Central Otago (9) Grasshopper Rock

It’s five years since I last visited Grasshopper Rock (see the full profile here), a small vineyard in the Alexandra district of Central Otago. Back in 2014 I commented that they were making some of the best value Pinots in the region. And they key to their success is that when Phil Handford and his consortium set out, they got the important bit right first time: the vineyard. The 7.8 hectares of vines were planted in 2003, and all was planted to Pinot Noir. Phil considers this to be the equivalent of a Grand Cru site, so wants to focus on what the place has a talent for. ‘Cool, slow, late ripening,’ says Phil: ‘this is what this site gives.’ In establishing the site he worked with Steve Moffitt, the brother of Mike who is his vineyard manager. ‘The Moffitts were growing grapes here in the late 1990s and were involved with developing a few of the early small vineyards,’ says Phil. ‘Now I don’t think I’d change anything.’

We tasted through a full vertical of the wines back to the debut vintage in 2006. Phil takes the caps off the bottle and seals them with a DIAM, and then uses Coravin for the older wines.

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2006 Central Otago
Warm year with big bunches. Some brick red round the edges. Has some savoury development here with some soy and earth notes as well as a grainy, tannic structure. There’s some red cherry and plum fruit, but the overall impression is one of savouriness. Drink soon. 91/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2007 Central Otago
Cold year with small bunches and berries. Spicy, earthy, savoury nose. Some iron and beetroot notes. The palate is savoury and developed with earth and spice, and some old leaf notes, too. Grippy finish. 89/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2008 Central Otago
Savoury and detailed on the nose with a herb and spice character, as well as some undergrowth. The palate has some bright cherry and raspberry fruit with savoury, grainy structure and a touch of iodine, finishing with some fruit sweetness. Grippy finish. 90/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2009 Central Otago
Orange hints on the rim. This has some development with hints of leaf and earth. There’s a juicy citrus fruit edge to the palate with bright cherry and redcurrant fruit. Nicely bright with savoury development. Quite firm structure still. 91/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2010 Central Otago
Fresh and supple with nice sweet red cherry and raspberry fruit, with some savoury, spicy characters underneath. It’s nicely balanced with some brightness to the fruit, but also some appealing development. 92/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2011 Central Otago
A very warm year with big bunches, not highly regarded at the time. Quite pale in colour with some development, but also a lovely harmony on the palate. Smooth and elegant with fine tannins and a sense of harmony. This has real detail and prettiness to it. Lovely fruit expression. 93/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2012 Central Otago
Cool year: good flowering but then a long tail to the season. Sweetly aromatic with nice cherry fruit but also some savoury development. Notes of iodine, spice and earth with a bit of grip. Has nice brightness and focus. Hints of leaf decay add interest. Nice refinement, with a bright finish. Drink now. 91/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2013 Central Otago
Good average year. Lovely aromatics here: floral cherry fruit with delicacy and some green sappy hints. Shows freshness and elegance with light, bright red cherry and cranberry notes. Good acidity and nicely integrated tannins. Lovely harmony to this wine, which seems to be drinking at peak now. 94/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2014 Central Otago
Warm start, excellent flowering, with a very cool January. Supple with a slight sour cherry and rubber edge to the structured red fruits palate. It has good acidity and firm structure, with some juiciness and also a slightly stern savoury streak. Some raspberry bite, too. A taut, quite complex wine with an austere side to it. 92/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2015 Central Otago
Cool start to the season but with one of the warmest Januarys ever. This shows great concentration of sweet, vibrant fruit with a vivid raspberry core. Crunchy with some sour cherry and plum, and a redcurrant brightness. Vivid and focused with quite a bit of grip on the finish. Rich and structured. 94/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2016 Central Otago
Cool until January with poor fruit set, then the hottest ever February. Highly aromatic with some roast coffee, raspberry and cherry on the nose. The palate is elegant, fleshy, but with plenty of flavour, showing spice and coffee notes alongside vivid cherry and plum fruit. There’s some grippy structure and good acidity, but it hides under the fleshy, vibrant red fruits. Maybe a bit peppery, too. 93/100

Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard 2017 Central Otago
Coolest vintage in 17 years, with smaller bunches and berries, but then towards the end of the season it was nicely warm. Deep in colour. Seductive, sweet black cherry fruit nose with perfume and intensity. The palate is really fresh and vivid with sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit, and nice bright acidity. This is a complex, fresh, dark-fruited expression of Pinot. Needs time to resolve. 93/100

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