edited by Sue Courtney
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by Sue Courtney, 7th November 2000
"I believe that the 2000 vintage is the best vintage for Chardonnay in the Hawkes Bay since 1962", says Te Mata Estate's John Buck as he pours a glass of the newly released Te Mata Estate Chardonnay 2000. "Not that there are many of us around that can remember the vintage of 1962" he adds.
And on checking the literature it would have surprised me if many could remember. For chardonnay clocked in at No. 24 on the acreage list of grape varieties grown in the country in the 1965 national survey (the closest to 1962 that I can find) and this from under 10 acres (4 hectares) of vines were chardonnay (or Pinot Chardonnay as it was called in those days).
How times have changed. Here we are in the year 2000 where chardonnay is the highest producing grape variety in New Zealand. But just as winemakers were experimenting with new varieties almost 40 years ago, so they are again today.
On the new Woodthorpe Terraces vineyard in Hawkes Bay's Dartmoor Valley, just 13.5 kilometres inland as the crow flies but many kilometres by road, exciting things are happening. The 200 hectare property, where a series of shallow terraces fall gently to the north, has 54 hectares planted into grapes so far and among these are the nursery vines of new varieties for the new millennium.
Experimental rows of the red grapes Gamay Noir, Petite Verdot, Grenache and Mouvedre and the white grapes Sauvignon Gris and Rousanne lie between established producing vines such as Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. And there's also the Viognier, the famous white wine grape from the town of Condrieu on the northern Rhone River in France, which was introduced into New Zealand in 1992.
My visit to the Woodthorpe Terraces coincided with the first release of the Te Mata Estate Woodthorpe Terraces Gamay Noir. Planted in 1997, the single row of 100 vines in the nursery yielded enough fruit this year to allow for a small volume (about 15 cases) of commercial wine to be made.
The 'Gamay Noir' at Woodthorpe is not to be confused with the part hybrid 'Gamay Teinturier', which produces nouveau Beaujolais Nouveau in France and was produced in New Zealand by McWilliams many years ago. Gamay Noir is the 'cru' grape of Beaujolais - and the clone '509' planted at Woodthorpe, chosen after several visits to France, is one of the best.
It seems highly suited to the light fluffy volcanic ash derived sandy loams of the Woodthorpe Terrace vineyard. "We can't discount this variety in the new wave of New Zealand wines," says John Buck of the prolific bearer, where up to three bunches per shoot are common. "We need to learn how to manage it to ensure the quality", says viticulturist, Larry Morgan.
Growing alongside the Gamay Noir are two rows of Petite Verdot, also planted in 1997. We'll get to taste a barrel sample of the classic variety imported from Bordeaux.
While in the nursery, I took time to check out the other baby vines, sporting their tiny bunches of new seasons grapes.
The Sauvignon Gris is the clone of Sauvignon Blanc used in Sauternes and we are told it looks promising for the area, as does the Grenache. The Rousanne, however, looks like it might be difficult to ripen while the Mouvedre is sitting on the borderline.
There was an empty cradle where the red grape Cinsault had been unsuccessfully trialled - it didn't like the Hawkes Bay environment climate, so where the vines have been pulled replacements will soon be planted.
It's all very good looking at the vines, but one gets a much better understanding after tasting the results.
We started with the Te Mata Castle Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2000 made entirely from grapes grown on the Woodthorpe Terraces block. The wine has seen no oak yet there is a toasty overtone in its aromas and flavours. Aromatic herbs, passionfruit and citrus leap out of the glass and in the palate delicious spices join the array of herbs, which are reminiscent of coriander in flavour. It's clean and fresh and there's even a hint of limes and some solid, fat, peachy fruit. With just 1.5 grams of residual sugar, this wine is bone dry. "Dryness is a movable feast, depending on when fermentation stops" says our host. "And because our mainstream is not sauvignon blanc, we can fiddle with it".
Then followed the Te Mata Woodthorpe Terraces Viognier 2000.
This is the 3rd vintage of Viognier from the Terraces, where the vines were planted in 1994 after coming out of quarantine and the quantity, although increasing, is still tiny with less than 100 cases made. I love the appealing floral scents and the soft, full flavours of this wine. "The trick is sorting out the yellow and green. We hand pick and only take the golden bunches," says Mr Buck.
John Buck tells us "Viognier is the greatest white wine in the world with smoked seafood". There was no smoked seafood today, but I enjoyed the wine with camembert - the cheese enhanced the fruit spectrum of the wine, producing some passionfruit and other ripe tropical fruits and finishing with peach blossom.
The Te Mata Chardonnay 2000 was next. While not entirely Woodthorpe Terraces fruit, there's a decent percentage in here. What a delightful chardonnay. I just loved it so much I reviewed it as 'Wine of the Week". You can read my notes here.
Now for the reds and the wine that is being launched today, Te Mata Woodthorpe Terraces Gamay Noir 2000. What a gorgeous colour the 'deep black cherry with a crimson edge' looks in the glass. The aromas are fragrant and vinous with raspberries, cherries and spice while it is soft in the palate with just a touch of tannin and a hint of earthiness. The fruit is sweet and ripe with brazil nuts on the lingering aftertaste accompanied by a smoky character. This smokiness is one of the indicators of clone 509, perhaps enhanced by the fermentation technique for the wine has seen no oak. It is a light fruity wine, perfect for lunch and I can imagine it being a hit on the café scene - but not this year for with just 15 cases made, there is only enough for selling at the winery. I thought this wine was a delicious match to a creamy smoked cheese.
The Te Mata Bullnose Syrah 1999, from the Bullnose Vineyard in the area west of Hastings, has rich, fragrant creamy aromas. It's supple and forward with plums, blackberries, peppery spices and hints of fruitcake. The spice firms up in the palate along with fine medium tannins and cedary oak and although there's just 1/3rd new oak it is perhaps a tad dominant in the youth of this newly bottled wine - expect it to integrate as the wine settles. Hints of leather and some chocolate box characters emerge. The spicy, brambly, peppery flavours linger for ages climaxing with a concentration of berry fruits. Fantastic today with cold sliced rare fillet of beef.
To finish the tasting we tried a sample out of a one-year-old barrel of Petite Verdot. This is a densely coloured wine with purple edges and on the nose I get the fragrance of violets and lavender along with stone and raspberry fruit. It is rich in flavour with softer tannins that I'd imagined but good, rich, ripe tannins never the less. It's sweet, full and creamy with fruitcake, a lifted almost exotic spice and just a hint of pepper on the soft but full, long finish. In Bordeaux, Petite Verdot is used to bring colour, body and fragrance to a wine and is used all the classed growths although there is never more than 10% in the final blend. The way it is drinking from this barrel sample, I have to wonder why it has to be blended at all; it is just so delicious.
So how will these new wave varieties be faring in 40 years time, I wonder. Will chardonnay still be queen of the grape varieties planted in New Zealand or will sauvignon blanc, our jewel in the crown, have taken over. Or perhaps we'll see one of the 'nursery vines' of today heading that list of tomorrow. Only time will tell.
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