Libiamo Amphora Chenin Blanc 2017 Gisborne, New Zealand

This is quite special. It’s an amphora-fermented Chenin Blanc with a dash of Marsanne, that’s on its skins for 222 days, and then pressed and bottled unfiltered with minimal SO2 added. It’s made by Millton in Gisborne, the biodynamic pioneers of New Zealand. This is the third bottle of this wine I’ve drunk, so it’s about time I posted a note on it.

Libiamo Amphora Chenin Blanc 2017 Gisborne, New Zealand
11.5% alcohol. Slightly cloudy. Beautifully aromatic with just a little bit of lift, and lovely lemon, tinned pear and lychee on the nose. There’s some stoniness, too. The palate dances with a vital, lively, lemony edge, some baked apple hints, a trace of beeswax and lovely chalky stoniness. You take a sip and it invites another: such a detailed, engaging wine. Real finesse, finishing long. 95/100

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Resisting the puritans

When I was much younger, one of my favourite TV shows was the Rowan Atkinson comedy Black Adder, and of the various series, the second, set in Elizabethan England, was perhaps the funniest. In one episode his puritanical aunt and her husband came to dinner, and in this classic comedy of errors Black Adder is trying to flit between a sombre meal with the puritans and a drunken party in a neighbouring room. Watching it back again, it is still very funny, in a sort of regression-to-adolescence sort of way.

Puritans aren’t much fun (as depicted in Black Adder, at least: I recognise that it’s simplistic and inaccurate to characterise the puritan movement as simply very strict people who hated pleasure, but please cut me some slack here). It’s a strange mentality that links holiness with the absence of fun. There’s nothing virtuous about the denial of pleasure for its own sake. Of course, there’s something to be said for standing firm in the face of suffering, and growing through the process, but it’s a fool who wishes suffering upon themselves. We will find enough of that in our lifetime without seeking it out.

And, of course, there are times when it is right to deny ourselves. Deferring gratification is a vital life skill if we want to attain anything worthwhile in life. And some things are genuinely bad for us, or may be hurtful for other people: for this reason, we should choose to avoid them. But it is actively wrong (perhaps even evil) to deny ourselves pleasure for no good reason and then to set about denying others similar pleasure. But we seem to tolerate such puritanism.

And this is exactly what the anti-alcohol lobby are doing at the moment. I think we shouldn’t just let them, but instead we should be cross about it and fight back. The public health experts have more-or-less beaten tobacco, and now they have turned their sights on booze. They mean well. They want to alleviate suffering and disease. Alcohol abuse is a grave social evil. But the answer to mis-use is not dis-use but correct use. Lined up in the public health cross-hairs though, all alcohol use is targeted as harmful. By jiggling around large epidemiological studies and creating meta analyses, they have decided that the previous strong association between moderate drinking and increased life span is, in fact, an artefact. The well studied mechanisms showing a cardioprotective effect of alcohol consumption are being swept under the carpet as new evidence of alcohol’s harm is being marshalled to counter its benefits.

But this isn’t really the issue. Drinking can be a very positive thing. When I walk through London on Friday night and watch the crowds spilling onto the pavement outside pubs, I don’t see a grave social ill unfolding before my eyes: I see people relaxing in each others’ company and socializing in a way that they wouldn’t in a coffee shop. Alcohol, used well, is an incredible social glue. In my own circle of friends, there are few things more rewarding or enjoyable that sitting down in a restaurant, sharing a bottle of wine with friends, and the effect of the alcohol opening us up to each other. It’s tremendously life-affirming.

And wine, especially, is incredibly culturally and socially rich. It has the power to bring people together. It is a celebration of place, and farming, and craft – a connection between the present and the past. The act of winegrowing is also looking to the future, to the next vintage, to a point further in time when the wine will be consumed.

Public Health officials shouldn’t be trying to stop people drinking. They should be encouraging good, beneficial use of alcohol. There are many deaths on the roads, but these have been reduced – not by targeting driving and getting people to stop, but by encouraging safer driving. Obesity is a public health issue, but it would be ludicrous to try to restrict the types of food that are sold (although this is probably in some sort of planning stage), rather than actually encouraging people to eat more healthily.

The promulgation of the message ‘no safe level of drinking’ is part of an organized public health strategy. Next will come increased taxation, minimum unit pricing (something I actually approve of), and then banning marketing/advertising of alcohol. Wine will get caught up in this, and if we don’t have a voice, and complain, then we’ll be powerless to stop the later stages of this plan. We should resist those whose souls are essentially puritan in nature, denying themselves pleasure and also denying pleasure to others.


Cape Wine (7) some more highlights

Some more of the goodies tasted at Cape Wine. Some old friends and new acquaintances.

Carinus Rooidrai Chenin Blanc 2017 Swartland, South Africa
From 37 year old vines, this is fermented in 500 litre used French oak barrels. Textured and really fine, showing bright linear, elegant pear and citrus fruit with great tension and precision. Showing real finesse. 94/100

Blank Bottle 69.9999 2016 Voor Paardeberg, South Africa
Peter Walser has been making this wine, a Syrah from Paarl, for three years, and it is bottled in magnum only. Each year it is named after the percentage of whole bunch used: in year one it was 33.33, in year two, 100, and this year 69.9999. It would have been 70, but this had already been taken by a wine. Sweetly fruited and floral with lovely raspberry and cherry fruit, as well as some pepper spice. There’s a hint of mint, too. 95/100

Paul Cluver Seven Flags Chardonnay 2017 Elgin, South Africa
13.2% alcohol. This is wonderfully poised with a hint of pineapple, some ripe pear, lemons and a hint of wax. It’s mineral, fresh and citrussy with nice weight. Shows the potential of Elgin Chardonnay. 95/100

Raats Family Eden High Density Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2016 Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is from a 0.6 ha plot planted in 2009 at high density (8000 vines/ha). It’s powerful and intense with lovely citrus fruit and some pear, with lovely harmony. Pear, white peach and spice, with some generosity and real finesse. 95/100

Porselienberg Syrah 2016 Swartland, South Africa
14% alcohol. So floral and expressive, showing balanced sweet black pepper notes and lively black cherry fruit. Elegant, fine and expressive but not lacking flavour, this is benchmark, world-class Syrah. 96/100

Reyneke Natural Chenin Blanc 2017 Stellenbosch, South Africa
12.5% alcohol. Fermented in amphora. Very lively with a hint of mint and some lemony fruit. Apples and citrus. Lively and complex with nice weight. Waxy and detailed. 94/100

Restless River Ava Marie Chardonnay 2017 Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
13.5% alcohol. Complex and lively with pithy complexity to the vivid fruit. Bold, grippy and fine with great concentration. A really focused wine. 95/100

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Hawke's Bay, New Zealand (4) Collaboration Wines

Julianne Brogden is only 40, but she’s already been making wines for 23 years now. She’s Hawke’s Bay born and bred, and worked briefly in the region, before heading out on vinous travel.

Julianne Brogden, Collaboration Wines

She ended up spending 8 years in the Napa Valley, California, where she initially worked a vintage at Havens Wine Cellars, and went back the following year for more. Then she got a full time job at Clos Pegase in Calistoga, followed by a spell at Lewis Cellars. But her travels weren’t finished, and she went to Margaret River for vintage, and then another spell in Napa.

At age 30 Julz returned to Hawke’s Bay, and decided she wanted to do her own thing. So, while working a day job at Pask, she began to build her own label up. In 2010 she did a ton of Cabernet, and since then she has grown the portfolio of Collaboration Wines to the point that with the 2018 vintage, she has gone full time. She works in a cellar in Bay View that’s shared with Kate Radburnd.

The model is to collaborate with growers, and she currently works with three. The labels are based on original art works that are produced by an artist (Angela Tirrell) that Julianne got to know when she rented a room from her in Napa.

She does no fining in the whites and only a light filtration. She also does hyperoxidation of pressings, and uses no sulfur in the whites until after malolactic. The reds are all hand picked and cold soaked, and are then exposed to lots of oxygen during fermentation, and are unfined and unfiltered.

Collaboration Wines Impression White 2018 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand (barrel sample)
This is 100% Mendoza clone Chardonnay made in a textural style in older French oak. Refined and textural with a subtle, nicely grainy structure. Very stylish and refined with a lovely savouriness to it. 92/100

Collaboration Wines Aurulent Chardonnay 2017 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
First vintage of this wine was 2011. Whole-bunch pressed, picked with high acidity, then full malolactic. Clone 15 and Mendoza, 25% new oak. Classy stuff with supple, bright citrus fruit, some pineapple and a bit of mealiness. Very stylish with fresh lemon and herb notes. Nutty and refined, and a great effort considering the challenges of the vintage. 93/100

Collaboration Wines Aurulent Chardonnay 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Lemony and taut with nice hints of cabbage alongside the toast and spice. Linear citrus fruit with lovely focus and purity. Light and detailed with real poise and refinement. 94/100

Collaboration Wines Aurulent Chardonnay 2011 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Lovely aromatics of toast, nut and spice, with hints of pineapple and mandarin. Very fine citrus and pear fruit on the palate which is pretty, focused and expressive with a bit of development. Supple fruit and still very fresh, having developed some delicacy and some toastiness on the finish. 94/100

Collaboration Wines Impression Rosé 2018 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Cabernet Franc. Very primary and vivid on the nose with some pear drop esters. The palate is dry and quite delicate with citrus and a hint of cranberry. Supple, drinkable and delicious. 88/100

Collaboration Wines Impression Red 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. 15% new oak. Fresh, suppleand refined with hints of chalk and gravel. Bright cherry and raspberry fruit: very fruity and expressive with classy texture and structure. A stylish, textural red. 93/100

Collaboration Wines Ceresia Merlot Cabernet Franc 2014 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
This spends 2 years in French oak, 80% new. Sophisticated with lovely texture and poise. A super-elegant style with lovely cherry and blackberry fruit. It has a really assured quality to it with nice weight and sophistication. Layered and elegant. 95/100

Collaboration Wines Argent Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Julianne Brogden loves Cabernet Sauvignon, and has worked in California and Margaret River, two regions that specialize in it. This comes from the Gimblett Gravels. Aromatic nose of blackcurrant and black cherry fruit, leading to a supple, finely spiced palate with good structure. A structured, refined wine with a fine spiciness. Quite savoury and stony. 94/100

Collaboration Wines Argent Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Sweetly aromatic with herbs, raspberry and red cherries. Open and sweetly fruited with a light body, showing spicy, herby complexity. Still tannic and showing notes of black tea and cedar. 93/100

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Hawke's Bay, New Zealand (3) Ash Ridge

In 2000, Chris Wilcock bought a peach orchard in the Bridge Pa district of Hawke’s Bay. At the time, he was working as a banker (he had spells in Switzerland, Singapore and Australia), and initially he didn’t put any vineyards in. Then in 2005 he decided to plant 8 of the 9 hectares, and two years later he retired from banking aged 38 to move back to New Zealand. He retained Chris Archer as a consultant winemaker, and hired Lauren Swift as winemaker, and now Lauren is in full control of the winery.

The focus here is on Chardonnay and Syrah, and the home vineyard is in conversion to organics. They also source from the next door vineyard, and as well as their two core varieties work with Merlot, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Malbec, and the two Cabernets. Total vineyard area is 14 hectares, and around 120 tons come through the winery.

The soils here are 40 cm of loamy clay over the famous Bridge Pa redmetal gravels. In the past season they dry farmed, but it has taken them five years to wean the vines off irrigation.

None of the reserve wines are fined or filtered. For the whole bunch component to the Syrahs, Lauren does some 100% whole bunch ferments and back blends. ‘I feel the integration is better,’ she says. In 2015 worked in Côte Rôtie (with Stephane Ogier). ‘I brought back what they did there,’ she says. ‘Picking decisions were made differently in 2016, and I decided not to chaptalize again.’ The time on skins and pump overs were different too. ‘The winemaking was probably a little more thoughtful, approaching each tank uniquely.’

Ash Ridge Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay 2014
13.5% alcohol. This was the first vintage in the new winery. This is a barrel selection. There’s a toasty, nutty richness to this with ripe pear and peach fruit, as well as some fennel. Has a bit of flesh with nice citrus and pear notes on the finish. 91/100

Ash Ridge Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay 2015
13.5% alcohol. Lovely delicacy here with some mandarin and pear notes. Fresh and delicate with nice weight and a fine lemony, acid core. This is stylish with lovely fruit focus and weight. Shows refinement and delicacy while not lacking flavour. 93/100

Ash Ridge Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay 2016
12.5% alcohol. Toasty, spicy and refined with good structure to the pear and citrus fruit. There’s a lovely weight on the palate with well integrated oak and some fine mandarin and grapefruit detail, and subtle nutty oak influence. Stylish stuff. 93/100

Ash Ridge Vintner’s Reserve Syrah 2014
Warm vintage. Half and half Chave and Mass Selection clones. All destemmed. 2 week pre-soak in a double-skinned steel milk tank, which produces tannic red wine juice. The tanks are pretty much frozen and the berry breaks down. This is structured and dense, but also quite pretty with a peppery, spicy black cherry fruit character and also some lush blackberry and raspberry notes. Powerful stuff with a lovely mouthfeel, and a long finish. 94/100

Ash Ridge Doppio MS Syrah 2015
The Doppio wines are a pair of Syrahs, each made from one of the two clones here. 18 months in new oak, hand bottled. One barrel of each clone. Brooding, structured, dense and perfumed with lovely raspberry and blackberry fruit with good tannic structure well integrated into the powerful berry fruits. There’s some prettiness, but also lovely structure. Has lots of potential: the oak has been completely swallowed. 94/100

Ash Ridge Doppio Chave Syrah 2015
Powerful, floral, peppery and slightly herbal, but in a nice way. Lovely density and structure here with tar, spice, blackcurrant and black cherry fruit. Has freshness and grunt. Very impressive wine with great structure and freshness but also some wildness. Massive potential for development. 95/100

Ash Ridge Vintner’s Reserve Syrah 2015
25% whole bunch, 50/50 Chave and MS clones. Lovely focus to this: fresh, vivid with juicy, peppery raspberry and cherry fruit, with some attractive fleshiness. Supple, grainy raspberry and cherry fruit on the finish. This has a fabulous mouthfeel and real elegance and purity. 94/100

Ash Ridge Vintner’s Reserve Syrah 2016
Not released yet. 12% alcohol, 25% whole bunch. Supple and a bit bloody with a lovely savoury edge to the bright cherry and raspberry fruit. This has real elegance, but also structure to it. It’s very northern Rhône in style and quite grown up, with balance and harmony, as well as some savouriness. Such precision and focus. 95/100

Ash Ridge Spire Syrah 2016
2 years in oak. 80% whole bunch, 75% new oak. Won’t be released until 2020, as a four-year old wine. Four barrels; 1200 bottles, sealed with cork. Concentrated and powerful with amazing structure sitting under the focused black cherry and blackberry fruit. Dense and quite savoury with pepper, tar and spice. Still just a baby but serious potential for development. Has freshness and balance despite the size. Currently very tannic and closed. 95/100

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New York State (5) Glenora Cellars

Glenora is one of the wineries that was established as a result of the Farm Winery Act in 1976, which made running a winery a possibility for smaller operators.

Winemaking is in the hands of Steve di Francesco makes the wines here and also at Knapp, which is part of the same group. They also own a third winery, Chateau Lafeyette Renaud.

The winery was started in 1977. At that time it was the only winery on Seneca lake. Of the new generation of wineries, it was one of the first alongside Dr Frank. ‘Prohibition set the New York wine industry on its heels,’ says owner Gene Pierce. ‘When prohibition ended the federal government gave the states the right to choose their own regulation. California was very liberal, but New York was extremely restrictive: you still can’t sell wine in grocery stores.’

Niagara, a hybrid

Niagara leaves

The winery has expanded from 15 000 cases in 1987 to a current level of close to 45 000 cases.

‘When we first started in 1977 there weren’t restaurants in the area and there were few lodging facilities,’ says Gene. ‘So when people came here they were looking for dining and lodging operations.’ Glenora have a hotel attached to the winery.

Vinifera plantings

Schist soils

‘The region is still growing,’ says Gene. ‘We’re still seeing people becoming involved. There are planting, especially more specialized plantings, involving vinifera.’ But he adds that it is challenging for many wineries. ‘A lot of the market is still cellar door or regional. Most of us have very little impact on metropolitan areas such as New York City.’

We walked through the vineyards and had a look at some hybrid plantings (Niagara, in this case). They look very different to vinifera.

The wines here are solidly good, and a few are very good indeed.

Glenora Blanc de Blanc 2014
This is fresh and fruity with a hint of pithiness. Has a slight salty edge with nice lemony brightness. Pure and fruity. Has a subtle herby edge. 87/100

Glenora Brut NV
Cayuga. Transfer method. Fruity, bright and a bit pithy with a sweet edge to the lively pear and grape notes. 86/100

Glenora Brut 2013
Pinot and Chardonnay, traditional method. This has generosity and lovely palate weight with sweet pear, citrus and some appley notes. Good purity and some juicy fruitiness with a touch of toasty development. 90/100

Glenora Dry Riesling NV
11.5% alcohol. 12 g/l sugar. Lively and fruity with a slightly limey edge. Has some sweetnees to the fruit. Generous and rounded with a fresh finish. Supple and with a sweet grapey finish. 88/100

Glenora Dry Riesling 2017
12 g/l sugar. Lovely balance here. This has good concentration with the sweetness balanced out by high acidity. Citrussy and a bit pithy with a limey kick and some lemon curd sweetness. Nicely intense. 90/100

Glenora Riesling 2017
36 g/l sugar. Lovely off dry style with a slight waxy, spicy edge to the sweet pear, apple and melon fruit. Lively acidity is nicely countered by the sweetness. A full flavoured fruity style. 90/100

Glenora Pinot Blanc 2016
Fermented in stainless steel and concrete egg. This has a lovely delicacy with fine texture and a bit of stoniness. There’s delicacy and finesse here with a supple personality and rounded fruit. 90/100

Glenora Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2017
35% stainless steel. Stony, nutty with some vanilla hints and a bit of spiciness. Supple and rounded with nice tangerine hints. Fresh style. 87/100

Glenora Seyval Blanc 2016
Some oak chips used. Fruity, lively and stony with sweet citrus fruit and bright acidity. Some sweetness on the finish. Lively fruity style. 85/100

Glenora Yellow Cab NV
A blend between Cabernet Franc and red hybrids (the hybrid depends each year). Fruity and supple with a juicy, jellyish edge to the berry fruits with a bit of sweetness. Fruity and easy with a short finish and a hint of bitterness. 82/100

Glenora Cabernet Franc 2016
A blend of five vineyards. Supple and balanced with nice sweet, fine-grained blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. Smooth and quite polished. Well made, ripe and quite easy. 88/100

Glenora Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
Fresh with nice sweet blackcurrant fruit (tannins, enzymes and French oak powder at the crusher). Supple, fresh and balanced with nice structure and focus. Has lovely pure fruit here. An easy, fruity style with good balance. 89/100

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Hawke's Bay New Zealand (2) Ant Mackenzie, Craft Farm

Ant Mackenzie, Craft Farm

Ant Mackenzie has been a winemaker for other people for his whole career, but of late he’s begun making wines under his own name. His first winemaking job was at Framingham in Marlborough, and then he moved to Spy Valley, and his final stint in Marlborough was as group winemaker for Mud House for a year. He moved to Hawkes Bay in 2009.

Here he worked for Julian Robertson who owned Te Awa, Kidnapper Cliffs and Dry River. During this spell he bought a 2 hectare vineyard near Havelock, and that’s now the basis for his wine project, Craft Farm. Ant still consults and teaches, but increasingly he’s focusing on his own wines.

Craft Farm is his top label, but he also makes a more consumer-friendly range called Theory and Practice, and here the Syrah and Chardonnay are the bread and butter. In addition, there’s a fun range called Toño, which is based on Spanish grape varieties.

Ant is now in his fourth vintage with Theory and Practice and third with Craft Farm.

The wines are nicely packaged, and the inspiration for the labels comes from the iconic Penguin book cover. They are quite fabulous.

Toño Albariño 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
The third version of their own vines. The first one was peachy, the second one lean, and people preferred the richer one. Fermented into two clay Tinajas into old barriques. On lees for a year. This has nice precision with a textural palate showing nice stony notes and crystalline citrus, alongside some richer pear and peach notes. Very fine-grained with lovely fruit. It’s a lovely textural wine with lots of fruit. 91/100

Craft Farm Chardonnay 2017 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Bought-in fruit this year because it was a tough vintage. Wild ferment in barrel with full solids. Unfiltered. Very fine and toasty on the nose: aromatic with bread, citrus and mineral notes. Very appealing, mealy and focused on the palate with pear and grapefruit, as well as some interesting bready notes. Expressive and mineral. 94/100

Craft Farm Chardonnay 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Off the home block, made in the same way, but filtered this year. Clone 15 and 809 (Muscat clone). Sulfuring a little earlier for these than the Theory & Practice wines, because these Craft Farm wines evolve after bottling. Delicate and mineral with a lovely acid thread. Subtle toast with lovely pear, citrus and table grape fruit with a savoury, smoky, slightly saline edge to it. Lots of interest here: it’s a vital, delicious wine. 95/100

Craft Farm Chardonnay 2015 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
This has lovely concentration and weight to it. Home farm. There’s some toast and spice with a hint of cabbage and some lovely pear skin and peach richness. This has lovely precision as well as some depth and richness, with a spicy, lemony finish. Developing really nicely. 94/100

Craft Farm Rosehip 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Mainly Muscat but also Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Albariño, fermented on skins. All from the home block. No filtration. Fermented for a couple of weeks on skins in a one-ton fermenter, foot trodden then in tank for a year, full malolactic. 30 ppm sulfites added before bottling. Beautifully floral and exotic on the nose with lychee and mandarin notes. Fine, expressive fruity palate with nice depth and texture. Delicate with some hints of green tea, and well managed tannins. Lovely stuff. 94/100

Craft Farm Syrah 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Ant has  been working with Lyon’s Vineyard in Bridge Pa, and he’s also entered an arrangement where they have established the vineyards on some of their land for his use and this will be on stream next year. Chave clone. Elegant, fine and a bit peppery with a Burgundian character to it. So refined and quite delicate with supple fruity personality: black cherry and plums. Has a nice light, expressive personality. 93/100

Craft Farm Syrah 2015 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Structured, fresh and briny with some black pepper notes and a delicious savouriness. Concentrated and compact with vivid raspberry and black cherry fruit. Has a bloody, iodine edge and lovely acidity. Firm and decisive. Impressive stuff. 95/100

Craft Farm Syrah 2014 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
First vintage. Has some whole bunch. A ripe, warm vintage. Floral nose with some chocolate and spice framing. Youthful, peppery and quite grippy on the palate with freshness and structure. Quite briny with a firm, dry finish. Very stylish and savoury in style, but still very pure. 93/100

Craft Farm Pinot Noir 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
From a vineyard that Larry McKenna used for Escarpment’s Pahi. It’s one of the first planted in the region, owned by Braden Crosbie who started a wine brand called On Giants Shoulders. Jannine Rickards and Huw Kinch have also made wines from this vineyard too. Did the fermentation down in Martinborough. 25% whole bunch (the 2018 is 100% whole bunch), no fining or filtration. This is a really pretty red fruits style that’s sappy and soft with a fine-grained structure and lovely floral perfume. Lovely mouthfeel with a little savouriness and a long, soft red cherry finish. 94/100

Craft Farm Gewurztraminer 2015 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
25 g/l residual sugar. Wonderful aromatics, with green tea in the mix alongside the lychee and table grape aromas. Hints of honey, too. The palate is concentrated, bold and delicious with viscous lychee and grape notes, and lovely grainy structure. Finishes long, off-dry and nicely spicy. Real finesse and intensity. 95/100

Craft Farm Gewurztraminer 2014 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Very soft and textural with a fine-grained structure under the sweet lychee and tinned pear fruit. There’s real finesse and purity here, with pristine fruit. Lovely texture with nice precision and focus, but also richness. 93/100

Craft Farm Gewurztraminer 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Concentrated, ripe and intense. Soft and smooth with luscious, fleshy apricot, table grape and lychee flavours as well as some spicy complexity. It’s very sweet but there’s lovely weight and balance here with a fresh finish. Real finesse and purity here. 95/100

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New York State (4) Fulkerson Winery

Steven Fulkerson

The Fulkerson family have quite a history. The name itself is uniquely American, but the family have dutch roots. They came to the USA in 1680 and helped establish new Amsterdam, owning a farm on what is now Manhattan.

We met with the engaging Steven Fulkerson. One of his ancestors, Caleb, fought in the revolutionary war. He signed up at age 14, then was captured and held in NY city for a winter, then marched back to New Jersey and signed back up. Eventually, the family settled in the Finger Lakes, and carry out what Steve describes as grape-centric winemaking.

Red Zeppelin: a popular sweet hybrid-based wine

The farm currently has 110 acres of grapes planted. Sayre Fulkerson, Steven’s dad, graduated from Cornell in 1975 and then worked at Glenora Cellars. In 1979 he bought the Jensen juice plant from Glenora, and began a successful business selling grape juice to home winemakers, a business they continue to this day. The winery opened in 1989, and production has grown to 13 000 cases. Steven also graduated from Cornell with a Viticulture and Enology degree, and since 2015 has been GM.

Most of their focus and income is on the sweet hybrid wines which they make ‘because people want them,’ says Steve. The hybrid wines are actually pretty well made, and good examples of their type.

Fulkerson Syrah Rosé 2017 Finger Lakes
Bright pink. Very crisp and fruity with nice red cherry, raspberry and citrus fruit. Has good acidity and a twist of sweetness. Crisp and very tasty in a commercial style. Exuberantly fruity. 87/100 ($15)

Fulkerson Pinot Noir Rosé 2017 Finger Lakes
Slightly creamy with nice citrus, red cherry and pear fruit. Juicy and a bit creamy, finishing dry with an appealing sweet fruit character. 85/100 ($14)

Fulkerson Muscat Ottonel 2016 Finger Lakes
Fruity and expressive with nice sweet grape and citrus fruit. There’s a slight pithy edge. Juicy and nicely weighted with good density. 87/100 ($17)

Fulkerson Dry Riesling 2017 Finger Lakes
Tight, fresh, light and lemony with a slight pithiness. Simple and well made with nice acidity. 86/100 ($14)

Fulkerson Gruner Veltliner 2016 Finger Lakes
Fruity and a bit pithy. Clean and simple with nice pure citrus and pear fruit and a fine, spiciness. 85/100 ($14)

Fulkerson Reserve Riesling 2016 Finger Lakes
Dry and citrussy with nice concentration and nice fruity intensity. Dry with a lively personality. Nice weight. 87/100 ($15)

Fulkerson Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Finger Lakes
Lively and grassy with simple, light citrus fruit, a hint of green and nice acidity. Clean, dry and crisp. 87/100 ($17)

Fulkerson Pinot Noir 2013 Finger Lakes
Light, supple and juicy with a savoury spiciness. Has some cedar and herb characters. Savoury style with a bit of grip and spice on the finish. 85/100 ($18)

Fulkerson Vincent 2011 Finger Lakes
Teinturier variety. Lively with high acid. Smoke, earth and spices. Some herby notes. There are some notes of mint and earth, too. Disjointed. 80/100 ($11)

Fulkerson Red Blend NV Finger Lakes
Noiret/Cabernet Franc blend. This is 2017 but not labelled. Juicy and bright with nice cherry, raspberry and citrus fruit. Sweetly fruited with nice peppery hints. Supple and drinkable. Lovely fruity style. 87/100 ($13)

Fulkerson Lemberger 2016 Finger Lakes
Supple, rounded and sweetly fruited with a hint of vanilla. Soft and fruity with nice weight. Easy and balanced. 86/100 ($19)

Fulkerson Syrah 2017 Finger Lakes
Fresh and supple with a bit of spicy bite under the juicy, supple raspberry and cherry fruit. Bright with a bit of structure. Nicely fruity in style with no oak. 86/100 ($20)

Fulkerson Reserve Syrah 2016 Finger Lakes
Oaky and spicy with a bit of chocolate, coffee and tar. Nice dense fruit with a sweet edge and a bit of grip. 87/100 ($25)

Fulkerson Zweigelt William Vigne 2016 Finger Lakes
Get the grapes from a farmer down the street. The label commemorates William Vigne. Manhattan was a natural port for Europeans coming to buy beaver pelts. They paid good money for beaver pelts for felting by hatters. They used liquid mercury to do this. The hatters would then go home and ingest mercury and going insane, thus the term mad as a hatter. Supple, peppery and spicy with nice raspberry, cherry and herb notes, and a nice cedary twist. Very attractive. 88/100

Fulkerson Matinee 2016 Finger Lakes
Himrod. 9% alcohol, 70 g/l rs. Spicy, a bit minty, grapey and sweet. Really vivid with some ginger notes. Jellyish, fruity and tasty. 88/100

Fulkerson Diamond 2017 Finger Lakes
Moors Diamond is the variety. Complex, weird, lively, spicy and sweet with nice bitter herb hints and melon and spice notes, too. Very lively and expressive. Has lots of flavour. 87/100

A recipe for a Diamond-based cocktail

  • 1 oz tequila
  • 1 oz sour cherry juice
  • Fill with Sparkling Diamond

Fulkerson Sparkling Diamond NV Finger Lakes
Carbonated. 60 g/l sugar. Very fruity and lively with nice sweet, tangy, spicy fruit. Grapey and rich with some spiciness. Has nice acid bite. Very appealing. 88/100

Fulkerson Pink Moscato 2017 Finger Lakes
57 g/l sugar. Centennial was the name for this before. Vanessa Seedless, other seedless varieties, made in a moscato style. Sweet with some strawberries. Tastes like nice fruit juice. Very easy low alcohol style. 86/100

Fulkerson Sunset Blush NV Finger Lakes
Catawba, 50 g/l sugar. Off-dry, nice freshness, some sweet grapey fruit. 84/100

Fulkerson Airship White NV Finger Lakes
Niagara grapes. 65 g/l sugar. Really intense, jellyish, some petrol, some ginger. Very distinctive. Complex and spicy with a bit of grip. 83/100

Fulkerson Red Zeppelin NV Finger Lakes
Catawba plus others. 80 g/l sugar. Juicy and jellyish with strawberry and raspberry. Fruity and attractive with a confected character. 84/100

Fulkerson Vidal Iced Wine 2014 Finger Lakes
189 g/l sugar. Artificially frozen. Complex and intense with nice spice, herbs and marmalade with some herby notes. Concentrated and dense with lovely spicy detail. 91/100


Hawke's Bay, New Zealand (1) Tony Bish and the Urban Winery

Tony Bish made his reputation as winemaker for Sacred Hill in Hawke’s Bay. While he remains a consultant and a shareholder in the company, his interests have moved away from the direction that Sacred Hill have taken (they now have a large focus on Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and crushed 7000 tons last vintage in the region). Tony has turned to his first love, Chardonnay, and is now making a stunning range of wines from an urban winery in Napier.

Inside the urban winery: the bar area

He started his own project in 2013. ‘I began with what I knew I could sell,’ he says. The first wine was a $20 called Fat and Sassy, and it was a hit. The first vintage was 500 cases, but next year he’ll be up to 5000, and he’s protected the brand by not doing grocery and never discounting.

Looking towards the Ovum

The impetus for going alone was a trip to South America with Rod Easthope and Warren Gibson. They’d all being discussing their ambitions on the trip, which solidified his desire to do his own thing. And meeting Alvaro Espinoza and seeing the results he had with locally made concrete eggs also piqued his interest.

So he began his own winery and also began experimenting with manufacturing concrete eggs, working with a local expert called Josh Winters. Now, using and selling concrete eggs is part of his business. They hold 1600 litres and cost NZ$14 000, which undercuts the imported rival Sonoma Cast Stone by $6000. ‘We are selling them across the country,’ says Tony, who says he has first-to-market advantage in selling and using eggs.

In pride of place in the winery is the Taransaud Ovum, a 2000 litre wooden egg. Tony’s yet-to-be-released Zen Chardonnay is the first Chardonnay in the world to have been made exclusively in an Ovum. The Zen Chardonnay is a profound wine that may be the best New Zealand Chardonnay I have tried.

Winemaking in this exclusively Chardonnay cellar is simple. The grapes are hand harvested and whole bunch pressed at Sacred Hill (although some of the Fat and Sassy fruit is machine harvested). Tony is at Sacred Hill every day during vintage so this works. Then he brings the juice back to the urban winery, which is a one-person winery.

With these sorts of wines, it won’t be long before the merits of Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay are more widely recognized.

Tony Bish Fat and Sassy Chardonnay 2017 Hawke’s Bay
First vintage did 500 cases, now up to 4200 cases. Lightly oaked Chardonnay with good palate weight. Fresh and expressive with nice citrus and pear fruit, and some cedar, clove and spice hints. Quite savoury and linear. Despite the name it’s not fat, but it has lovely fruit. They don’t sell in grocery and they never discount. 88/100

Tony Bish Golden Egg Chardonnay 2017 Hawke’s Bay
$40. Unoaked, fermented in concrete eggs. Textured and expressive with pear and citrus fruit and lovely texture. The fruit is at the fore with lovely stone fruit. There’s a lovely weight with some stoniness and a lovely long lemony finish. Has complexity and depth, but also a lightness and focus. 93/100

Tony Bish Heartwood Chardonnay 2017 Hawke’s Bay
$35. Barrel-fermented. 25% new oak. Fine and expressive with bright citrus and pear fruit with a delicacy and refinement. Subtle toasty oak right in the background adding a fine spiciness. Classic Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay with nice presence. 92/100

Tony Bish Skin Game Chardonnay 2018 (sample from egg)
Hand picked fruit put through a finger destemmer, whole berries into bins, foot trodden, and fermented in a chilled barrel room. Initially hand plunged, some delestage, and then pressed as soon as it finishes ferment to a concrete egg. This has an exotic nose of marmalade and rose petals, with a citrus drive on the palate

Tony Bish Skeetfield Chardonnay 2017 Hawke’s Bay
$60. Single vineyard just out of Fernhill. Old vine dry-farmed block, 25 years old. The owner is a skeet shooting champion, appropriately named Dennis Gunn. In 2005/6/7 Tony made Chardonnay under the Gunn label and won lots of trophies, and when Sacred Hill switched the attention to their Riflemans block, Tony got what he calls the Skeetfield fruit from Dennis. This is fermented in ovum (40%) and barrique (60%, new oak). Really fine and expressive with well integrated oak and a nice spiciness, as well as refined pear and white peach fruit. So harmonious with lovely weight and texture, and a long, fresh finish. A really classy wine. 95/100

Tony with the Zen in front of the Ovum

Tony Bish Zen Chardonnay 2017 Hawke’s Bay
$130. 100% ovum, first use. Skeetfield fruit, unfined and unfiltered. Beautiful nose with subtly mealy citrus fruit. The palate has beautiful texture and finesse. There’s a bright, lively citrus core with fine-grained structure. Such precision and detail with some spicy, mealy richness. There’s amazing intensity and balance here. There are layers of flavour, with lemons, saline notes, and some grapefruit notes. This is profound. Tony Bish says egg Chardonnays don’t need to age as long before release, and may not live as long as barrique aged ones, but can deliver profundity. 97/100

Sacred Hill Riflemans Chardonnay 2016
Lovely focus and weight here. Some compact citrus and pear fruit with some peachy richness. Nice oak integration with bright lemony notes holding things in tension. Nice weight and complexity, and lots of potential for future development. Mealy and spicy with mandarin and lemon on the finish. 94/100

Sowing seeds of change

Kaikoura, New Zealand. The 2016 earthquake lifted the sea bed significantly

We live in a complicated, turbulent world.

I guess it has always been complicated and turbulent. Every generation seems to think things have deteriorated a bit. But the world does seem particularly troubled at the moment, although I understand completely the perspective effect: we see the things close to us and assume that our experience is normative. Yet for many people around the world, their experience has been one of a level of turbulence that we simply can’t comprehend, and this has gone on for generations.

But I can only speak of what I know. And in the western society that is my milieu, we are in turbulence like we’ve never known. With this, there are lots of things that we need to object to and shout about.

It’s my belief that the best approach in these situations is to take the role of someone sowing seeds. We can protest loudly at the things we dislike and oppose. Sometimes, perhaps, we need to do this. Yet this strategy can backfire. By being known for what we oppose, we immediately clothe ourselves negatively. It’s a bad look. We are anti.

Sometimes, it pays to be strategic. Instead of being known for what we oppose, we should be known for what we stand for. The problem with this strategy is that, from our perspective, we have nowhere to vent our anger and discontent. We have to deal with these emotions internally, rather than spewing them out. Choosing to be known for what we are for is also a strategy that demands patience. We sow seeds. It takes time for those seeds to germinate and grow.

In the face of a struggling, turbulent world, we need to play the long game. It is tempting to go in there with a chainsaw and chop everything down. But while this may be cathartic, what we have chopped down will all just grow again. Instead, we must prepare the ground and sow seeds. We must tell people what we like, what we care about, what we endorse. Those seeds will then contain the life that is capable of reproducing itself.

If we deliver our message from a place of bringing people on board, suspending judgement, and being accepting of alternative opinions, then sometimes we will find a platform to sow seeds of change. As you sow, so shall you reap – at least I think that’s the correct quote? Sow positivity, and endorse people doing things the right way. Ignore, as much as you can, people doing bad things. The power of a seed is that it grows, and creates more seeds, and they grow, and so on. A sowing mentality has an incredible capacity for enacting change.

This applies to wine criticism, trivial as it is, as much as it does to real life. Tell people about the wines you like. Don’t be tempted to waste energy agonizing over what other writers and critics say. Don’t engage in tetchy debates, the like of which you can only lose. Victory may be slow to come, but it will surely come, if we persevere and prevent our gaze from being shifted. Sow seeds.