Gibbston Valley
Revisiting the Central Otago wine region, part 1

Website: www.gibbstonvalleynz.com

New Zealand is great, but it takes a while to get there. And there’s the jetlag. It’s worth it though, especially when you’re headed down Central. And the locals are usually very understanding when you step off a plane straight into a day’s visiting.

I arrived in Central Otago late morning after a long flight, and after a quick shower and wander around Queenstown I was off to visit Gibbston Valley with winemaker Christopher Keys. We started off with a look at the Glenlee vineyard (above), planted in 2002 by Gary Andrus, with close planting of 6000 vines per hectare. Most of Gibbston Valley’s wines come from their vineyards in Bendigo, but they still make some single vineyard bottlings from Gibbston, and Glenlee is one of them. The other is Le Maitre, a wine dedicated to Alan Brady who first planted this vineyard in 1983/4, and released the first commercial wine of the modern era of Central Otago in 1987 from these vines.

Brady (above) was one of the pioneers of Central Otago wine. In a former life a journalist from Northern Ireland, he planted 500 vines here in 1981, although he emphasizes that he wasn’t the only one experimenting then. At the time he tried lots of varieties, including Chasselas and Müller Thurgau. It was initially just a hobby, but the encouraging results spurred him on to release his first commercial wine in 1987: the Gibbston Valley winery was born.

Alan hasn’t been involved in Gibbston Valley for a while, but it was nice that he happened to be there when I visited, and he joined in the tasting of a vertical of the wine named after him. The home vineyard, planted on soils of schist and river terraces can produce excellent results, but the Gibbston sub-region has a pretty marginal climate, and to focus all vineyard efforts here would be pretty risky.

For that reason, in the late 1990s Gibbston Valley started planting in the warmer Bendigo sub region. This is where most of their vineyards are now located. Christopher Keys, the winemaker at Gibbston Valley, explains that in Bendigo there’s quite a bit of variation. The lower terrace is more alluvial, at lower altitude (250 m) and has coarser soil. It’s a bit warmer. Higher up, the soil is finer, and there’s even a bit of limey soil under the schist. It’s also cooler.

China Terrace is one of their key vineyards. It's on a gently sloping terrace in Bendigo, with a clay/loam soil. The clay is predominant, so it retains moisture well. There's lots of microbiological activity in the soil, as evidenced by lots of worms. The vineyard was planted in 2002, and is at an altitude of 310 metres. This was the second vertical that we tried in the tasting, after Le Maitre.

As well as Christopher and Alan, we were joined in the tasting by winemaker Sascha Herbert, who works alongside Christopher. It was fun, and I didn’t notice my jetlag.

THE WINES

Gibbston Valley Le Fou Riesling 2013 Central Otago, New Zealand
From 30 year old vines on the home block in Gibbston. Lively and intense; lemony and bright. Lovely precision here with high acidity (pH 2.9, around 40 g/litre residual sugar). Striking wine. 90/100

Gibbston Valley Glenlee Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago, New Zealand
The second vintage they've done from this vineyard. Picked late April/early May, with 30% whole cluster. Christopher Keys thinks whole cluster integrates more in cool climate vineyards. 40% new oak, 12.7% alcohol. Very pretty and perfumed with fine leafy cherry fruit. Detailed and interesting with lovely structure. Fine, fresh red cherries and herbs, Great finesse and fine acidity. 95/100

Gibbston Valley Le Maître Pinot Noir 2007 Central Otago, New Zealand
Fresh, fine and focused with lovely freshness to the bright red cherry fruit. Subtle green notes, with great balance and purity. Still primary. 94/100

Gibbston Valley Le Maître Pinot Noir 2009 Central Otago, New Zealand
Warm, sweet, pure ripe cherries and plums. Supple and warm with a hint of caramel under the cherry fruit, and a bit of oak. 92/100

Gibbston Valley Le Maître Pinot Noir 2011 Central Otago, New Zealand
Slightly reductive nose showing some spice and minerals. Fresh, focused palate with pure red cherries, plums and lovely focus. Real elegance and precision here, showing fabulous freshness. 94/100

Gibbston Valley Le Maître Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago, New Zealand
Distinctive, precise and bright with nice supple red cherries and herbs. Pure, fine cherry fruit with a hint of sappy greenness. Such elegance. This needs some time to show its best, but it's very, very good. 95/100

Gibbston Valley China Terrace Pinot Noir 2009 Central Otago, New Zealand
Ripe, sweet black fruits: fresh black cherries and plums, showing good focus. Sweet and quite rich with some freshness to the black fruits, and quite firm tannins. 93/100

Gibbston Valley China Terrace Pinot Noir 2010 Central Otago, New Zealand
Very fresh and pure with nice focus. Taut, fresh and perfumed with nice silky black cherry fruit. Tannins and fruit work in harmony here. Precise. 94/100 

Gibbston Valley China Terrace Pinot Noir 2011 Central Otago, New Zealand
Fresh, tight and fine with cherry and plum fruit, as well as vivid black fruits. Nice freshness and focus despite the warmth, but there's a tiny bit of bitterness on the finish. 92/100

Gibbston Valley China Terrace Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago, New Zealand
Lovely focus and freshness, with supple, focused black cherry fruit showing real clarity. Fresh cherries and some subtle spiciness, showing real finesse. A lovely wine. 95/100

Also worth reading: An earlier report on a visit to Gibbston Valley, from 2010

See also:

VISITING CENTRAL OTAGO
Gibbston Valley
Chard Farm
Wooing Tree
Folding Hill
Mount Difficulty
Lowburn Ferry
Grasshopper Rock

Central Otago Masterclass at the 2014 celebration
Visiting Central Otago, New Zealand (series)
 

Wines tasted 02/14  
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wine-searcher.com

 

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