Wine Tastings & Tours

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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

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