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Visiting New Zealand's wine regions 
Part 10: Esk Valley, Hawkes Bay

Heading north out of Hawkes Bay, the main road passes by Esk Valley, and its famous ‘Terraces’ vineyard. The winery, which is historic by New Zealand standards, sits nestled in an amphitheatre created by vines on one two sides and a hill on the other, and from this site there are views out to the sea. It’s a lovely setting.


Established in the 1930s as Glenvale, the speciality here used to be fortifieds, and the brand Esk Valley was only created in the 1970s. Glenvale went into receivership in the 1980s and was purchased by George Fistonich, owner of Villa Maria. However, Esk Valley, as the winery is now called, is an autonomous operation with its own facilities and winemaking team, headed up since 1993 by Gordon Russell.


Esk Valley’s wines are all from Hawkes Bay, and they source from 28 different vineyards spread throughout the region. Total crush is around 750 tons each vintage. Gordon Russell takes a hands-off, terroir-driven approach to winemaking, and tries to allow the different sites to express their characters. In the winery, there are rows of 70 year old open-top fermenters, which are still used. They remind me of the lagares that you find in Portugal’s Douro valley, which fits in with the terraced vineyard theme, I guess.

Open fermenters with some punch-down poles in the foreground  

The wines impressed. The range is quite broad, and includes the unexpected, such as Verdelho and Chenin Blanc, as well as some serious reds.

Esk Valley Chenin Blanc 2006
From two different vineyards, one third goes into old oak, the rest is kept in stainless steel. Bright, fresh nose with a distinctive minerality and a hint of smoky, herby complexity. The palate is lively and fresh with lovely rounded, rather spicy appley fruitiness as well as a touch of herbiness. Rounded and quite complex. 91/100

Esk Valley Verdelho 2006
The only Verdelho in New Zealand, this comes from two different vineyards. Bright, aromatic and herby with some sweet honeyed notes and minerality. The palate is broad and rich textured with nice softness and good acidity. Almost Alsace-like, with a hint of sweetness. 89/100  

Esk Valley Pinot Gris 2007
From two different vineyards, one in Kidnapper’s Cove, the other in Eskdale. The second vineyard is picked at three stages: early, normal and late (for some botrytis). Very interesting brightly fruited aromatic nose, which is lively and herby with a hint of spicy richness. The palate has a full, rounded texture. It is quite rich, but nicely complex. Grapey and broad with smoothness and nice spicy balance. 88/100

Esk Valley Reserve Chardonnay 2005
The goal here is to make this wine in a complex minerally style, with a mix of vineyard sources. Very full, expressive nose of fig, toast, butter and herbs. The palate is fruit-led with soft texture and complexity. Quite classy. 91/100


Esk Valley Rosé 2007  
A blend of Merlot and Malbec. The juice is cleaned up and then undergoes a long, cool fermentation. Very deep pink, this has a sweet, intense strawberry fruit nose. Really seductive. The palate is rich and intense with strawberries and cream character, as well as nice acid freshness. 88/100

Esk Valley Reserve Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2004
From Gimblett Gravels fruit, given an extended (up to 30 days) post-ferment maceration in the concrete fermenters, before spending as long as 24 months in barrel. Sweet, lush dark fruits nose: smooth, quite pure and very ripe, with just a hint of gravelliness. The palate is smooth, concentrated and elegant with sweet fruit over a gravelly, minerally, tannic core. A serious effort. 92/100

Esk Valley Reserve Syrah 2005
A single vineyard on the gravels. Smooth, dark, brooding nose with a bit of white pepper freshness and pure dark fruits. Lovely fresh dark fruits palate has a grippy, minerally edge to it. A fresh style finishing quite savoury with good acidity. Wonderful stuff. 93/100

Esk Valley ‘The Terraces’ 2002
This is the flagship wine from Esk Valley, made from the block of terraced vines surrounding the winery. It’s only made in good vintages (there was no ‘Terraces’ in 1996, 1997, 1999, 2001 and 2003). The grapes are fermented together in concrete, have a 25 day post-ferment maceration, and then go into new oak. Dark, sweet, expressive nose shows pure fruit together with a refined, spicy character. Seductive and brooding. The palate is concentrated and rich. It’s broad with good acidity and grippy tannins under the multi-layered fruit. Great definition and potential. 94/100

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