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edited by Sue Courtney
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Wine of the Week for week ending 28 November 2004
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Ascension Flora 'The Rogue' 2004
Matakana, New Zealand

If you love sipping on a glass of kiwi Pinot Gris, you are among the trendy group of wine drinkers all over the country who are encouraging more and more grape growers to plant the grape to make more wine to keep up with your intake. Pinot Gris, you see, is still in relatively short supply.

But is the wine you have bought and poured into your glass, really Pinot Gris? It may say so on the label and the wine will have been made in good faith as such, but it appears there is a rogue in the vineyard and she's being doing a good job in her Pinot Gris masquerade.

I call her 'she' because her is name is Flora, a girl's name I'm sure you will agree. She's a look-a-like grape variety conceived in California in 1938 by one Dr Harold Olmo, who crossed the Gewurztraminer grape with Semillon. Though it would be 20 years more before she would make her debut.

She's a pretty lass who quite possibly takes her name from the floral spicy perfume inherited from her Gewurztraminer parent while her Semillon parent has given her, her full curvaceous body. However, it was soon found out that if Flora went to the wrong place, she would loose those curves and become rather flabby.

Flora found her way to New Zealand. And here she settled, hiding away for many years at the Te Kauwhata Viticultural Research Station. There was some interest for a while, as Glenda Neil, another kiwi wine writer recalls. "I remember drinking Matua Valley Flora years ago", she said to me. That would not be surprising as Matua Valley's Ross Spence studied at California State University at Fresno in the 1960's and experimented with many new grape varieties when he returned home. But the one he had most success with was Sauvignon Blanc Ė that story is elsewhere. Flora, at that time in the early 1970's, with her aromatic headiness and lush curvaceous body, was far too sophisticated for New Zealand tastes. Eventually Flora was forgotten. And it seems she lost her name tag while she was hidden away.

Eventually she resurfaced as Pinot Gris in Darryl Soljan's Matakana vineyard, Ascension. Hark back to 1996. Then, when Darryl was pondering over which grapes to plant, his grapevine supplier suggested a little known clone of Pinot Gris that had come from stock originally at the Te Kauwhata Research Station. So Darryl planted the vines in good faith. The leaves looked the same, the grapes looked the same. The only difference was that it ripened 3 or so weeks later than other Pinot Gris grapes in the district. That was put down to clonal differences.

But you canít fool the scientists. Routine DNA testing in California revealed the look-alike grapevine's true identity, it was Harold Olmo's Flora.

Faced with the decision to pull out Flora and replace with Pinot Gris, or to leave things as they were, Darryl chose the latter. "It was an easy decision because not only did wine critics treat it favourably when it was called 'Pinot Gris', our customers simply loved it," he said.

So the wine produced this year is correctly named Flora. She's been dubbed 'The Rogue', a tribute to the progeny of rogue vines that once flourished in the distant Te Kauwhata viticultural research station vineyard.

Ascension Flora 'The Rogue' 2004 ($24.95) is strongly aromatic with luscious winey and floral scents, ripe pear, apricot and citrus fruit, a spicy twist to the off dry musky finish and lingering vanilla and nuts. It would be applauded if it were Pinot Gris. I think its absolutely spiffing. Try it with salmon.

The wine carries 14% alcohol by volume, it is sealed with a screwcap and costs NZ$24.95 from the winery.

Found out more from www.ascensionvineyard.co.nz.

Now that Ascension has named their Flora with its true identity, I wonder how many other producers will do the same. Those who bought their vines from Darryl's bud wood, at least, should certainly be doing some tests.

Footnote: The only other wine made with Flora that I know of that is available in New Zealand, is Brown Brothers Orange Muscat and Flora, a sweet summery wine from Mildawa in the north east of Victoria, Australia.

© Sue Courtney
21 November 2004

Footnote: This article inspired the 'varietal character' definition of Flora on www.appellationamerica.com.


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