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A tasting with Philip Woollaston
© Sue Courtney
15 December 2004

Woollaston is a name that art aficionados, Nelson residents and Labour Party supporters should know well

Sir Tosswill (Toss) Woollaston was one of New Zealand's most loved artists and one of New Zealand's foremost 20th century painters. The first New Zealand artist to be knighted in 1979, he sadly passed away in 1998. While Sir Toss leaves a great legacy in his artwork, his son Philip, a former Labour Party MP (1981-1990), a former Mayor of Nelson and now a Nelson vigneron, is ensuring the Woollaston name becomes a big player of the New Zealand wine scene. Woollaston art and Woollaston wine become one with Sir Toss's own artistic rendition of his name emblazoned across the label of Woollaston Estate wines.


Philip Woollaston at the old tasting room at Wai-iti with his father's paintings on the wall.

When I visited Nelson in November 2002 – November is the most fantastic time of year to visit Nelson by the way – Philip and his wife Chan were still at their Wai-iti River vineyard on the gravelly plains near Brightwater. They planted their first grapes there in 1993 when Chan was looking for a hobby and Philip was seeking a change from a career in politics. Philip ended up taking over 'as he always does', he said. A partnership that Philip and Chan formed with American Glen Schaeffer in the year 2000, was the conception of Woollaston Estates.

Now Wai-iti river Vineyard has been sold and Woollaston Estates, with vineyards mainly on the more complex clay and gravel soils near Mahana but with vineyards also on the Brightwater gravels, is growing fast. The multi-level gravity-fed winery complete with underground cellar at Mahana off Old Coach Road will be ready for the 2005 vintage while the reception area and of course the art gallery that has paintings by our beloved Sir Toss as well as other notable contemporary artists, opened in September 2004.

Andrew Sutherland joined the team as winemaker in September 2003 to finish off that vintage's wine and take full control from the 2004 vintage. Prior to that the wines were made by Daniel Schwarzenbach.

Philip came to Auckland in late November for a tasting. While the Pinot Noir was not available to try, most of the other wines were.

The Rosé was the last line in the line-up on the table but I decided to taste this fresh fruity wine first. It is not usually a wine you would decide to have after Chardonnay after all.

Woollaston Nelson Rose 2004 is pale watermelon in colour with appealing vinous aromas of cherries and sweet strawberry-like flavours with a citrus tartness coming though to balance the sweetness with a touch of spice, a hint of pepper and a rich full finish. A fresh and refreshing summery wine. 12.6% alc. 6.6 g/L rs. 8g/l TA. Screwcap. $19.95.

Woollaston Nelson Riesling 2002 was released then held back because Philip thought it a little austere at the time. The 2003 vintage was more approachable earlier so it was released before the 2002 but now it is almost sold out and available ex-cellar door only.
The 2002 Riesling shows a light straw colour with a lustrous glow, a nicely developed toasty aroma, quite broad, fleshy citrus and melon flavours and a crisp dry, long full citrus and spice finish. As with dry Aussie Rieslings, this is developing some nice fusel notes with floral overtones. 13% alc. 7g/L rs. $19.95.

Woollaston Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2004 is my favourite of the two. It emits some slightly developed asparagus peasy aromatics though it is quite crisp and fresh in the palate with apple / apple spice flavours on a grassy backbone, green fruit to the fore then soft, fresh stone fruit flavours emerging and a tropical fruit finish. Long and mellow with good acidity to balance the sugar. 13.1% alc. 5.1g/L rs. $19.95.

Woollaston Estate Burke's Bank Sauvignon Blanc 2004 has been made more specifically for the American market. A riper, richer, sweeter, softer style, aromatic and full, slightly reminiscent of riesling or pinot gris on the nose while in the palate toasty tropical fruit with a honeyed character gives a riesling nuance then fleshy stonefruit, citrus and melon gives a fruity fullness like unoaked Chardonnay on the finish. But the aftertaste redeems its sauvignon blanc heritage when pungent grass, apple, citrus, etc. come through to linger. 14.5% alc. 7.4g/L rs. $22.50.

Woollaston Nelson Chardonnay 2002 was the wine I wanted to sit down and have a big glass of. Ripe, peachy and full-flavoured with a creamy texture, juicy stonefruit, spicy oak and a long full finish. Approachable and nicely balanced with a lactic influence throughout, a long, savoury, fruity finish, sweet vanillin oak and a mealy aftertaste. An easy going, easy drinking style, it has taken a couple of years to hit its straps but has now blossomed. 14.5% alc. $19.95.

Woollaston Estates is definitely a winery to watch and is set to become one of New Zealand's big players when all the new vineyards hit full production. When they hit full production in 2007 they will be producing 20,000 to 30,000 cases of wine.

Woollaston Estates does not have a casual tasting facility at the winery in Nelson but tastings can be arranged by appointment . Distributed by Burleigh in NZ, the wines are at selected retailers and on the international market the wine can be found in the USA, Ireland and the UK. Further information from www.woollastonestates.co.nz. Copyright Sue Courtney
December 2004


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