edited by Sue Courtney
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Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Now for something different – not different if you come from California, but certainly different for drinkers of New Zealand wine. For the wine is made from Zinfandel, California's so-called national grape variety and there are only two producers in New Zealand.
I wrote about the Stonecroft Zinfandel about three years ago, now it's the turn of Kemblefield, the other producer.
It is not surprising that John Kemble, winemaker and co-owner of Kemblefield Wines, wanted to plant this robust red grape, for he's Californian by birth and before he came to NZ he made wine at Ravenswood. So when he upped his roots to settle in New Zealand he made arrangements for some Zinfandel cuttings from Ravenswood's Old Ranch Vineyard in the Sonoma Valley to come too.
The vines arrived in October or November 1994 and were quarantined until 1996. John put them straight into his nursery to bulk up the quantities and planted them in 1997 and 1998.
His first wine was produced in 2000. It was quite robust, more robust than Alan Limmer's wine (which coincidentally is made from the same Ravenswood vineyard cuttings due to a mix-up in quarantine) and a great success. But just 300 cases were made.
None was produced in 2001 during to frosts at flowering time but the following year the wonderful Hawkes Bay harvest of 2002 yielded enough grapes from John's Zinfandel vines for 900 cases of wine.
"No Wimpy Wines" is Ravenswood's motto. John brings that philosophy into his wines he makes here.
Kemblefield Reserve Zinfandel 2002 is deep purple red with plenty of colour and depth. It's a little chocolatey on the nose with cherries, a hint of currant, pepper and juicy brambly berries. It's a solid wine and tastes balanced, ripe and round. Creamy oak combines with spice and currants to become quite savoury as the wine evolves. There's pepper and other exotic spices, brambly cherry pie flavours, a touch of acidity, well-integrated robust tannins and a slightly salty finish – a saltiness I liken to that of baked rosemary herb. An interesting wine, every mouthful is a new taste discovery.
John talked about the uneven ripening of the bunches of his Zinfandel grapes. He explained that on one bunch you could have extra ripe grapes that have turned into raisins as well as grapes that are just on the cusp of ripeness. This introduces the myriad of flavours. I remember the 2000 vintage wine. There were so many different fruit flavours, it was like a berry fruit salad.
John also speaks about the harvest time of Zinfandel in Hawkes Bay and compares it to California. At Ravenswood it is the first red grape to be harvested, in NZ it's harvested after Pinot Noir and Merlot, about the same time as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
The grapes for this wine were hand harvested on Anzac Day (April 25) 2002 and fermented in small open top fermenters, hand plunged 3 times a day for 25 days then matured in French oak barriques for 18 months. It's been in the bottle 3 months at the time of writing and the alcohol is stated at 14.5%. The closure is cork.
"It's been a good choice", he says. I take another mouthful and nod in agreement, happy to know it's going to continue to grow in production. Already the 2 hectares originally planted has doubled to 4 hectares (10 acres).
This is good news for people who want to buy some of this wine. Nine hundred cases were made, which is 3 times as much as the inaugural 2000 vintage production. And there are some special magnum bottles too.
The normal 750ml bottling costs $49.95 per bottle in New Zealand.
The Kemblefield wines are available in several overseas markets, including Australia, the USA, the UK, parts of Europe and parts of Asia. Check out the Kemblefield web site for more information.
© Sue Courtney
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