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Wine of the Week for week ending 5 Aug 2007
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Awaroa Organic Vineyard Syrah 2006
Waiheke Island, Auckland, New Zealand

I wish I read my TV Guide. If I did, I might have noticed that a small Waiheke Island winery was going to be featured on TV One's Country calendar on July 7th. It was the Awaroa Organic Vineyard, part of the organic Orapiu Farm. I really would have loved to have seen it on the big screen because I had discovered the Awaroa wines at the Waiheke Island Wine Festival earlier this year. I came away quite besotted by the delicious Awaroa Cabernet Merlot 2005 which was brimming with alcoholic headiness. I reviewed it at the time on my blog.

But I didn't read the guide and so I missed the program. Not all is lost, because it can be viewed on the TVNZonDemand website at this link. It is just over 22 minutes long and you need a decent broadband connection to view it comfortably, although my supposedly decent b/b connection delivered the program in a rather jerky fashion, start/stop fashion.

"On Waiheke Island's Orapiu Grove Farm they make award winning wines," is the opening statement to the program but there is little on the farm's main organic crop, the grapes, until two thirds through the program.

The land that Orapiu Farm is on at the top of the Awaawaroa Valley on the southern side of Waiheke Island and was bought in1992 by John Stansfield, who roped in some friends to try organic farming. As wall as native bush with kauri, totara, manuka and kanuka, the land now includes an olive grove, a lavender garden and the vineyard.

Winemaker Steve Poletti, an Economics Professor at the University of Auckland and a doctor doctor with PhD's in both Economics and Mathematical Physics, joined the venture in 1995. In the video he explains that the vineyard was more of a whim, not really thought through in the first place. But he loves what he does and what he has been able to achieve despite the challenges and the hard work. And the challenges have been many, the most recent 2007 growing season one of the most challenging of all with hail in the spring halving the potential crop, fierce winds in the early summer and rain just before harvest. There are also the challenges of the wildlife with boars from nearby bush digging up under the vines, slugs and snails having to be removed by hand from the vines by torchlight at night, wild peacocks invading the vineyard and rabbits eating the young shoots. "You think they wouldn't be able to reach that high" says Steve, but rabbits are quite capable of stretching up on their hind legs for a tasty nibble.

Chemicals are not used, of course, but a bacterial spray used after rain helps to prevent rot and an organic fertiliser, a rock phosphate with a bacterial addition, is used too.

Steve is a self taught winemaker and likes to go the route of minimal handling. Thus once the grapes are harvested, foot stomping rather than machine crushing helps to avoid harsh tannins from the stems.

Steve says all the hard work is worth while when the wines awarded gold medals and get good reviews.
"What's the secret?", asks interviewer.
"Organics," says Steve. "Organics made with love, with passion."

Now I've had a chance to taste the Syrahs and they are as every bit as good as the reviews would have one believe. The 2005 vintage is long sold out but I got to taste it anyway. But is it as good as the follow on wine from 2006? I have to say both were stunning, but when tasted together, however, I preferred the prettier and lower alcohol 2006 version on the night.

So here's another couple of positive reviews for Steve to add to his list.

Awaroa Organic Vineyard Waiheke Island Syrah 2006
Massive colour of crimson, purple black. Exotic, fragrant and floral with spice, tar, smoky cedar and liquorice aromas - this wine emanates concentration on the nose and is focussed and concentrated in the palate with pepper, rosehip, all spice, tar, anise and cedar. A big wine with big tannins that are fine in their delivery and a Rhonish complexity to the lingering finish, it is simply outstanding with a voluptuous seductiveness and excellent potential. It has 13.5% alcohol and had the benefit of both French and American oak for the first four months of its maturation, then was aged another year in older French oak. It doesn't get released until September, but I'd say, get your name on the list now. It will cost $45.

Awaroa Organic Vineyard Waiheke Island Syrah 2005
Inky blackberry red. Intensely concentrated aromas of black fruit, creamy oak and cherries. Powerful in the palate, dark and savoury with a focussed spicy impression of nutmeg and allspice with hints of pepper and rose musk and blueberry and blackberry fruit. Rich, thick and chocolatey with a silky tannin structure and a long, savoury, rose pepper finish. Dried herbs and tobacco emerge to give the wine a savoury Rhonish complexity and the sweet fruit flourishes again on the aftertaste. Very impressionable despite its 15.3% alcohol.

Much of the product is sold at the Waiheke Island Farmers Market, but you may be able to procure a bottle if you contact Stephen Poletti - - and there's some in restaurants around Auckland that stock the wines too. Or in the summer, visit the cellar door for your personal organic wine tasting experience and discover Orapiu Farm's other organic products too. According to the Waiheke Wine website, they have an outlet at 324 Waiheke Rd, east of Onetangi Beach and are open from 11am to 4pm on Sundays from Labour Weekend through to Easter, and on Saturday, Sunday and public holidays during January and February.

© Sue Courtney
30 Jul 2007

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