People are always asking me for advice on which vineyards to visit but I usually say that when you are in a wine region, pick up a wine trail map and visit wherever takes your fancy. The small, unheard of wineries of today may just be flying under the radar and if wine tourists don't take the initiative while they can, how are they going to stumble across the undiscovered little gems that may just become the stars of tomorrow? So if you are in the vicinity of a winery you have never heard of, take advantage of the opportunity to visit while you can.
It's the way I found a trio of vineyards near Christchurch that are collectively called Creatively Canterbury. They are Bay Glen Vines, Rattletrack Wines and Braided River Wines and all have vineyards on the southern banks of the Waimakariri River, a braided river with a source in the Southern Alps near Arthur's Pass National Park. They share their winemaker, Theo Coles, of Crater Rim fame, and they show their wines at Langdale's in West Melton on Sunday afternoons with the owners taking turns to man the stand.
We didn't have an official wine trail map but the one I had made up, because I hadn't found one to download from the Internet other that the Google map on the Wines of Canterbury website, was locked in the boot.
"I think Langdale's has tastings," I said to Neil as we hurtled along Old West Coast Road towards Christchurch, having previously crossed Arthur's Pass after our overnight stop in Greymouth on the West Coast. Luckily our road map showed Langdale's Road.
The sign at the gate indicated the restaurant was open but no mention was made of wine tastings, so we drove in, parked the car, and headed to the restaurant. The maitre d' greeted us.
"Do you have wine tastings?" we asked and he pointed us to a covered area outside the wine hall on the other side of the restaurant.
There was a long table set up for a wine tasting and beyond that a wine barrel topped with bottles of wines. A blackboard announced the wineries and tastings and bottle sales of riesling, pinot gris, pinot noir, rosť, gewurzt and sauvignon blanc.
A man was sitting on a bench seat reading a magazine. He jumped up with enthusiasm when we arrived, but alas, we were not part of the group of 15 people who had booked in for a tasting and were now half an hour late.
The tasting was free and our host, Barry Grant, talked us through the wines.
"Drink our geography!" stated the Bay Glen label, which turned out to be our host's. He talked about the area and the legacy of river gravels built up by the wilful Waimakariri River that charged ferociously and frequently through the now vineyard land. He made it all sound good.
Because our host owned the Bay Glen label, I held my tongue and didn't comment on its kitschy appearance. I decided to taste the wines and let the vinous liquid speak.
Bay Glen Sauvignon Blanc 2009 was crisp and citrussy.
Braided River Rosť 2008, made from Pinot Noir grapes, was strawberryish, drysih, yet moderately full with a crisp finish.
Bay Glen Pinot Noir 2008 was light both in colour and palate impression with an earthy, stalky demeanour.
Rattletrack Pinot Noir 2007 was a more intense, savoury style with underlying acidity.
But it was the Bay Glen Pinot Gris (Dry) 2008 that really wooed me. A rich, full, honeyed wine with a rounded mouthfeel, it was luscious wine yet dry with only 5 grams per litre of residual sugar. I was very impressed and so decided to buy a bottle. It cost me $17.50.
We opened the wine this weekend just past on the occasion of the birthday of one of my sisters and everyone there just loved it. "This is just gorgeous," said one. "Wow, just delicious," said another. "Nice, nice, nice, " said a third person.
Bay Glen Pinot Gris (Dry) 2008 is quite deep gold in colour with aromas of flower nectar, honey, botrytis and even a hint of smoke and a smooth, slippery, lightly viscous mouthfeel. A weighty, full-bodied wine - dry, yet ripe and to the untrained palate, even a little sweet (but a sweet wine was opened later and this, in comparison, was not sweet at all), it has 14.5% alcohol and a screwcap closure. A gorgeous wine just to sip on its own but also a perfect accompaniment to the food - a slow baked belly of pork with prunes and apple sauce and roasted kumara.
Despite the story about the Waimakariri River and tasting the geography in the wine, the back label told us the grapes were not from the Waimakariri at all. Due to a disastrous season in 2008 and frosts devastating the entire Waimakariri crop, the grapes were sourced from North Canterbury with winemaker Theo Coles weaving his spell to produce this masterpiece. Theo Coles, of Successors Wine Group, is also the winemaker of the beautiful Crater Rim Dr Kohls Riesling, reviewed here in January as a Wine of the Week on www.wineoftheweek.com
I've been searching the Internet for more information about Bay Glen Vines, but there was very little to be found at all. There is no website so you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (03) 342-3635 for more information - or visit Langdale's on a Sunday afternoon. Just be sure, if you make a visit for a group, you have the courtesy to turn up. When we left the vineyard on the day we visited, the tour group were now an hour late. I got the feeling they were going to be a no show, especially as it was nearing closing time for tastings. Their loss but my gain - and if you are reading this, then it's your gain as well.
© Sue Courtney
13 Apr 2010