Rippon was one of the pioneering Central
Otago wine producers, but they're located quite a distance from the
main regions of Gibbston, Alexandra and the Cromwell basin, up at
Wanaka, bordering lake Wanaka in a spectacular setting.
The Rippon story is an interesting one.
Back in the early 19th century Frederick Sargood married Emma Rippon,
daughter of the Chief Cashier of the Bank of England. In 1850 they
moved from England to Melbourne, where Sargood established a soft
goods business that went on to be a great success. Frederick's son,
also named Frederick, joined the family business and also had a
political career. He built a large home, called Rippon Lea, in
Elstenwick, Melbourne, which is still there.
One of Frederick's sons, Percy, came out
to New Zealand, and built a home which he also named Rippon Lea, as
well as buying Wanaka station in 1912. It was Percy's grandson,
Rolfe Mills, who first brought vines to Wanaka. He'd been serving on
submarines during the last war, and on his way back home he visited
Portugal, where he saw vineyards planted on schist soils. He
realized that he had schist on his own estate, and this planted a
seed in his mind.
But on his return, Rolfe was ushered into
the family business of warehousing, so it wasn't until 1975 that he
got to play with vines. He experimented, and then in 1982 planted
the first commercial block. Rippon was born; one of the very first
Central Otago wineries. Rolfe planted everything he could get his
hands on, and a period of experimentation showed that it was Pinot
Noir and Riesling that did best here.
Since 2003, Rolfe's son Nick has been in
charge. When I visited, on a gorgeous summer afternoon, I was
received by Jo, Nick's wife, and Brett Reddington (below),
assistant winemaker. Later on I was to catch up with Nick and Jo in
Wellington, and later with Nick in London, so my notes here are from
a number of separate tastings.
Nick and Jo farm their vines
biodynamically, and the vineyard is separated into a number of
smaller parcels, all of which perform differently. The property is
on a gentle slope that leads down to Lake Wanaka, whose water mass
moderates the temperature by acting as a heat sink.
Nick uses some whole bunches in the Pinot
Noir ferments, but decisions are made based on the fruit. 'We do
some whole bunches, says Nick, but this is all done on the sorting
table.' He adds that, 'the sorting table isn't about taking stuff
off, but it's for me to taste pips and skins, and figure out what
raw material we have. If we can chew the stems through then we'll
put them in. I'd put in 100% whole clusters if we could. It's a
better ferment.' Nick claims that the stems give the wine better
structure, allow the yeasts to move around more easily, and the
pressing is better. Overall, Rippon Pinot Noir has 25-40% whole
clusters. ‘The vineyard is incredibly parcellated,’ says Nick,
‘with all these small microferments. If we get something really
good, then we'll put the whole lot in and do 100% stems, but if
grapes come in that I don't like the taste of we'll use no stems.’
Jo Mills (above); Nick
Until 2008, just two Pinots were made:
Jeunesse and the Rippon Pinot. Then, from 2008, two single parcel
vines were produced in addition: Tinker's Field and Emma's Block. In
order to preserve the quality of the main Pinot, just 80 cases of
each were made, which is equivalent to two barrels of each. The
vines under 15 years old go into Jeunesse.
Closure choice is of interest here.
Natural cork was used for a long time. Now Diam is the closure
preferred. The results seem pretty good, and yet Rippon seem to get
some stick for not going to screwcap like almost all the rest of the
New Zealand industry.
The wines are hugely impressive, aiming
at elegance, complexity and balance over power. The rare chance to
taste the 1990 was a treat - the wine had evolved beautifully. 2008
is certainly a good vintage here, and from the barrel samples I
tasted, 2009 looks like a very successful vintage too.
Rippon Pinot Noir 2007 Beautifully elegant with nice savoury, spicy notes and good
structure underneath bright, fresh dark cherry and berry fruit. Nice
freshness, combining sweetness and savouriness at the same style.
Quite an elegant style. 93/100 09/10
Rippon Pinot Noir 2008 Fresh, bright, elegant cherry fruit nose with some minerality
and gently sappy character. The palate is smooth and elegant with
bright berry fruit and fresh cherry notes with some spicy structure.
Very fine mineral notes here. Light style but still lots of flavour.
Rippon Pinot Noir 2008 Sweet, herby warm cherry fruit nose. The palate is broad and
supple with nice freshness and fruit purity backed up by some
structure. Nice presence here. 92/100 02/10
Rippon Pinot Noir 2006 Wonderfully pure focused cherry fruit nose with lovely structure
on the palate. Nice savouriness with good spiciness and lovely
presence. Sweet and ripe but also nicely structured. 92/100 02/10
Rippon Pinot Noir 2003 Nick's first vintage. Lovely spicy wildness to the nose:
complex, with mineral and iodine notes. Elegant, focused, spicy
palate with lovely complexity. Brilliant stuff with lots of
non-fruit complexity. Brilliant effort. 95/100
Rippon Emma's Block Pinot Noir 2008 Planted in 1991, this is a block down on the lake front. The
Rippon Vineyards consist largely of schisty gravels with clay leves
running through the blocks, and there's some clay in this block,
along with the fine schist gravels. Fresh, pure, elegant cherry
fruit nose in a light red fruit style, as well as subtle herby
notes. Very fine and elegant with some sweetness. The palate is
super-smooth and elegant with lovely precise red cherry fruit and
some strawberry notes. Very fine and pure. 95/100 09/10
Rippon Emma's Block Pinot Noir 2008 Very focused fresh spicy, Burgundian nose with dark cherries and
hints of earth. The palate has some sweetness, a bit of structure
and it's beautifully expressive and complex. 95/100 02/10
Rippon Tinker's Field Pinot Noir 2008 Planted in 1982 and 1989 on own roots. Not irrigated, and
managed biodynamically since 2003. Coarse schist gravels. Lively
nose of red and dark cherry fruit with some spiciness. Quite fine.
The palate is powerful with fresh, spicy, herby cherry fruit. A
rich, spicy Pinot but it still has some elegance. 94/100 09/10
Rippon Tinker's Field Pinot Noir 2008 Beautifully perfumed and aromatic with subtly sappy cherry
fruit. The palate is elegant and pure with open fruit backed up by
good structure. Serious effort. 94/100 02/10
Rippon Pinot Noir 1990 This was made by Rudi Bauer. Very elegant, smooth with some
evolution. Fresh with good minerality. Beautifully elegant and a bit
sappy with real vibrancy. It’s alive. Fantastic. 94/100 02/10
Rippon Riesling 2007 Very nicely aromatic with bold flavours of lime, lemon, apple
and honey. Concentrated and limey on the palate with nice intensity.
Rippon Riesling 2003 Very precise and limey with great power and complexity. Almost
structured, with youthful primary fruit. Youthful and citrussy.
J Block 2009 Jeunesse
Juicy, focused and bright with nice precision, purity and fruit.
Very fine aromatics here and nice precision. Good acidity. Serious,
Tinker's Field 2009
More intense and vivid with a precise, mineral nose. Lovely
structure and depth. Taut, spicy, structured – splendid.
Tinker's Field 2009 (new oak, different
bit, different clone)
Sweeter with dark cherry and spice, as well as a bit of chocolate.
The palate is fruity and focused with good depth. Nice stuff.
Hill Block 2009
In time this may become another single-block wine. It's a gravelly,
exposed site. Very pretty aromatics with pure red fruits. Lovely
fresh red fruits on the palate. Expressive and pretty.