When commercial wine started to be released in the late 1980's from pioneering Central Otago wine producers Gibbston Valley, Chard Farm, Blackridge and Rippon, John Olssen was amongst those who tasted it. He was intrigued by the wine being produced from an area he loved since he had first visited there many years before.
With Central Otago the childhood home place of his wife, Heather, they thought that one day they'd like to settle there, perhaps as orchardists. But after tasting those Central Otago wines and visiting a friend's new winery in Martinborough, grapes became the focus of their attention.
They became part of the second wave of pioneering Central Otago grape growing when they bought their land in Felton Road in 1989. It was the first vineyard to be established in this heralded road in the Bannockburn sub-region of Central Otago, in fact the first vineyard in the whole of the Cromwell Basin. They planted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage and Shiraz, but Pinot Noir, which comprises 5.5 hectares of the 10 hectare vineyard, is the star. In a beautiful landscaped garden setting, complete with sculptures, a dinghy and a lake, they named their vineyard, Olssens Garden Vineyard.
Olssens Garden Vineyard now produces three Pinot Noirs, including Jackson Barry and a lighter styled Nipple Creek but the top wine in the range is the Slapjack Creek Pinot Noir, named for a creek that runs through the back of the vineyard. It is one of Central Otagoís and New Zealandís most highly regarded Pinot Noirs. It has won successive Pinot Noir trophies at the Sydney TRI Nations Awards as well as securing the Champion Wine of the Show Trophy at the Royal Easter Wine Show in 2005. The first Olssen wines were made at Chard Farm then, when the onsite winery was built for the 2001 vintage, Peter Bartle joined as resident winemaker. In early 2005 Matt Connell took over the wine-making reins. Karen Olssen is the viticulturist.
I was privileged to be invited to a vertical tasting of Olssens Slapjack Creek Pinot Noir, held in Auckland in September. Here are my notes.
Olssens Slapjack Creek Pinot Noir 1998 - Central Otago
Faded colour, browning at edge. Vinous, sweet earth aroma, mellow oak, not much primary fruit, macerated cherry and plum notes and smooth tannins. Lovely old wine complexity, silky and long with lingering fruit sweetness, enjoyable now and while it stays on this plateau.
Gold Medal and the Mike Wolter Trophy at the 1999 Bragato Wine Awards.
Olssens Slapjack Creek Pinot Noir 1999 - Central Otago
Cherry hues to the light-weight colour, though starting to dissipate on edges. Aromas of old school desks with savoury, moss-covered damp earth undertones. Richness and concentration in the palate with sweetness of fruit, firm velvety tannins and a long, soft, earthy finish. Drinking beautifully now and for some time in the future if you like a developed style. 14% alc.
Silver medal and magazine 5-star rating.
Olssens Slapjack Creek Pinot Noir 2001 - Central Otago
Cherry hues to the medium weight colour, still pinky bright and youthful. Earthy, slightly stinky in its scent - more Burgundian in character than the preceding wines. The sweet rich fruit in the palate is a contrast - Christmas cake fruit - with a chocolatey undercurrent while herbal notes are in keeping with the herbal characters of the region. Tannins are dry and grainy, the coarsest tannins of all the wines and there's a vinous sweetness to the spicy finish with is long in flavour with a hint of spiced orange zest and a savoury aftertaste. Still evolving. 14% alc.
Double gold medal winner.
Olssens Slapjack Creek Pinot Noir 2002 - Central Otago
Deep in colour with dark cherry plum hues, the earthy aroma is infused with musk, cherry and cedary oak and the taste is rich and deliciously savoury. It's an earthy style with floral nuances, a spiced orange infusion to the plum and cherry fruit and perhaps even a hint of strawberry adding to the allure. Wonderful vinosity and a gorgeous texture with crushed velvet tannins that add plushness to the lingering aftertaste. Still evolving but so enjoyable now. 14% alc.
Multiple gold medals and Pinot Noir trophy winner at the Sydney Tri-Nations Wine Competition.
Olssens Slapjack Creek Pinot Noir 2003 - Central Otago
As deep in colour as the previous wine, but not as opaque. Savoury, sweet mushroom and mellow spicy oak aromas lead into a palate full of sweet cherry fruit - beautiful primary fruit that is deliciously juicy with silk-lined velvety tannins, a chocolatey undercurrent, a touch of anise and musky floral notes. It's concentrated and seductive throughout its flow to leave a lingering aftertaste of spiced cherry and plum. Beautiful now but will develop more intriguing complexities with cellaring. 14.5% alc.
Multiple gold medals and Trophies, including Champion Wine at both the Sydney Tri-Nations Wine Competition and the Royal Easter Wine Show.
Olssens Slapjack Creek Pinot Noir 2005 - Central Otago
The purple-flushed hue indicates youth and youth contributes to the bound up nose but swirling and shaking reveals the fragrant thyme scents so synonymous with Central Otago pinot noir. Youth also contributes to the tightness in the palate but the sweet cherry and berry fruit pushes through. There are lots of earthy / floral complexities and a touch of rose petal too. A wine with complexity, length and a long mellow flow, there's plenty to evolve before its release in June 2007, but it will be worth the wait. Screwcap closure. 14.4% alc.
The 2000 and 2004 vintages were not made. The 2006 wine was also tasted but it was a 'barrel' sample and was showing overpowering yeasty characters and very tight tannins. However the vivid cerise colour was amazing as was the sweet juicy plum-like fruit. This wine will be blended and bottled early next year and released in 2008.
Current price for the Olssens Slapjack Creek Pinot Noir is $58 a bottle on mail order. Find out more from www.olssens.co.nz.
Copyright Sue Courtney