The New Zealand Winegrower magazine that arrived in my letter box the other day indicates there were 672 wine companies producing wine in 2010 (presumably wine companies that belong to New Zealand Winegrowers). Twenty years before there was just 131. In 1991 the number of wine companies had increased to 150 and the following year another 16 wine companies had joined the growing list of producers. And one of the newcomers was Lawson's Dry Hills. Yes, Lawson's Dry Hills is celebrating their 20th vintage and they are promoting this with a '20 years of excellence sticker on their bottles of 2011 vintage wine. But their grapegrowing heritage goes back another 10 years, to 1981.
Cynthia Brooks, in her book Marlborough Wines & Vines (1992), referred to the Lawson's vineyard in Alabama Road, Blenheim, as 'the vineyard with no fancy name'. The Lawsons bought the land in 1975 as a lifestyle block but in 1980, when Penfolds wanted people to grows grapes under contract to them, there was a change of tack. Interestingly, Neal Ibbotson of Saint Clair Wines was the local viticulture advisor. It didn't take long for the vines to go in and soon the Lawsons were supplying exclusively to Montana (who took over Penfolds), and later sold grapes to Giesen in Canterbury and Seifried in Nelson. But soon it was time to reap some of the glory for themselves.
I've always though of Lawsons as one of Marlborough pioneering labels but in Cynthia's 1992 book, there are 24 companies listed and Lawson's Dry Hills is not one of them. I guess around the late 1980s and early 1990s there was a flourish of development. Twenty years later the transformation of Marlborough farmland into vineyards is still ongoing.
So after that introduction it's not surprising that this week's Wine of the Week is a Lawson's Dry Hills wine from the twentieth vintage. Sadly Ross Lawson is no longer with us in person to celebrate the milestone, but he is in my thoughts at least. And it was terrific to see Barbara in Auckland recently and know she is still very actively involved in the label she and Ross started.
Lawson's Marlborough Pinot Gris 2011 is a straw gold colour and has a tantalising tropical fruit aroma that's infused with tangelo zest. It seduces me instantly, as do the juicy and delicious flavours that are crammed with apples, pears, an infusion of citrus and honeydew melon. There are some classic Pinot Gris characters and a bready richness to the finish that suggests a decent length of time on yeast lees.
The technical notes say free run juice was fermented in stainless steel and the pressings, which make up 16.5%, was fermented in older French oak, which is not detectable in the taste, with a mix of wild and cultured yeasts. Alcohol achieved is 13.8%, residual sugar clock in at 7 grams per litre, but interestingly the wine tastes dry.
I think it's beaut to drink now, but it will develop in the bottle and should be quite spiffing in a couple of year's time too. Cellar door price is $25. Check out www.lawsonsdryhills.co.nz for more.
We had two food matches. Pan-fried fresh salmon is a no-brainer, plus one of my favourite pork fillet recipes cooked in another Pinot Gris (not this one) with fennel seed and tangelo.
© Sue Courtney
10 October 2011