So day 2 in New Zealand’s most important wine region. Lots to be done, beginning with a regional tasting held at Spy Valley, a winery located in the lower Waihopai Valley. There was a range of wines: some excellent, and some reminding us that Marlborough can achieve mediocrity quite easily in the wrong hands.
Spy Valley winemaker Paul Bourgeois was on hand, and we persuaded him to open a couple of his wines: The Envoy Dry Riesling and Envoy Pinot Gris, both in the 2013, were superb.
Of the other wines, my favourites were the nervy La Strada Chardonnay 2011 from Fromm, the Walnut Block Pinot Noir 2010, the Churton 2011 Pinot Noir and the Giesen ‘The Fuder’ Chardonnay 2011.
Then it was off to Yealands. The Yealands story is a remarkable one. Here comes a serial entrepreneur, Peter Yealands, and plants a vineyard larger than the entire Waipara Valley’s vine area, and larger than the area in Central Otago under vine, all in one go, in the coolest, windiest spot in the Awatere in view of the sea. And he does it at the worst possible time.
But Peter Yealands has survived, and with talented winemaker Tamra Washington at the helm, Yealands are making some really good wines. The best ones represent some of the best value-for-money to be had in the region, too, particularly the Pinot Noirs.
The vineyard here has to be seen to be believed. With its gentle contours, it’s actually quite beautiful. A trip to see the enormous compost pile is worth a detour, but keep your windows up: it’s based on decomposing mussels, from another of Peter’s business ventures (he pioneered green lip mussels in New Zealand).
Then it was back to the Shack, where I met with Tim Heath (senior winemaker) and Stephanie McIntyre (wine communications manager) for a range tasting and dinner with Cloudy Bay. Cloudy Bay suffer from tall poppy syndrome: everyone likes to have a pop at them because of the celebrity status of the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, which some feel is undeserved. But this is a winery that has done a huge amount for the Marlborough region, and for New Zealand wine in general.
We tasted the 1996 Sauvignon Blanc: a wine of remarkable freshness, considering its age, still drinking beautifully. We also tried the 2001 Pinot Noir, which was still drinking well, although not as fresh as the Sauvignon.
Of the current releases, you can’t really go wrong. The 2013 Sauvignon Blanc is really good, the 2011 Te Koku its usual funky self, the 2012 Chardonnay an unsung hero in the range, while the 2012 Pinot Noir is really quite serious. I wasn’t so keen on the 2010 Te Wahi, a Central Otago Pinot, at first tasting, but a second bottle with dinner was much better. If you can, seek out the Mustang, a small production Marlborough Pinot: the 2007 and 2010 are both brilliant.