We were driving to Hanmer Springs in inland North Canterbury. We were late because we were last to leave Blenheim and our departure time at 10am was approximately an hour behind the last of the others. My excuse was that I was making the most of the free wireless Internet access.
Heading south we stopped at the Awatere River bridge to take photos then after crossing the river turned left at Seddon towards the coast to go via the expanse of vineyards hidden from the highway, and Yealands Estate. After a tasting of Yealands wines we took the gravel road option south to the main highway via the saltworks at Lake Grassmere, passing the vineyards of Cape Campbell and Otuwhero in a valley on the way.
We stopped to eat crayfish in Kaikoura and enjoyed two delicious Auburn Rieslings (see this Wine of the Week), that I loved so much I ordered some on my return home.
We followed State Highway One south, through Kaikoura and along the scenic coastal road complete with road tunnels and despite the frustratingly slow traffic this day, the road still remains one of my number one scenic drives. The others had taken the Inland Kaikoura Road, now sealed all the way. They missed a lengthy roadwork delay on the winding Hundalee Hills south of Kaikoura, but we were on the best route to the Mt Beautiful Vineyard, north of Cheviot, for a tiki tour of the vineyards.
After leaving Mt Beautiful, we retraced a few kilometres north to take the inland road to Waiau and finally joined State Highway 7, the main route from the east into Hanmer. We now didn't have far to go.
"Look, there's a vineyard, " I said in amazement. We were only seven kilometres from the Hanmer Springs turnoff.
"Look, they are advertising free wine tastings."
"Look, they're still open. We have to go in."
A vineyard in this part of the country was a totally unexpected surprise. It was approximately 57.5 kilometres inland from the coast in a straight line as the crow flies, but looking around I could see why they decided to plant here. The site is a natural heat trap with cliffs and hills protecting it on three sides and a flat river terrace that gently sloping towards the Waiau River.
We tasted five wines, all made from grapes grown on site.
Marble Point Sauvignon Blanc 2009 was quite austere for my palate but I could see this style being endeared by fans of the European style.
Marble Point Classic Riesling 2008 was delicious. At 8.5% alcohol and around 80 grams per litres of residual sugar, this Spatlese style has juicy fruit and excellent balance of sweetness and acidity.
Marble Point Classic Riesling 2009, in contrast, didn't appeal to me at all. It was made in a similar style but it was awkward in the mouth with a bitter finish.
Marble Point Chardonnay 2008 was a well-rounded toasty style. A barrel fermented wine with one-third new oak, I liked the balance of fruit and oak and the long-lasting finish. We saw this wine on the wine list at the Hot Springs Hotel, where our group dined that evening so had no hesitation in buying it. Unfortunately, as is often the case in bars, the wine was overchilled and the oak dominated. My recommendation here is not to overchill.
But it was the Marble Point Pinot Noir 2008 that really seduced me at the winery tasting so we paid $32 for a bottle to shake around in the boot of our car for several hundred kilometres to enjoy later with friends and food.
Marble Point Pinot Noir 2008 is dense and saturated in colour. The alluring earthy / savoury / fruity aromas distinctly pinpoint the variety, the texture is velvety and seductive and the flavours are spicy and savoury with a dense berry fruit sweetness and a long lingering full-bodied finish. It was an inspired match to a chicken and tomato casserole.
The grapes were hand picked on the 21st and 22nd April 2008 and transported from the Marble Point vineyard to the Waipara Springs winery in Waipara to undergo quality control before being destemmed into open top fermenters where they 'soaked' until natural yeasts started the fermentation. Altogether the grapes and new wine spent 28 days on skins before being pressed to French oak, 25% new. The wine was then matured for 16 months before blending and bottling.
The finished wine has 13.3% alcohol and the bottle is closed with a screwcap. I rate it 4.5 stars.
While we were there we learnt that the vines were planted in 2004 with the help of international consultant Kerry Hitchcock (Cooks, Corbans and Montana), who has semi-retired to Hanmer Springs. The winery is named after the location, which is in turn named after the marble outcrops nearby. The cellar door opened in August 2009.
If you are heading to Hanmer Springs, Marble Point Winery is well worth visiting for both the wines, the marvel of the site and the little knick-knacks they sell too. The website says they are open 11am until 5pm, although thankfully it was open until 6pm the day we passed by.
Find out more from www.marblepoint.co.nz.
© Sue Courtney
21 Apr 2010