Wine Tastings & Tours

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Monday, 28 December 2015

Gimblett Gravel and Bridge Pa Triangle

On his onward travels around New Zealand the Wine Anarchist stopped in the Hawke's Bay region, still on the east coast of the North Island, but about 150 km south of Gisborne around the towns of Napier and Hastings.  He soon realised that this was a much more intensely planted wine region, over a much greater area and could easily be sub-divided into several smaller regions.  Hence we're dealing with this region in 2 separate posts.

First the Wine Anarchist headed into the heart of Gimblett Gravel region, the most famous sub-region of Hawke's Bay.  The area comprises of 800 ha of gravelly soil which was laid bare when the Ngaruroro River changed it's course after a flooding event back in 1860.  This has now become a protected appellation like those in Europe and anyone who has a bit of land here is very fortunate indeed.  Not only is the soil exceptionally well drained, but the reflective heat off the large pebbles makes for a unique warm micro-climate, which particularly favours the production of red wines such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The first winery to see the potential of the region and plant vines was Pask Winery back in 1981.  Their winery isn't actually within the Gimblett Gravels, but in a commercial estate just outside Hastings.

Winemaker Kate Radburnd is a busy woman.  Not only has she been making wine at Pask for 30 years, she is also a director of New Zealand Winegrowers, she has been a driving force behind the Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand program as well as occupying a number of other roles.  Now, the Wine Anarchist is all for sustainable viticulture, however after speaking to a number of people about the 'sustainable' label in NZ it turns out that it is a pretty watered down version.  The members of the sustainable movement could only agree on the lowest common denominator, which means herbicides are allowed, fungicides are allowed, irrigation is allowed and almost universally applied.  So at best it's a halfway house towards organic viticulture, at worst it's plain conventional.  So if you find this on your bottle of wine:
it doesn't necessarily mean much.  In the view of the WA, sustainable should be more than just organic, not less.  

The lady at the cellar door at Pask was quite proudly proclaiming the fact that they took the water for irrigation from an underground aquifer and trickling back down again to replenish it as sustainable.  Seems a waste of pump power to the WA.  The vineyards of the Médoc also have well-drained gravelly soil and probably less rain than Hawke's Bay and the vine roots happily find their way down to the underground aquifers.  Anyway, enough of the rant.  

The Wine Anarchist didn't get to see the winery or the vineyards, but he did get to taste some of the wines.  Pask produce 5 different ranges of wine: Declaration, which is only produced in outstanding years, Gimblett Road, a range of wines exclusively grown in the Gravels, Kate Radburnd, a range of commercial aromatic wines from all over New Zealand, Roy's Hill, everyday drinking, fruit driven wines, as well as a self-explanatory 'small-batch' range.  Here are some of the wines the WA got to taste:

  • Kate Radburnd Berry Blush 2015: A rosé made from 100% Merlot, the colour is of pink lipstick, the nose displaying simple fresh cherry fruit, the palate is off-dry with good balancing acidity and pleasant lively fruit.
  • Gimblett Road Viognier 2012: barrel ageing giving a fleshy texture with apricot stones and minerals on both nose and palate, quite fruit driven with a minerally, almost metallic finish of reasonable length.
  • Small Batch Range Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2014: Fermented with indigenous yeast and barrel aged, this is a complex, weighty wine with aromas of freshly baked bread and brioche as well as warm pear notes; the palate is soft and creamy with some cutting acidity coming through, finishing long with hints of spiced apples.
  • Gimblett Road Syrah 2013: Deeply coloured with black pepper and blackberry on the nose extending onto the palate, with some sweet eucalyptus notes.  In the opinion of the WA, the sweetness of the fruit was a bit out of balance with the tannins feeling a bit underripe, which is strange for such a warm vintage.
  • Gimblett Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2013: Cassis, cedar and tobacco make for a classic Cabernet nose; the sweet fruit on the palate is perfectly balanced by a firm backbone, finishing long and satisfying.  Good now, but will get better.
  • Declaration Cabernet Merlot Malbec 2010: Medium garnet colour; a bouquet of red and blackcurrants, leather and vanilla as well as herbal hints of taragon and wormwood, the palate is elegant and well balanced, but perhaps lacking a bit in concentration.
  • Declaration Cabernet Merlot Malbec 2007: This older version is more perfumed with hints of lilac and mature cassis and herb notes; medium-bodied and silky-textured with a touch of spice, well integrated fruit and altogether better balanced and longer than 2010.  However on re-tasting the wine the following day the fruit had completely dried out, suggesting that the wine is already past its peak and should be drunk now.
All in all the wines were a bit of mixed bag and the Declaration wines at NZ$50 a pop don't represent great value.

Next the Wine Anarchist headed to Trinity Hill, who have their winery in the heart of the Gimblett Gravel.   

Trinity Hill has only been making wine for just shy of 20 years, but have built an enviable reputation for producing a range of first class wines, both red and white.  The photo at the top of this post is of Trinity's Pinot Gris vineyard, just outside the winery.  Founder John Hancock believed from the outset, that the Gimblett Gravel was capable of producing outstanding wines, including from grape varieties considered to be warm climate lovers, such as Syrah, Montepulciano and Tempranillo.

The Wine Anarchist was very warmly welcomed into the cellars by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable member of staff and got straight into tasting some of the goodies on offer.  

  • Gimblett Gravels Masanne/Viognier 2014: The split is 55/45, the Marsanne lending a nice bit of weight and herbal characters complemented by the exotic fruit aromas of apricot and honeysuckle of the Viognier.  The palate is full and firm, with plenty more stone fruit notes and a long spicy finish.
  • Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay 2014: Fermented with indigenous yeasts and aged in 500 litre French oak puncheons this wine has lovely delicate citrus fruit flavours on the nose combined with smoky, flinty notes followed by a very elegant palate of juicy grapefruit and roast hazelnut notes finishing long,  Well balanced and delicious!
  • Gimblett Gravels Montepulciano 2014: In its native Italy Montepulciano is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde variety (nothing to do incidentally with the town of Montepulciano in Tuscany, where they make wines from the Sangiovese grapes, just to confuse you).  It makes anything from cheap and cheerful to some of the best Italy has to offer.  The secret is to keep yields low and this is what Trinity have tried with their version.  The colour is typically deep purple; the nose displaying dark cherry fruit as well as vanilla and cinnamon spice; the palate is defined by a marked acidity lifted by some lively bramble fruit and finishing with floral notes of violets.  Very pleasant indeed.
  • Gimblett Gravels Tempranillo 2014: This Spanish variety traditionally marries well with American oak, which is also used here for its ageing.  The result is a red with warm spice and vanilla notes which is still tight and youthful, but some splendid bramble and wild strawberry coming through promising a bright future.
  • Gimblett Gravels 'The Gimblett' 2013: A Bordeaux blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, and a splash of Petit Verdot.  This is still very youthful and broody with cassis and herbs on the nose; firm structured, but with plenty of underlying juicy fruit and more herbal notes.  Very long and promising much.
  • Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2013: Aged for 14 months in French oak, resulting in a medium to deep ruby in colour, the nose is rich and deep with notes of sweet basil and black pepper combining with aromatic floral notes; the palate is full and long with some lovely ripe plum fruit.  A very appealing wine.
  • Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2012: Deep purple in colour with pepper and dark cherries on the nose; the palate is well structured and less immediately appealing than the 2013, but would do well with steak.
  • Homage 2013:  Trinity's flagship wine, made from Syrah with just a dash of Viognier, is only released in exceptional vintages. 85% of the fruit is sourced from the Gimblett Gravels with the rest from hillside vineyards on sandstone/limestone soils adjacent to the winery and yields are kept low.  The must is then left on the skins for a long time and aged in French barriques for 2 years.  The result is an intensely rich wine with plenty of black pepper spice; The palate is firm and spicy with oodles of ripe underlying fruit and a huge chocolatey finish.  A classic!
In conclusion the wines throughout the range are of great quality!

The soils of the Bridge Pa Triangle have also been formed by the Ngaruroro River, albeit 10,000 years ago.  So the gravel lies deeper in the soil and is covered by a layer of  sandy loam.  This makes for good drainage, but the gravel lies to deep to reflect heat back up.  However Hawke's Bay generally is one of the warmest regions in NZ and rainfalls are relatively low.  During the Wine Anarchists visit in early summer, the mercury rose to 31 Celsius some days.  The first winery in this region he visited was Ngatarawa:

Ngatarawa was one of the early pioneers of wine making in New Zealand started by the Corban and Glazebrook families back in 1981, when most of New Zealand was all about sheep and cattle and there were only 96 winemakers in all of New Zealand and only 4 in Hawke's Bay.  The Corban brand went on to become one of New Zealand's best selling wines and was taken over by multi-nationals, but Ngatarawa remains privately owned by the Corban family and is very much a boutique winery with most of their Farmgate label sold just there, through the farm gate.  The cellars are located at the end of a pretty tree-lined alleyway.

Here are some of the tasting notes from the Wine Anarchist:

  • Glazebrook Pinot Gris 2014: Nice fresh green apple fruit, a touch of spice and a medium length with some minerally notes
  • Farmgate Chenin Blanc 2009: This highly unusual style of wine is very much Vouvray-like.  A greenish golden colour, the nose is really honeyed with classic Chenin Blanc characters of baked apple, hay and fresh herbs; the palate is dry, with more mature honey notes and some lovely fruit, finishing long.  A great example how this variety can age gracefully.
  • Glazebrook Pinot Noir 2014: Light garnet in colour; slightly earthy aromas combining with sweet strawberries; very light style with more sweet strawberry fruit and a touch of vanilla with a pleasant spicy finish.
  • Ngatarawa Merlot Cabernet 2013: Medium ruby with a pale rim, herbaceous, a bit tart with hints of liquorice on the finish.  Lacking character and intensity
  • Riesling Botrytis 2014: Marked honey and botrytis on the nose combining with honeysuckle, lemon and peach; the palate is a good balance of sweetness and acidity with some lovely lemon sherbet fruit and a decent finish.
The Chenin Blanc was definitely the highlight of this tasting.

Also in The Bridge Pa Triangle the Wine Anarchist paid a visit to Abbey Cellars, which is a 13ha family owned estate which not only makes wine on what they call locally, the red metal soils, but they also brew beer (much to the delight to the Wine Anarchist... it was a hot day, it was lunch time and he was getting thirsty...).

The Wine Anarchist was getting a little jaded by the time he got here and the wines were not that impressive, hence the tasting notes a quite brief:

  • Riesling 2014: Lime and minerals dominate the nose; the palate is medium dry, lean and minerally, but just a bit hollow.
  • Rosé Malbec/Merlot 2014: Light salmon colour with delicate strawberry and raspberry fruit on the nose; the palate is dry with pleasant summery fruit flavours and a decent finish.  Nice summer picnic wine.
  • Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2013: Lovely creamy texture and elegant with a nice slightly spicy finish
  • 'Bishop' Merlot 2013: 88% Merlot with some Cabernet France, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, this is a smoky, quite rich style with nice hints of chocolate and spice
  • 'Eden' Syrah 2013: Blackberry and distinct black pepper on the nose; ripe, sweet fruit on the palate with lashings of spice on a good finish.
  • Prophet 2013: A blend of 50% Cabernet with Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc this displays classic cassis fruit and Mediterranean herbs.
The wines are good value for what they are, but the beers are definitely worth a visit.  At the end of a tiring day tasting the relaxed on the terrace tasting his way through the beers with some home-made pizza.

Nothing like a bit of relaxation after a hard day tasting in the New Zealand sunshine...

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Biodynamic in Gisborne

 On his travels through New Zealand the Wine Anarchist stopped in the Gisborne region, where he concentrated on two biodynamic producers.  Gisborne is located in the far east of the North Island and has the unique distinction of the first vineyards to see the sunlight each day, as it is close to the International Date Line.  The climate is Mediterranean, warm enough to ripen oranges, with moderate rainfall (around 1,000 mm per annum).  Soils are mainly fertile loams and grape vines share arable land with citrus orchards and cattle and sheep grazing areas.

The Wine Anarchist made a special appointment to see Millton Vineyards, a pioneer of organic and biodynamic viticulture, not only in New Zealand, but in the world and famous for their consistent high quality wines.  The WA was welcomed to the winery by sales & marketing director Simon Gardiner and they proceeded to taste some of the wines in the mellow morning sun on a lazy Monday in November.

Unfortunately James Millton was away on business at the time, but soon they were joined by Annie Millton, who was more than happy to show the WA around the vineyards and answer some of his more technical questions.

James and Annie started the winery in 1984 and now produce wine from 4 different vineyard sites in the area on a total of 30 hectares.  They were the first winery in New Zealand to attain organic status in 1989 and since 2009 they are also demeter registered biodynamic producers.  Their vineyard sites are Te Arai, which is immediately adjacent to the winery itself,

Riverpoint Vineyard, which gives more aromatic wines,

Opou Vineyard, featuring heavier clay soils, and , last but by no means least, the highly acclaimed hillside vineyard Naboth's Vineyard, used to make the highly acclaimed premium wines of Clos St. Anne, in honour of Annie Millton herself.

The vineyard team was flat out the morning the Wine Anarchist arrived.  After some unseasonally late rain had finally cleared to give ideal conditions for spraying and under vine cultivation, the latter getting quite urgent as can be seen on the above photo.  Obviously no herbicides are being used, instead a special machine, a Braun undervine cultivator from Germany, is employed to weed between the vines.  

As for sprays, the usual biodynamic preparations are used, most notably 500 and 501 (horn manure and powdered quartz), as well as a variety of compost teas, which get brewed in this area:

Compost teas include brews made from nettles, horsetail, seaweed, chamomile and yarrow.  Biodiversity in the vineyard is improved not only by allowing weeds between rows, but also by inter-planting flowering hedges, which help attract beneficial insects and protect from high winds.

Everything within the system is recycled and composted, the prunings, weed cuttings as well as the grape skins and stalks from the winery and the appropriate biodynamic compost preparations are added to aid decomposition.

And the result of all that meticulous care?  Wines of world class!  Here are some of the Wine Anarchists tasting notes:

Crazy By Nature Shotberry Chardonnay 2014: The Crazy by Nature range has been introduced as an entry level, good value wine aimed at the retail trade.  They are more fruit driven wines, that can happily be drunk by themselves.  The Shotberry Chardonnay is actually blended with some 14% of Marsanne and Viognier added (mostly Marsanne).  The fresh aromatic nose displays some lovely fresh apricot and baked apple fruit; the palate shows some creamy textured fruit with a juicy long finish and a nice spicy touch.  Really pleasant first thing on a Monday morning in the Gisborne sunshine.

Opou Vineyard Chardonnay 2013: Fermented and aged in French barrique, this is a far more serious wine with slightly smoky, creamy vanilla notes on the nose, and weighty rich fruit underpinned by well-integrated oak flavours finishing long.

Riverpoint Vineyard Viognier 2014: 1/2 of this wine was fermented in 300l French hogshead barrels using ambient yeasts resulting in a wine of well defined minerally, honeydew melon and peach aromas, followed by lovely fruit flavours supported by some really interesting savoury, almost Marmite-like characters and a pinch of spice on the very long finish.

Opou Riesling 2013: At 9.5% AbV and a residual sugar of 40g/l, this is very much in the Spatlese style of the Rheingau.  The nose shows some classic mineral and petrol notes combining with honey and citrus blossom; the palate is medium sweet, delicate and floral with decent balancing acidity.

Clos St. Anne Naboth's Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013: Light garnet in clolour; the bouquet is rich with smoky wild berries and autumn leaves; it is medium bodied with classic complex Pinot Noir characters of juicy wild berries and herbs balanced by a firm structure and a finishing long and satisfying.  Very much a Cote de Beaune style.  Very nice indeed.

Crazy By Nature Cosmo Red 2013: A blend of Malbec, Syrah and a splash of Viognier, this is a lively little number displaying vibrant cherry fruit and some eucalyptus notes, with the palate being well defined by tannins and acidity, but making lovely drinking with it's attractive sweet and juicy blackcurrant fruit.

The Wine Anarchist was pleased to learn that another winery in the region was using biodynamic methods, so he went to check out Wrights Vineyard and Winery only a few kilometres down the road from Milton.

The WA didn't have an appointment and he arrived at a busy time.  Wrights do run a cellar door café as well and they were just expecting a trainload of tourists to arrive.  However Geoffrey Wright did find some time to Talk to the WA, as did Geoffrey's young son Noah.  (Mind you the main topic of the discussion with young Noah was mostly about the finer technical points of paper airplane construction...).

The Wrights Vineyards were planted in 2000 on 3 different locations totalling about 17ha. 

 Geoffrey has descended from a long line of winemakers and his approach is staunchly non-conformist not always to the benefit of wine quality it has to be said.  The Wine Anarchist was staying with some local farmers and the consent was that, whilst local people would love to support natural farming methods, the wines were not so much liked.   So the WA was wondering if his styles were just so unusual and therefore not commercial enough, or were they really not as good as they could be.  It turned out to be a bit of both.  

The methods in the vineyard were very similar to what Milton were doing with the main spray being a seaweed ferment.  Here's a video of Geoffrey to show how he does that.

For under vine weed control he uses a $12,000 Italian machine as demonstrated in this video:

Here are some of the tasting notes of the Wine Anarchist on Wright's wines:

Mister Right Sparklin Moscato: A lightly sparkling, fresh wine with a delicate lemon blossom aroma, decent acidity, balancing a slight sweetness, with a lovely foamy texture and a  good finish.  Pleasant summer-time drinking.

Pinot Gris 2015: Baked apple notes on the nose are followed by a soft, quite full palate and unpleasant bitter almond notes on the finish

Chardonnay 2014: The nose again promised with apricot, roast hazelnut and almond notes, but the palate finishing unpleasant and bitter again...

Fumé Blanc (Orange Wine): This wine has been made by the traditional orange wine method, where grape skins even for white wines are left for extended periods on the must.  In this case the grapes in question were Sauvignon Blanc grapes, and the must was left in contact with the grape skins for 30 days, after which the wine was left a further 9 months in oak barrels.  The resulting wine has a deep golden orange colour; the nose displaying complex orange peel, Turkish delight, honeysuckle, vanilla and almond characters; the acidity is balanced, but tannins are marked, the finish is long with spicy oak characters.  A highly unusual and interesting style.  Definitely the Wine Anarchist's favourite of the bunch, although hardly something that could be described as commercial.

Pinot Noir 2015: Classic wild berry and earthy notes on the nose followed by nice wild strawberry fruit and a good savoury finish.  A good effort.

Reserve Syrah : Opaque colour with deep purple rim; the nose is full of brooding liquorice, coffee, dark chocolate, herb, prune, lilac and herby eucalyptus notes, the palate is rich, ripe and spicy with marked tannins and an earthy finish.  This will want to sit for a few years. 

In conclusion the Wine Anarchist believes that Wrights will have to do some work to convince him that he can produce consistent quality white wine.  The Orange wine is very good indeed and attempts to produce more unusual wines should be applauded.  This particular wine might benefit from the addition of some conventionally made Sauvignon to liven up the acidity, but well done nevertheless.  The reds produced at this vineyard seem to be doing better and the Reseve Syrah in particular is noteworthy.

Contact details:
Milton Vineyards
66 Manutuke
Gisborne 4053

Wrights Vineyard and Winery
1093 Wharerata Road
Gisborne 4072

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Pioneers in New Zealand's Smallest Region

The Wine Anarchist is back on the road again, this time exploring the wines of New Zealand.  You will hear more in the next couple of weeks about his exploits.  He started not at one of the big famous wine regions, such as Marlborough or Hawke's Bay but a relative newcomer to the scene, the small region of Matakana, about an hour's drive north of Auckland on the north of the North Island.

The Matakana wine region is the smallest wine region in New Zealand with a mere 80 ha planted by some 25 boutique vineyards, not all of which have their own winery.  It is located around the lovely little town of Matakana, which is a bit of a weekend retreat for Aucklanders with its pretty landscapes, Farmers Market and quirky restaurants and pubs.

The climate is temperate with mild winters and warm, but not overly hot summers tempered by the Ocean.  The soils of the region are challenging, with heavy clays dominating.  One of the first producers of the region was Providence, which was run by two Croatian Brothers.  However some family feud meant they split their properties, one leaving winemaking altogether and the other setting up a new venture, still making good wines to this day.  As a young man Toby Gillman worked on the Providence vineyards and it awakened in him the dream of starting his own vineyard.  He spent another year at Ch. Angelus in St.Emilion to hone his skills, where he became know as the Spy, because of all the notes and pictures he was taking.

In 1989 he planted his first vines and Gillman Estate was born.  Toby went for old world methods, training the vines very low, and he went for Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec as his grape varieties, to produce a Pomerol-style wine.  The vineyard is tiny, only about a hectare under vine on a north-facing slope, but they have already managed to get an international reputation, being represented in the best restaurants in New Zealand and the largest export market being Hong Kong.  Yields are being kept low, so average production is only about 200 cases a year, in some years only about 100.  Bottles are individually numbered.

The vines are trained low in the French style.  According to Toby they pick up reflective heat off the soil, which means they ripen a week or two earlier than they otherwise would.  Given the danger of botrytis and and powdery mildew late in the season in this humid climate, that appears a good thing.  However, he says his best vintages are the ones when he just about manages to ripen the grapes.  That's when you get the best complexity balance of tannins and fruit.

The wine is fermented and aged on site in what is officially New Zealand's smallest winery.  There is a basket press, but Toby's children are happy to 'pre-trample' his grapes.  Fermentation happens initially in a large tank, where the skins are pushed back down by hand every 4 hours for 21 days.  After that the must is transferred to new oak barrique to finish off their fermentation, undergo the malo-lactic and mature for 2 years.

As you can imagine, there is only one style of wine made from such a small property, however, there are small quantities made of a style they call Clairette, which is the name for rosé wines made in the Bordeaux region.  This quite different from any rosé you may have ever tasted though.  It is made from the same grapes as the red, except that skin maceration is only 24 hours instead of 21 days and oak ageing is only 1 year instead of 2.  Toby makes this style, because his Dad quite liked a rosé, whilst Toby didn't.  So he ignored all the advice he was given by well meaning friends and kind of made an in-between thing between a red and rosé.

Here are the Wine Anarchists notes on the 2 wines he got to taste whilst visiting Toby and his lovely family:

2009 Clairette: Orangey to garnet in colour; the nose displays hints of marzipan with some distinct nutty, wild strawberry characters; the palate is very dry with strawberry jam flavours and a nice, long and spicy finish.  This is close in style to a traditional Rioja rosé such as Marqués de Murrieta with some deliberate oxidative notes, it would do well with some tapas involving nuts and olives.  Delicious and unusual.

2009 Red:  75% Cabernet Franc with the rest Merlot and a dash of Malbec.  The colour is deep ruby with just a slightly paling rim; the bouquet brings out smoky characters of tobacco and herbs underpinned with some lovely ripe fruit-of-the-forest juiciness; the palate is defined by firm, but ripe tannins, notes of liquorice and more ripe dark berry flavours, finishing long and satisfying.  This is a wine that will continue to evolve for some years.

A great example of what this young wine region is capable of, and the Wine Anarchist islooking forward to seeing more exciting wines coming from this area.  If you want to get hold of some of these goodies it would be easiest to contact the estate direct at:

+64 21 037 3445

and check out their website on

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Permaculture and Biodynamics in Baden

The Wine Anarchist has been a bit quiet over the winter, while he was busy establishing a new project in Northern Ireland including planting an experimental vineyard and researching for his book on the permaculture vineyard.  Now he is back on the road for some field research for the book.

His first call was to the Winzerhof Linder in the small historical town of Endingen on the foothills of the Kaiserstuhl mountain in the Baden region of southwestern Germany.

The Kaiserstuhl is a small hill range of volcanic origin in the upper Rhine valley between the Black Forest to the east and the Vosgue mountains to the west and is one of the warmest spots in Germany.  When current owner Ronald Linder took over the small 4 hectare estate from his grandfather in 2011 the vineyards had just been replanted 2 years before and he was going to do things differently.  For a start his dad was given a 'Maschinenverbot', he was banned from using any machinery, else he would get carried away on the tractor mowing down the ground cover plants between the rows to tidy up the vineyard.

The use of non-natural sprays were restricted to copper sulphates and sulphur dioxide, both permitted in organic agriculture, and those only limited to particularly wet seasons.  Instead Ronald sprays with a variety of compost teas as well as biodynamic preparations.  One plot each of Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) are kept completely free of copper and sulphur in an attempt to strengthen the natural resistance of the grapevines to fungal diseases.  Instead a weekly spray of nettle (left for 10 days to ferment under water) and horsetail (soaked in water overnight and then boiled for an hour to release the silicates) is applied throughout the growing season.  To replace the copper sulphate he is experimenting with a compost tea made from the leaves of ash trees as they are said to contain levels of copper.  Ronald also swears by using biodynamic preparations such as horn silica, which he says has an almost immediate effect on the leaves, as they become more erect and almost crisp to touch.

 The property is located on a south facing slope between 200-250 metres above sea level on a number of terraces.  On the lower terraces a permaculture vegetable and herb garden is planted where many plants are left to grow quite wild and as perennials, such as Tuscan kale, which is now flowering for the third year in a row and happily seeds itself out, providing food for the family.

 The garden as well as the vineyard are neither dug nor ploughed, instead soil is created by successive layers of organic mulch.

 The mulch in the vineyard is mostly made from nettles which are left to grow freely amongst the vines along with grasses, plantain, horsetail, mallow, vetch, clover, valerian, hyssop, lavender, fennel and mint.  Especially the more aromatic herbs are encouraged and hyssop in particular is said to not only attract beneficial insects and deter pests, but also have an influence on the hormonal balance of grapevines by increasing yields and improving the quality of the grapes.

Ronald Linder also experiments with various other herbal preparations such as a plantain infusion as healing potion for injured vines, valerian is added to the nettle and horsetail spray to improve the pungent smell of the nettle tea.  He is trying to grow purple osier salix purpurea, a shrub of the willow family in a small wetland area, to produce a beneficial spray.

Another important element is a small herd of Heidschnucke sheep.  

The Heidschnucke breed is very hardy and easy to look after.  After the grape harvest the sheep are left to wander the vineyards to cut down the cover crops and fertilise the ground.  Whilst using the milk is too work intensive and the wool of this breed is not the most useful, the sheep are used for meat production and the fleeces are sold.  In permaculture any element is needed to perform multiple functions.

If the ground cover plants grow too tall during the growing season they are simply flattened with a roller, pruning cuttings are left to rot amongst the vines to give habitats for insects and fungi.  Until recently a spray of phosphoric acid as a nutrient during flowering was allowed in organic viticulture, but this can be replaced with the nettle application, which has natural phosphoric acid levels.

Also in the interest of using locally available resources, there is a hedge of black locust along the top of the vineyard.  The wood is particularly rot resistant, so the stems are used as end posts for the trellising system.

All in all the Wine Anarchist enjoyed his walk around the natural vineyard with obvious signs of nature and biodiversity which was in stark contrast to the conventional vineyards of the neighbours

And as for the wines?  Winzerhof Linder produces some 20 different wines from Mueller Thurgau, Rivaner, Weisser Burgunder (Pinot Blanc), Chardonnay, Grauer Burgunder (Pinot Gris), Sauvignon Blanc, Gewuerztraminer, Rulaender, Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Cabernet Sauvignon.  One thing that shone through with all the wines was a distinct minerality and a true expression to the volcanic terroir.  Here are some of the Wine Anarchists tasting notes:

  • Weissburgunder 2014 - Light in colour; delicate aromas of peach stone and hawthorn blossom; fresh on the palate with a long, distinctly minerally finish
  • Sauvignon Blanc 2014 - Pale colour with greenish tinge; aromas of nettle and kiwi with herbal notes; on the palate a tart acidity is countered by some residual sugar.  Nice aromas but a little jagged around the edges and lacking harmony
  • Grauburgunder 2014 - 1/3 of this wine has been matured in second passage local oak barriques for a short period, whilst 10% has been produced using the so-called 'orange wine' method.  This method goes back to the roots of winemaking in Georgia, where both for red and white wines, the skins and stalks are left to macerate in the wine during fermentation.  To avoid oxidisation during this process, Linder used earthen Sauerkraut fermentation vessels for this batch, which have a heavy plate on the top to ensure the skins remain submerged in the liquid.  Finally the wine has been left to mature on it's lees for 4 months.  These methods have resulted in a hugely complex and full-bodied wine, displaying a deep golden colour, a rich and complex minerality and fruit with hints of redcurrant and rose petals and a long spicy finish.
  • Grauburgunder Kabinett Tocken 2012 - Medium gold in colour; apples and spice on the nose follow through onto the palate with an extra spicy sensation and delicate layers of white fruit.
  • Chardonnay Kabinett Trocken 2014 - Pale gold with green tinges: floral aromas of peach blossom and some apricot fruit; marked acidity, medium body, more apricot fruit with hints of green apple, finishing long if a little tart.  The WA felt it needed a little time for the acidity to settle down.
  • Spaetburgunder Edition Landwein 2012 - Garnet in colour with an orangey rim; on the nose this displayed some fresh strawberry fruit combined with sweet damp earth and old leaves; the palate was medium in body with a firm backbone balanced by sweet ripe strawberry fruit and a touch of cranberry, finishing long and dry.  Classic Pinot Noir!
  • Spaetburgunder Kabinett 2011 - Light garnet colour showing maturity on the rim; a bouquet of wild strawberry and raspberry fruit with a touch of oak; the palate is lighter than the 2012 with mature fruit flavours, slightly gamey and a touch of sweetness, which aren't balanced by tannins, although the acidity is marked.  The finish is medim in length with earthy notes.  With the low tannin and slight sweetness this would do nicely with blue cheese, but it was the WA's least favourite wine of the selection.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 - The Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on the sunniest part of the vineyard being exposed virtually all day resulting in impressive 14% alcohol.  This was matured in barrique for 18 months displaying a classic deep purple colour; the nose is rich with plenty of vanilla oak and cassis aromas; the palate is full with marked tannins, balanced with rich liquorice and blackcurrant shining through finishing long.  This obviously still needs some time, but showing plenty of promis.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 - The Wine Anarchist also had a bottle of the 2011, but was enjoying himself too much to take any notes.  A distinct mintyness and plenty cassis have stuck in his mind though and showing that with a bit of maturity, these wines clearly become better.
Still a young project, but one that the Wine Anarchist will be keeping a keen eye on.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Animals in Viticulture

Now, you may be wondering why the Wine Anarchist has a photo of some guy and his goats (and if you look carefully, chickens) in his blog.  Well he has been a bit quiet in recent months, which doesn't mean he hasn't been drinking any wine at all.  In fact the WA has launched a new big project, which he will be reporting on over the next few months on this blog (or rather his anonymous ghost writer will...).  He has decided to combine his two main passions and areas of knowledge, namely wine and permaculture, to write a book on the permaculture vineyard.

Now permaculture is not something that is easy to define in a sentence or two, but essentially it is a design system, usually but not exclusively for land-based projects.  It aims to imitate nature as much as possible, increasing biodiversity and thus building a more resilient system for food production, whilst at the same time reducing input and increasing yield by creating a closed-circuit system.

Now the WA has noticed that most people involved in permaculture like a tipple of wine, which almost exclusively comes from monocultures, even if it is certified organic or even biodynamic.  He feels there must be another way of doing things to be truly sustainable as has been shown by various systems used in history too, and is now actively researching methods that are in accordance with permaculture and can be used in modern viticulture.

This has led the Wine Anarchist on another trip to the east, where he met Bulgarian winery owner Philip Harmandiev (pictured above) of Damianitza winery in Sandanski in south-western Bulgaria.  This winery is currently undergoing a period of transition.  Philip used to be the editor for a financial magazine in Bulgaria, but always had a passion for wine.  Back in 1998 a banker friend of his asked him to look at this flagging winery with severe problems adjusting to the post-communist realities of Bulgaria.  He took over this run-down winery, concrete tanks and mediocre wines all included.  He then invested in the winery to bring it up to modern standards and bought vineyards in various locations all over southern Bulgaria.  A few years ago he moved the winery to a new location, which left him with the old winery in an industrial estate near the main Sofia to Thessaloniki highway without knowing what to do with it.

Some 3 years ago he had a Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus revelation, realising that the way we conventionally grow our food and our grapes for wine production is not sustainable on the long run after he saw the move Food Inc.  The documentary talks about the way modern food is produced and how it harms both the environment and humans themselves.  As an alternative it features an animal farmer, Joel Salatin, who wrote the bestselling book 'You Can Farm'.  Philip was so inspired that he translated the book into Bulgarian and decided to turn the old winery into an animal farm along the principles described by Salatin and at the same time converting his vineyards to organic methods.

At this particular point in time the two systems only touch marginally, as his vineyards are scattered around the country whilst the animals are only on one location.  Moving the animals around would take to much effort to fully integrate them as part of the vineyard management.  However, Philip has experimented with having sheep graze between rows of vines to keep down vegetation, attract beneficial insects and fertilise the soil.  Grape stalks get fed to goats who love that stuff and in return it as compost much quicker than if you were to just leave them.  Grape skins after fermentation are fed to wormeries to turn to compost.

The animals in the meantime are kept on mixed pastures such as cows and pigs together, the pigs  eating the cow dung and at the same time destroying any intestinal pests lurking in there, thus lowering the risk of re-infecting other cows.

Chicken tractors follow cow grazing areas for the same reason and to re-fertilise the soil.

Egg-laying hens get larger mobile homes offering space for several hundred birds, whilst having all the space to do what they like best, foraging free range.

Pigs get to roam free and do what they like best: roll in mud

All enclosures are protected from predators by electric fences and dogs.

Slaughter of animals happens on site under as humane as possible conditions.  Philip's attention to detail goes beyond the welfare of his animals.  In an effort to reduce the environmental footprint of his operation he recycles as much as possible.  For example he uses scrap aluminum printer sheets as roofing for the animal shelters.  Not only do they not conduct heat like other metals and stay nice and cool, it also gives the animals inside something to read when they're feeling bored.

The whole operation is now a successful business as people come back and even pre-order meat, eggs and dairy products of far superior quality than the conventionally available AND production costs are actually lower.  In the future Philip wants to consolidate his vineyard holdings to fully integrate the two systems with sheep, chickens, ducks and geese grazing the vineyards and fertilising them.  A project to keep an eye on.

In the meantime, yes the Wine Anarchist did get to taste some wine too.  The main brands currently produced by Damianitza are No Man's Land, Uniqato and ReDark.  These are the thoughts of the WA on 3 of the wines he got to taste:

  • UNIQATO Rubin 2009: Big hefty wine, deep ruby colour with slight orangey tint on the edge, showing some age; rich nose of milk chocolate or rum'n'raisin, blackberry and morello cherry; the palate is very warm and rich with some spicy notes and lots of ripe fruit. A bit overripe perhaps at 14.5%, big in your face lacking subtlety, finesse.   Rubin is a Bulgarian cross of Syrah and Nebbiolo. It certainly has the power of those two varieties.

    UNIQATO Melnik & Ruen 2010: Med. ruby in colour with a pale rim; the nose reveals savoury notes of bay leaf, eucalyptus and basil as well as ripe blueberry and lush plum fruit and a hint of vanilla; The palate is full with some distinct peppery spice, more blueberry fruit and some well balanced tannins.  The finish is long and juicy.  Very nice indeed.  Melnik is the native variety of south-western Bulgaria and Ruen is another Bulgarian cross between Melnik and Cabernet Sauvignon.

    ReDark 2009: This is the flagship wine of the winery, their super-premium, and is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Rouen and Rubin.  The colour is still a youthful ruby with purple fringes; the intense aromas display floral aromas of sweet violets and lilac as well as spicy leather and vanilla notes; the palate still has a big tannic backbone, plenty of peppery spice, but balanced by some ripe blackcurrant fruit.  The finish is long and spicy with hints of liquorice.  A classy wine, which will continue to develop for the next 5 years at least.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Pilgrim Beer

On his recent visit to the Netherlands the Wine Anarchist and his wife happened to wander around the historical Delfshaven area of Rotterdam and chanced to pass this inviting looking brew pub.  The area is particularly famous for being the starting point for the pilgrims leaving for the New World in 1620, initially on the Speedwell, then changing onto the Mayflower.  The Pilgrim Fathers Church next door was dedicated to this event.

Seeing the mash tuns through the window of 'de Pelgrem' Restaurant and micro-brewery he decided to have a quick taste on what was on offer. 

It smelled divine, but being pressed for time he decided to go for the 5 Euro for 5 taster samples and the quality throughout was exceptional. 

The staff were very knowledgeable and enthusiastic and the atmosphere of the bar was cosy on this quiet mid-week early evening.  Explanatory diagrams on the mirrors explained the basic brewing process.

When it was time to go the WA decided to buy a selection of the beers in bottle to re-taste at home at his own leisure.  Here are his comments:

Stoombier 5%: Golden amber in colour, this is a pilsener-style with a kick.  The nose is distinctly hoppy with herbal notes of stingy nettles and a dried fruit background; the palate is refreshingly bitter with notes of elderflower and a long dry finish.  Oozing with character!

1580 4.8%: This a Dusseldorf style Alt beer flavoured with Hallertauer hops.  The colour is a reddy brown, slightly cloudy;the nose is very malty with notes of prunes and marzipan; the palate is soft and full with some overripe fruit notes well balanced by pronounced hoppy flavours, finishing bone dry.  Very pleasant indeed.

Saison 7.5%: Made in the French style using barley spelt this is deep amber in colour and slightly cloudy; the aromatic nose displays yeasty characters with fruity orange peel and blossom notes and hints of nutmeg and cloves; On the palate a fresh acidity combined with a herbal background and fruity notes.  This is somewhat like a wheat beer with a long, complex and dry finish.

Dubbellam 7%: Despite its name, double lamb, this more like a full grown ram!  Light chestnut in colour, the nose is full of autumnal aromas, reminiscent of wood, dead leaves, nuts and rosehips combining with notes of violets and liquorice; the palate is rich and full, displaying nice fruit flavours of elderberry and blackberry combining with allspice and liquorice, finishing warm and long.

Mayflower Tripel 7.5%: Deep amber in colour, with the nose showing yeasty characters combining with dark dried fruit such as prunes and raisins as well as fresh hay aromas; the palate is lively and frothy with more of the fruit, finishing long, dry and hoppy.  Well balanced with some earthy notes.

VSOP 9.6%: This Chateauneuf du Pape of beers has been matured for 5 months in oak barrels resulting in a dark mahogony coloured brew which is almost still and treacly; the bouquet is rich in chocolate and bourbon vanilla notes combining with overripe fruit aromas, such as moreno cherries and medlars; The initial sweet fruit gives way to to warm liquorice notes and finishing dry and long with distinctly oaky flavours.  A stunning winter warmer!

The samplers in the bar also included a coffee stout which was just like drinking a cold and alcoholic mocca coffee.  Delicious!

So if you happen to find yourself at a loose end in Rotterdam you can do worse then visit this place.  Details below:

De Pelgrem Stadsbrouwerij en Restaurant
Aelbrechtskolk 12