NZ (7) Waipara: a nice surprise
It turns out that the last segment of my short trip, added as a bit of an afterthought, turned out to be one of the most interesting and inspiring. What a country New Zealand is!
Let me explain the 'afterthought' comment. Just before I left the UK, I was playing around trying to get my internal flights matching up with my flight home. Nothing seemed to work, and I ended up with a flight into Christchurch at noon, and a flight out to Singapore at the same time the following day.
This gave me a chance to take a quick peek at Waipara, a region that's emerging as one of NZ's stars, with a particular reputation for Riesling and Pinot Noir. It's less than an hour's drive from Christchurch.
But who to visit? Where to stay? I had made a loose arrangment to pop in to Daniel Schuster Wines, at Omihi, and left the rest open. Then, on Monday, a couple of phonecalls from James Millton secured visits to Pyramid Valley Vineyards and Bell Hill, two estates I'd not come across before in the hills west of Waipara.
You know how it is at the end of trips. I was quite tired, I'd been all over the place, and I was thinking about home. My energy was in the wrong place. Yet this 'afterthought' day in Waipara were really inspiring, and provided a fitting finale to my trip.
I met with winemaker Nicholas Brown at Daniel Schuster Wines (http://www.danielschusterwines.com/). Immediately, just from looking at this vineyard (pictured above) I could tell that these guys were up to something different. Low-trained Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, closely spaced, on gentle slopes. The wines were full of old-world complexity, poise and interest. Biodynamics is being implemented here, in part.
I then headed off to Pyramid Valley (http://www.pyramidvalley.co.nz/), not knowing what to expect, other than hearing a few rave reviews and that they were biodynamic. But I had an incredible time with Mike and Claudia Weersing. Immediately, they offered dinner and a bed for the night, an incredibly generous offer. When I'm on the road I so much prefer staying in people's homes rather than in hotels. This gave us some time to spare. Mike took me to see the vineyards and gave me the most lucid, plausible explanation of terroir that I've yet heard, relating characteristics of specific sites to the wines they are making.
Mike is an American who trained in Burgundy, has worked making wine in the USA, France and New Zealand, and who had a very specific idea of what he was looking for in terms of a vineyard site: limestone over clay, on which he could fashion Burgundian-style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The vineyards he has established look fantastic, and the first wines from them - a pair of Pinot Noirs which are not yet released - are spellbinding.
My experience at Pyramid Valley was an incredible one, including a lovely dinner where we drank a 1990 Jadot Mazis-Chambertin that gained aromatic poise and weight in the glass, a 2006 Knoll Loibner GV Smaragd that was fresh, pure and peppery, and a 2006 Hirtzberger Weissburgunder that was quite beautiful. As well as Mike and Claudia's wines, of course.
This morning I had my rearranged appointment at Bell Hill (http://www.bellhill.co.nz/, pictured above), with Marcel Giesen and Sherwyn Veldhuizen. Like Mike and Claudia, they have a small hillside vineyard with perhaps a bit more lime and a bit less clay. It's run along a rather Burgundian model (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the focus, although there are a few Riesling vines on stakes on terraces).
We tasted the Bell Hill 2007s from barrel: deeply impressive, mineralic Chardonnay and structured but elegant Pinot Noir that is top-rank, and distinctly Burgundian. Beautiful wines, and a great way to finish my trip.
[I'm writing this from Changi Airport, where I have 5.5 hours to recover before the next leg. Free broadband internet access this time: I'm up on floor 3 near the business class lounges, which I think is the explanation. The contrast of the relaxed ease and warmth of Changi with the clamour and busyness of Heathrow is stark.]