jamie goode's wine blog: NZ (7) Waipara: a nice surprise

Friday, November 16, 2007

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.]

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At 7:41 PM, Blogger Michael Pollard said...


Did you get a chance to taste the TerraVin wines from Marlborough? Vineyard is a hillside site in the Omaka Valley. Winemaker is Mike Weersing. Although the Pinots are powerful wines, there is a lot of European character.


At 8:59 PM, Anonymous Dave said...

Hi Jamie, great post that gives me the itch to travel. Fantastic photos. I too have found small estate growers and winemakers extremely hospitable, and if you hang around and look hungry it's surprising how often they'll offer a meal or a place to crash. One question...how do you keep from allowing free room and board from affecting your objectivity about their wines? I always add an extra adjective or two...it's only fair. Cheers!

At 11:05 PM, Blogger Salil said...

Can't wait for the detailed writeup/notes - I've heard a lot of good things about Pyramid Valley's Rieslings in particular, so looking forward to that in particular.

And yes, Changi's amazing - probably my favourite airport in the world. As far from a Heathrow, O'Hare or JFK as you can get.

At 1:03 AM, Anonymous Steve said...

Yet the most interesting to come out of Singapore is a plane to somewhere livelier like London, New York or Chicago. Why is that?

At 8:03 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

Michael, no - didn't get a chace to try TerraVin, but will look for it

Dave, that's a good point - I guess the benefit gained in terms of insight that you get outweighs the risk of being biased by knowing the people - I also find it quite hard to separate the wines from the people. Ultimately, honesty is the stronger driver, and while it's hard to be a bit critical of people who have been kind towards you, they usually respect you for telling it like it is.

Salil, I'll try to do it soon.

At 9:02 PM, Blogger Paul Tudor said...


Pyramid Valley's Riesling fruit (and most of their other wines' fruit) comes from Marlborough at present. The wines released so far excellent.

Very elegant, clean, fresh, off dry Riesling, in the "light, fruity style" promoted by Ernie Loosen amongst others.

However like many other Kiwi wine lovers, we can not wait to see some of Mike and Claudia's product from their home vineyard! That will be a way off.

Jamie - great that you finally got to my favourite wine region(s) in New Zealand (I make a distinction between Waipara and the Hurunui district where Bell Hill and Pyramid Valley lie.) Danny Schuster is a fantastic guy - one of my favourite people in the wine industry. Sherwyn and Marcle are heroes to me, but there are equally a lot of dedicated others in this area doing good things (including industry giant Montana.)

I place Waipara Pinot above Central Otago most of the time (there is some promising Pinot coming from elsewhere in Otago, the Waitaki Valley, but that is another story...)

This is even a part of NZ where I have looked at buying a property to make wine myself. One of my friends has taken the plunge - but then he lives close by, in Christchurch.

However, for sheer excitement and incredible long term potential, Waipara Chardonnay really grabs my attention. If New Zealand is serious about Chardonnay (and I think we ought to be) this has got to be a site on the radar.

Best wishes


At 4:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great that you could make it to Waipara. I was there in Feb / March as the Schusters are good friends and I represent their wines here in the Caribbean - tough I know !!! Love the Omihi and Waipara Pinots. Did you taste the Hull Late Harvest Riesling ??


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