When it comes to Central Otago pinot noir, there seems to be so many good wines. Why would this be? Obviously it has something to do with the location because it seems ideal for this sometimes named 'heartbreak grape'. But I think it also comes down to the fact that although there are a lot of grapegrowers and wine producers - many who have come in search of the new Central Otago gold - there are still very few wine winemakers in the region. So the influx of new arrivals, who plant their vineyards and produce grapes yet do not have a winery or winemaker, have to rely on someone else for the final step in the process.
There are a handful of winemakers who have been in the region a long time, who have the experience of the Central Otago region, and who between them probably make 80% of the region's wines. They have years of experience behind them and know what the grapes should be like when they arrive at the winery and can advise their clients accordingly.
People like Dean Shaw, at the Central Otago Wine Company (Cowco), a winemaking facility with a list of clients that reads like a "Who's Who". It didn't take long for the region to outgrow CowCo and a second central winemaking facility named VinPro, headed by the talented, award winning, ex-Akaura winemaker Carol Bunn, was commissioned this year to fill the gap. These two probably account for 50% of the region's labels.
Then you have winemakers working at their own wineries who take on the winemaking role for others as well.
Ask a new Central Otago wine producer who their winemaker is and if they "canít tell you", it wonít be made at a processing facility but it will be at a high flying winery by somebody good.
But there is one winemaker who tells you who he makes wine for yet is modest in his own success. That is Grant Taylor, the winemaker for Gibbston Valley Wines since 1993 and probably the most awarded winemaker in the region when it comes to trophies, gold medals and other accolades.
Grant realised some time ago that to make the best wine you have to have the best grapes and went in search of a piece of land to grow his own. He chose a spot in the Gibbston Valley, not far from where the Gibbston Valley Winery's top grapes for the Reserve label pinot noir are grown.
"Look at all the vineyards around here," he said as we drove along State Highway 6 eastwards through the valley when I visited him last week. "See how the vines are planted either parallel to or at right angles to the fence line." Then we stopped on the highway across the road from a vineyard, where there was a gate but no fence and where the vines were planted at an angle to the road.
"This is my vineyard and the vines are planted in a true north-south direction. That way they get the best of the sun all day long," he said. The Pommard and Dijon clones, grafted onto RG and 101/14 rootstocks, are close-planted and all practices carried out during the growing season adhere to a rigorous "quality only" philosophy with regular leaf plucking, shoot and crop thinning.
Grant has been producing grapes under the Valli label for several years. He has made more than one wine each year and indicates on the label where the grapes come from. The original wines were labelled as Colleen's Vineyard and Anne's Vineyard. Grant now draws grapes from just three single vineyards in three subregions and labels the wines accordingly. He has the Valli 'Bannockburn' Pinot Noir, the Valli 'Waitaki Vineyard' Pinot Noir and from his own vineyard, the Valli 'Gibbston Vineyard' Pinot Noir.
He calls his Gibbston Vineyard a 'hobby' but the resulting wine - Valli 'Gibbston Vineyard' Pinot Noir 2003 from the first crop off the vineyard, does not reflect this. Already it has received solid five-star ratings from both Cuisine Magazine and Winestate Magazine while Jancis Robinson also gave it a gold-medal score of 18.5. It is easy to see why when you taste it.
Valli 'Gibbston Vineyard' Pinot Noir 2003 is a gorgeous pinot. It is a ruby-garnet hued wine, densely translucent but not quite opaque. It smells rich and chocolatey at first but an alluring floral fragrance of herb flowers overlain with cherries, emerges. Ripe and round in its flavour with a smooth texture, a good depth of sweet and tart cherry fruit, an underlying earthiness, a touch of anise spice and a long succulent savoury finish it has good acidity that indicates the wine will age. It is the balance of the wine that makes it stand out and although the alcohol is at the upper level of 14% according to the label, this is not obvious when the wine is in the mouth.
Now Grant Taylor and the Valli 'Gibbston Vineyard' Pinot Noir have another accolade. No, it is not this Wine of the Week review. It is the inaugural Jean Feraud Commemorative Medal for excellence in Central Otago Pinot Noir.
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The Jean Feraud Commemorative Medal was conceived by Cameron Mouat of Oliver's Restaurant and Lodge in Clyde. Mouat wanted to commemorate Feraud and to recognise and celebrate his contribution to the Central Otago Wine Industry by focussing on today's flagship wine variety of the region, pinot noir.
Jean Desire Feraud, to give you his full name, was the first grape grower and producing winemaker in Central Otago. He was also the first mayor of Clyde - which was called Dunstan at the time, a town of about 4,000 people and the administrative centre of the Dunstan goldfields. Feraud was also a goldminer to some extent and was benevolent towards the miners. As well as grapes he grew fruit and vegetables and donated these to fundraising ventures for the Dunstan Hospital, of which Feraud was on the committee.
So the award will also emphasise Feraud's charitable works and in conjunction with the award the Jean Feraud Charitable Children's Trust for children with neurological diseases has been established. The reason for this is that Jean Feraud's only son, Jean Louis Feraud, died at the age of 2 of congenital hydrocephalus (water on the brain). The beneficiary from the sales of the award winning wine at Oliver's Restaurant, is the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand.
I was privileged to be a judge at this inaugural, but somewhat controversial event, which did not have the backing of some of the industry groups. I do not want to delve into the politics in this column - those who are interested can read the article that was published in the Otago Daily times at this link.
What must be said, however that an excellent pinot noir has been selected as the winner. Congratulations to Grant Taylor.
Now, where can you buy this delicious wine? According to the Valli website, the wine is sold out, but the Central Otago Wine Cellar still has stocks at the time of writing. It costs $43.95.
Valli Wines are also available in Australia, Japan, the UK and the USA. For further information and technical details on the winemaking, check out www.valliwine.com.
© Sue Courtney
25 September 2005