The first Pinot Noir that Roger and Jean Gibson made from their Lowburn Ferry vineyard in Lowburn, just north of Cromwell, was a stunner. There was very little made but the Lowburn Ferry Pinot Noir 2003 was able to be entered into the Bragato Wine awards, a competition where growers can enter their wine regardless of quantity made, so long as it comes from a single vineyard. Roger and Jean came away with the best result that every Pinot Noir entrant hoped for - the Mike Wolter Memorial Trophy for Champion Pinot Noir Table Wine. But to add to that success, they also won the Trophy for Champion Red Wine as well as Champion Wine of the Show.
I loved the Lowburn Ferry Pinot Noir 2003 - it was deeply coloured, full of flavour and panache with voluptuous cherry and berry fruit on a spicy backbone with leather and savoury notes and plenty of gutsy pinot charm. It had the x-factor that some single vineyard wines made from first crop fruit have.
So how would the wine made from those same vines, from the 2004 vintage, stack up? Unfortunately we will never know.
2004 was a season of despair for many Central Otago winegrowers. There was frost in the spring and again in autumn before the grapes were ready to be harvested from the vines. Not all growers were affected, but Roger and Jean were. With such young vines and the difficult start to the season, they decided that it would be best for the ongoing development of their own vineyard, to look for grapes from elsewhere.
The result is the Lowburn Ferry Skeleton Creek Pinot Noir 2004 made with grapes from the Bannockburn district, just a few kilometres away, on the other side of the river. With the influence of the Kawarau River near the confluence to Lake Dunstan, Bannockburn escaped the frosts. I noted this when I visited the region near harvest time in April 2004 as the vines were swathed in green rather than the frost burnt brown colour of vines that I had encountered in spasmodic patches elsewhere.
Lowburn Ferry Skeleton Creek Pinot Noir 2004 is a gorgeous, deep cherry flesh-coloured crimson red with deep translucency, almost opaque but not quite.
The smoky, sweet-fruited aromas have a subtle savoury oak nuance and later become quite floral. It's much more savoury in the palate with a cherry fruit crispness, a smoky slightly herbal backbone, silky tannins and a medium to full-bodied flavoursome earthy, savoury finish. I'd even call it a little rustic, which in my opinion adds to its charm and herb flowers blossom on the aftertaste. Itís drinking beautifully now. I thought it just yum.
We matched the wine to a 3cm thick piece of tuna loin that had been marinated in olive oil, fennel seeds, sesame seeds, salt, pepper and 1/4 teaspoon of curry powder for about half an hour. It was pan fried for about 4 minutes on each side, which was aesthetic appealing with the white rim around the cherry pink flesh, when cut. This was a resounding success with the wine, which carries 14% alcohol by volume and is sealed with a screwcap. It costs $29.95 per bottle, which is well-priced for a wine of this quality.
The Lowburn Ferry label is interesting. The Rachel Hirabayishi painting represents the bare glacial terraces known as the "Sugarloaf" while the man on the punt represents the Lowburn Ferry that used to ply across the Clutha River from the gold rush days until 1938 when a bridge was built. The original site of the ferry landing was flooded when the Clutha Dam was opened and the Clutha River became Lake Dunstan. Find out more from www.lowburnferry.co.nz.
Roger and Jean also run the Central Otago Wine Cellar, one of New Zealand's earliest virtual wine stores - perhaps the earliest - and the only store to offer a comprehensive selection of Central Otago wines. Naturally you can buy the Lowburn Ferry wines, as well as others, here.
© Sue Courtney
19 February 2006