 
 
That might be all, this side of the equator! I’ll have to catch up on Marlborough and Martinborough back in the states, unless we have some down time later today. For now, we are heading out to wander around Christchurch, probably to the famous Container Mall to look for some beach reading materials for Cody. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Central Otago

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. 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Wine Adventure Week Recap

Whew! We are in a cute Queenstown café sneaking some free WiFi before dinner, and I can barely remember where I left things off with our travels…
 
…oh, it was me being grumpy about the crazy ferry action. Well, the week since then has been full of some of my favorite things.
 
Beautiful Vineyards:
 
Educational barrel tastings:
 
Walks with this guy:
Lots of warm beverages:
 
(Let’s get a close-up of my fine literary preferences, shall we?)
 
Unconventional places of lodging:
 
(Yep, that is a renovated train car at the fabulous Waipara Sleepers)
(the pseudo-living room, stocked with train seats).
Winery Dogs:
 
And TONS of awesome tastings and conversations with winemakers and vineyard managers about their passions.
 
 
I’m working on a more detailed series of posts about each region (we spent time in Martinborough, Marlborough, Waipara, and Central Otago), but I wanted to whip out a quick overview post in case I fail to follow through efficiently (funny how being in a state of constant relaxation makes one lazy… hmmm). 
 
Our main plan of attack for our last three days in New Zealand is to sell our car and organize our luggage. We fly out on Monday (the 20th), but won’t land in the US until Thursday the 30th due to a necessary and superbly inconvenient layover in Fiji. Right. 
 

Grape Profile: Sauvignon Gris

Instead of an easter hunt this weekend, my clippers and I hunted for grapes. I seriously hope I’m getting faster at this! 

Today was extra cool, though, because of a particular variety I’ve been anticipating harvesting: 

Sauvignon Gris {Sah-veen-yon Gree}

Sauvignon Gris, or Sauvignon Rosé, is a pink-skinned version of the much better-known Sauvignon Blanc. One of Cody’s wine books says that Sauvignon Gris “is much less aromatic than Sauvignon Blanc, but makes elegant, rather interesting wines*.”

The thing is, I had never even heard of this variety, let alone tasted it (…let alone eaten and picked its grapes) until I saw it as part of the Clearview repertoire. 

I did a little digging in a couple ways: first, online; and secondly, through all the foliage cluttering the grapes. 

1. Online digging: the language of wine has a lot of savageness. I already knew about Cabernet Sauvignon (savage cabernet) and Sauvignon Blanc (savage white); Sauvignon Gris is savage grey. 
Just like how Pinot Gris is a mutation of Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Gris is to Sauvignon Blanc. 

It’s said to be less aromatic than Sauvignon Blanc, but when I tasted the Clearview Sauvignon Gris alongside their Sauvignon Blancs, I thought the Gris to be more similar to a Semillon – interesting aromatics without SB’s green peppery notes. Still less savage, but super interesting nonetheless.

2. Leaf digging: this is where I got to know the grape a little more than I hoped. The canopy grew pretty fully around the clusters, making it fairly tricky to get at the grapes. When we did, though, the medium- to small-sized clusters fell really easily. It was a battle of wits between me and the leafy canopy. I won. 


After bathing in the juice of Sauv Gris, we checked out a couple rows of its Pinot counterpart. 

Pinot Gris – which I knew wasn’t grey per say, but I pictured more like the Sauv Gris’ pinkish-grey coloring – looked a lot closer to a black grape:

AKA a purple hue that would impress Barney the Dinosaur. 

These were totally my favorite grapes to pick so far. After Gewurztraminer that loved wedging itself into the vines, Chardonnay that camouflaged itself perfectly into the leaves, and Sauvignon Blanc that went on for miles (kilometers?), a darker grape was fantastic. The clusters were super easy to see, perfectly shaped, and totally clean (no rot or mildew or tons of under- or overripe grapes), which meant my mental morning was as relaxing as if I was laying at the beach reading. 

Which I waited to do for real until after work. This beach is on my way home – I think it’s called the Clifton Road Reserve. That seagull was like “hey! Let me get into position one sec and you can have a picture-perfect shot of me, that cute lab, and our horsie friends. Okay go!” Thanks, seagull!

*Clarke, Oz & Margaret Rand. Grapes and Wines. Time Warner/Wesaubster: London, 2003. Pg 228.