Blair Walter, winemaker and General Manager of Felton Road Wines, was in Auckland on only the second ever, marketing trip of Felton Road Wines. You had to wonder why they are marketing their wines when they had practically nothing to sell, for Felton Road is one of this country's success stories.
The vineyard was planted in the road that has given the winery its name, Felton Road, in Bannockburn across the Kawarau River from Cromwell right in the centre of the Central Otago Wine Region. The then owner, Stuart Elms, purchased the land among the mining tailings in 1991. There were no grape plantings anywhere nearby, just the piles of tailings from the old gold mines and fruit crops such as cherries and apricots. The grapes were planted in 1992 and the first crops from the 1995 and 1996 harvest were sold to Gibbston Valley. 1997 heralded the debut of the Felton Road label and the wines sent ripples around the world. High ratings by international critics sealed this winery's fate. The name was to become to New Zealand Pinot Noir as Cloudy Bay was to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
Headlines were made in December 2000 when British wine lover Nigel Greening, who had established his own vineyard in Cornish Point nearby, made Stuart Elms an offer he couldn't refuse. Elms sold and Greening now owned the label he loved.
After vintage 2003 the production had risen to 9,000 cases and they expect to be at full production, producing 12,500 cases, in 2006.
Here are the wines I tasted and I can honestly say I recommend the lot...
Felton Road Dry Riesling 2003
Very pale in colour. Richly aromatic with floral scents joined by lemon and honey and just a hint of wet wool. Wonderfully crisp and racy in the palate with citrus, apples and ginger on a steely, stony, minerally backbone. The 8grams per litre of residual sugar balances the acidity and adds some sweetness. Very pure with a nice grainy texture, it evolves as it sits in the glass and the finish is long. pH 2.85. 11.0% alc. Blair considers this an 'earlier drinking' wine. About $26.95.
Felton Road Vin Gris 2003
Made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, Blair selected the bigger berries from the younger vines. The juice of the freshly crushed grapes was bled off, therefore there is only the slightest pink tinge to this light golden coloured wine. A barrel ferment character and a lactic influence add a caramel nuance to the nose, it smells a bit like chardonnay with a wild yeast overtone. Warm and spritzy in the palate with bright citrus acidity, it is full-bodied, rich and textural. Berries and yellow plum flavours with a herbal nuance and a touch of strawberry lingers. An unusual wine but totally drinkable. 14% alc. About $26.95.
Felton Road Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2003 – barrel sample
A medium yellow gold in colour. Nuts, figs and yeasty overtones on the nose. Ripe spicy apricots, figs and citrus with toasty oak in the palate. It's buttery, long and smooth with a full-bodied spicy finish. Apricot flavours linger.
Felton Road Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2002
Bright yellow gold. Nutty, lemony and slightly funky with the wild yeast influence on nose, in the palate it's quite biscuity with lemon and caramel richness. It's long and smooth, mouthfilling and weighty with very appealing ripe fig flavours, spicy oak and the lift of spiced apples and citrus on the finish. Wonderfully persistent. "A little chilling brings out a minerally character", says Blair. It doesn't want to be over chilled, however, as that will pronounce the acidity. 14%. About $35.95.
Felton Road Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2001
Medium gold. Funky wild yeast with a biscuity, mealy influence on the nose and in palate together with nuts, figs, citrus and stonefruit. It’s slightly earthy with a smooth texture and a warm, long finish. There's plenty of spicy oak influence together with bright acidity that lifts the finish and extends the length. Drinking really well now.
Felton Road Pinot Noir 2003 – barrel sample
Purply-red. Wild berries and Central Otago herbs on the nose. Slightly woody in the palate. It's spicy and savoury with wonderful fruit concentration, cherry, red berries, red currants, musky/rose petals, lifted finish. It looks like it is going to be very good.
Felton Road Pinot Noir 2002
Pinky-purple of good depth. Much more savoury and earthy than the barrel sample, this is more tannic and slightly tarry with just a hint of leather, concentrated red & black fruits of the forest, aromatic spices, thyme and rosemary. Wonderfully integrated with lots going on, there's just a touch of jaffa on the lifted finish. Seven clones of Pinot Noir contribute to this wine. 14% alc. About $47.95.
Felton Road 'Block 5' Pinot Noir 2002
This deeply coloured youthful looking pinot with a smoky aroma is the perfection of integration in the palate. It's smooth and harmonious, spicy and lifted with cherry, black plum, mulled citrus, cloves and a suggestion of anise with tannin and oak behind it all. There's a touch of moccachino and an earthy savouriness with sweet fruit and violet/rose/herb flowers on finish. A wonderfully structured, velvety textured wine, the peacock's tail flares and the finish goes on and on. Deserves its status as one of Central's best. 14% alc.
Felton Road 'Block 5' Pinot Noir 2001
A lighter cherry red, a little more developed as befits its age. Silky in texture, it's aromatic, fragrant and smoky with a hint of liquorice, there's more herbal influence and extract in this wine. It's wonderfully floral with a core of sweet fruit, great elegance, charm and length.
Further information: www.feltonroad.com
© Sue Courtney
4 March 2004