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Wine of the Week for week ending 24 Aug 2008
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Gibbston Valley La Dulcinée Pinot Gris 2007
Central Otago, New Zealand

In the letter that arrived with the samples of Gibbston Valley Wine's three new "Expressionist Series" wines, winemaker Christopher Keyes, who took over from long time incumbent, Grant Taylor, in 2006, said he was floored by the vineyards when he arrived in Central Otago to take up his role. "Not so much from the spectacular view each of them afforded, but the diversity of sites that Gibbston Valley sourced fruit from," he said.

While he was particularly excited by the home block in the valley that the winery takes its name from and the beauty of the gnarled pinot noir vines planted in 1983, he also waxes lyrical about the Bendigo sub region, a region that indeed has fond memories for me.

Neil and I fossicked around the hills above old Bendigo town back in 1988, hoping that the miners had left behind a stray piece of quartz with a glistening seam of gold. No such luck.

I just loved the solitude and desolate ruins of what was once a place called Welshtown. Ruin at Welshtown After we had traipsed all over the tussock and scrub covered land, scaring rabbits as we fossicked, I remember sitting on a prominent outcrop of large schist rock, not far from the ruins, to take in the view across the parched valley towards the rugged Pisa Range. A patchwork of parched yellows and browns merged into the blue-grey of the hills. Where was the green? No wonder sheep farmers were struggling. The sun had warmed the rock and I lay back and closed my eyes, imagining the hustle and bustle of the mining town some 125 years before. I could hear people and I even thought I heard the stamper battery in the distance but it was just Neil whacking his hammer on another piece of non-auriferous quartz.

It would be another eleven years before I would get back to Bendigo. That was in 1999. I was in the MGF, cruising topless on the gravel Bendigo Loop Road hoping no other cars would pass and dress me in dust. I stopped to ask directions to Quartz Reef vineyard from workers busy planting vines and the guys invited me to call in on the way back, for coffee. I took up their offer, but they left me to it while they inspected the car. The mid-engine MGF was a novelty back then. However I did find out that the new vineyard plantings were for Gibbston Valley Wines - their first foray into the area. This was a reasonably flat vineyard, at road level, about 230 m asl. Further along the road the Quartz Reef Vineyard had a more dramatic sloping aspect with vines at road level marching up a short steep incline to 270m asl at the top.

I've passed through Bendigo a couple of times since then, most recently in 2004 and was astonished at vastly expansive plantings. But I was on my own (Neil was at Warbirds over Wanaka) and I wasn't prepared to take a sports car up the rutted public road with a sign at the bottom warning it was for 4WD vehicles only. If I had been brave enough to drive take the car up there I would have seen the new, more elevated plantings just north of the Bendigo Conservation Land that protects old Welshtown. These plantings are at what was once called Logantown. Here the vineyard sites rise to higher than 400m asl sea level, making them some of the highest vineyards in New Zealand.*

Chris said that Gibbston Valley now has six vineyards in the Bendigo subregion, all with unique soil types, aspect and microclimate. He salivated at the winemaking possibilities and two of his new Expressionist Series wines come from here.

Gibbston Valley Le Fou Riesling 2007 comes from the Bendigo West Vineyard - I can't comment on this wine as I haven't opened it yet.

Gibbston Valley Dulcinee The other is Gibbston Valley La Dulcinée Pinot Gris 2007 from the elevated School House Vineyard, above Bendigo, near old Logantown, and situated about 370m above sea level, on slightly north west facing slopes. The vines in this pinot gris vineyard are unusually oriented east-west.

Gibbston Valley La Dulcinée Pinot Gris 2007 is light bright gold with an ever so slightly pink tinge to the hue - just a tiny tiny tinge. The aromas are reminiscent of apples and pears together with nuts, lemon blossom and a touch of honeysuckle - a complex aromatic profile in many respects and has you swinging between a weighty riesling and pinot gris. The palate is weighty and full yet it has a crispness and linearity throughout and finishes with a citrussy sweetness together with a touch of cherimoya exoticness and a ton of citrus zest and apple and a delicate biscuity, lemon honey richness to the lingering aftertaste. It is crisp, fresh, refreshing and texturally full, rounded and pleasing - a beautiful expression of Central Otago, single vineyard, pinot gris.

The wine, which has seen no oak, had spent four months on its yeast lees in stainless steel barrels. It has 14.5% alcohol on the label, which, although powerful, sits perfectly in balance with the other components of the wine. It is a numbered limited edition wine, only available from the Gibbston Valley Wines cellar door and the website. It costs $45 a bottle (and no doubt freight, if ordering online).

Dulcinée is named poetically for a much loved woman, a sweetheart perhaps, one that expresses tenderness, passion and elegance. I have to say, it is not hard to fall in love with this particular sweetheart.

My wine-inspired food match was five-spice-rubbed pork chops baked in wine (a lightly oaked chardonnay) with dried Central Otago apples and New Zealand kumara.

The third wine in the Expressionist Series is Gibbston Valley Le Maitre Pinot Noir 2007 and comes from the home block vineyard. It is named for the master, Alan Brady, who established Gibbston Valley Vineyard back in the 1980's and the release last month coincided with the 20th anniversary of the first ever Gibbston Valley Pinot Noir. I'll post notes to my blog when it too gets opened.

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* Pukawa Vineyard, on the cliffs above the southwest end of Lake Taupo, has vines that are situated above 500 m asl. This is the highest altitude vineyard in New Zealand.

© Sue Courtney
11 Aug 2008

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