I’ve been in first light city Gisborne, the last few days. It’s on the east coast of the North Island and produces more Chardonnay than any other wine region in New Zealand. Thus when you see the Wines of Gisborne welcome signs as you leave the airport, you are welcomed to the “Chardonnay Capital of New Zealand”. But I quickly found out that there’s much, much more for this diverse wine region to hang its hat on. The aromatic variety, Gewurztraminer, has long been a star and although it seemed to fade for a while, it’s now shining bright again. Trendy Viognier is capturing the interest of many and, believe it or not, there’s also juicy Merlot and I found a pretty seductive Malbec as well.
It seems a bit of a yawn when you hear that 75 to 80 percent of the region’s wine is produced by one producer, a company that we affectionately know as Montana but now officially goes by the name of Pernod Ricard New Zealand. But the other 20 to 25% of production is under the control of growers (who supply for other companies) and a growing number of boutique wine producers based within the region. Names like Amor Bendall, Longbush, Revington and Tietjen and Witters (TW), whose labels have been around for quite a while have been joined by new kids on the block like Kirkpatrick Estate, Brunton Road Estate, Waimata Vineyards, Bushmere Estate, Stone Bridge Wines and GoldenVines Estate.
It’s a vibrant young community of young families, young couples, and even a young lad, (Tony Taylor of Goldenvines who at just 22 has produced a trendy range of café style wines from his ‘grower family’ vineyard). But there’s a buzz of excitement in the community and it’s to do with someone who was young a long time ago. Some once considered a ‘Young Turk’, but who now could be considered an ‘elder statesman’ of the wine industry. That man is Nick Nobilo. And the buzzword is ‘Vinoptima’.
Everywhere I went the same questions kept popping up.
“Did you hear Nick Nobilo has returned to Gisborne?”
“Are you going to Vinoptima?”
“Oh, you’ve been to Vinoptima. Isn’t it fabulous?”
“What, you got to taste the wine out of tank. You’re privileged”.
Yes, Gisborne is a vibrant, young community but the elder statesman has returned to pursue his dream, and that is to create world class Gewurztraminer that can rival the best in the world.
It all started when Nick left school and planted a vineyard on the family property at Huapai, north west of Auckland City. He fell in love with Gewurztraminer but the yields the vines produced were abysmal. Nick’s dad said the vines had to go. A few years later, when Nobilo Wines expanded to Gisborne to produce Muller Thurgau, the king, queen and whole royal family of the wine industry at the time, Nick found a grower in the inland Ormond area whose Muller Thurgau was more vibrant and flavoursome than the rest. He persuaded the grower to plant Gewurztraminer. Over the years, Nick monitored the vineyard and tagged the grapevines that were producing the tastiest grapes, these tagged vines eventually providing the budwood to replant the entire vineyard. The wine produced started winning gold medals but the public wasn’t ready for it. By now Nick was running Nobilo Wines and the focus had changed to Chardonnay in Gisborne and Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough. But when Nobilo Wines was sold to BRL Hardy in 2000, Nick knew what he was going to do. He had unfinished business in the wine industry. He was going to continue what he started with Gewurztraminer in Gisborne. Vinoptima Wines was born.
The 6.5 hectare vineyard is a showpiece in Gisborne wine country. The high-trellised vines flank the purpose built winery that looks like it is nestled into the low surrounding foothills that serve as a suntrap while protecting the vineyard from cold southerly winds.
The winery took two years of planning and Nick believes there is nothing like it anywhere in the world. With years of experience behind him, his design is based on efficiency and the latest technology, including his self-designed double-compartment maceration and draining tanks, fermentation tanks and the giant Bacchus blending tank that make up a silver horseshoe shape on one side of the winery. On the other
side, a line of German oak ovals complete the fermentation and maturation options while in the middle, against one wall is the purpose-designed bottling line and on the other side is the control room and laboratory. It’s so well thought-out and efficient that one person can handle the whole operation. As for the wine …. wow.
Vinoptima Ormond Gewurztraminer 2004 is made from five clones of Gewurztraminer, including Nick Nobilo’s own selection that he worked so hard to develop thirty years before. It’s light gold in colour, clear and bright. Finely scented, smoky, spicy and oily with a undertow of lemon oil, earth, honey and a touch of beeswax, the longer it has time to open up in the glass, the more the fragrance evolves. Even so, the aromas do not really prepare the palate for the delights that await. It’s finely textured, luscious and delicately oily with allspice, honey and orange blossom, a spicy lemon bread influence and a warming richness, almost honeyed, with a touch of ginger as it lingers. And although it has 20 grams per litre of residual sugar, it seems much drier. The thing that sets this wine apart from others is that it keeps building and building on the palate to a powerfully long but delicately flavoured finish with layers of complexity. It’s a wine that has years of life ahead of it, yet is already delicious, as I found out when I accompanied it to Eggs Benedict at a very late brunch and later in the evening at a post dinner nightcap. It’s also recommended as an accompaniment to Asian and east-west fusion foods and soft cheeses. I’ll keep that in mind for next time.
Retailing for a recommended $55 per bottle, find this wine at fine wine retailers or dial up www.vinoptima.co.nz. It can also be found internationally, the main export markets being Australia, US, the UK and Europe.
© Sue Courtney
16 July 2006