Interesting Marlborough: Framingham

Framingham is one of the most interesting of Marlborough’s wineries, but they tend to fly under the radar a bit. They are best known for their Rieslings – winemaker Dr Andrew Hedley is a complete Riesling freak – but their other wines are serious, too. Indeed, Riesling is only about 8% of the volume here. ‘Everyone thinks we make loads of Riesling, says Hedley, ‘but we’d be out of business if we made loads of Riesling.’ Framingham processed 650 tons of their own grapes in the winery last year, and most of this was Sauvignon. This tasting, which included a full set of the nine Rieslings from 2017, also included some very serious wines such as the F-Series Sauvignon, the F-Series Chardonnay and F-Series Pinot Gris that any winery would be thrilled to have in their portfolio. There are some real bargains in this range, considering the quality.

Dr Andrew Hedley, not just a master of Riesling

The estate vineyard, which has 18 acres of Riesling, was planted in 1981, by Rex Brooke-Taylor, and he sold his grapes to Stoneleigh, Grove Mill and even Dry River (who made a Riesling from here). Fortunately, Brooke-Taylor took the trouble to plant on phylloxera-resistant rootstock, which was unusual for the time. This meant that those 1981 plantings are still around, which makes them among the oldest vines in the region.

Framingham started as a label in 1994, and the F series started in 2008. The winery is owned by Portuguese wine company Sogrape. The estate vineyards are organically managed, but the growers’ vineyards aren’t.

This was a remarkable tasting, including nine Rieslings from 2017. As Hedley points out, there’s no other winery in the southern hemisphere where you can taste through nine Rieslings from a single vintage.

He gave me a blunt vintage report. 2017 was shit. 2018 was shit too but we’ve come through it better. There was lots of disease pressure in 2017 so only one wine in this line up didn’t have some botrytized fruit. ‘I have been working with botrytis for a long time,’ says Hedley, ‘so I’m comfortable and I know what you can pick and what you can’t. Selective harvesting is a vital part of what we do.’

We had a discussion about botrytis. ‘With botrytis. Two ways to use it: the early bloom, where it is getting going and the skin changes colour to purple, but you don’t see any spores. You have a day or two to pick: this is what a lot of people call slip skin. It’s great for dry wines: you are not building sugar but you are changing the flavours. The other is dried out botrytis, with spores. What a lot of people don’t do is actually taste the grapes. It’s rare to get ugly looking botrytis because we get the wind and sun. You have to let the sporey stuff dry out and then you get extra sugar in your grape juice. So it’s about trying to guess the degree of dehydration. This can move quite quickly. You have to taste the botrytis. We don’t get a lot of green or white mould here.’

After the tasting we wandered round the winery tasting the 2018s. There are some very interesting components and there will be some cracking wines from this vintage, including a lovely Gewürztraminer (not made in 2017) and some stunning Pinot Gris. And, of course, Riesling!

Framingham Pet Nat 2018
540 bottles. 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay. Bottled with 16 g/l sugar out of tank, nothing added. Lovely weight here: some colour, with a bit of sweetness. Has bright fruit. Wholesome with a nice grainy structure. Really fun. 88/100

Framingham Sauvignon Blanc 2017
A really tricky vintage. I want it to be on the periphery of the mainstream rather than a mainstream style, but this is the wine in the range with commercial considerations. 11% in wood, with some acacia puncheons and old barriques. 30% of wine on lees in tank without sulfur for five or six months: the wines need this. You don’t need to be too protective with Sauvignon. 5% was fermented on skins. This is really delicate and pure with a hint of orange peel and tangerine, as well as lovely lemony fruit. Lovely precision to this wine. If we’d bottled this early we’d have been in real trouble. 92/100

Framingham F Series Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Bottled in March. All from the estate. All oxidative winemaking. Handpicked, destemmed, spontaneous fermentation, left on solids, 90% in wood with a bit of acacia. No on-skins component this year because it was too Campari-flavoured. No sulfur until bottling. Very fine and expressive. Bright citrus with tangerine and grapefruit, but also some richer pear and apple notes. There’s freshness and detail, with lovely texture and some very fine nectarine notes. Really beautiful and detailed with nice finesse. Amazing complexity and texture. Very stone fruity. 94/100

Framingham Chardonnay 2016
60% barrel fermented, with half of it wild ferment. Fresh and fruit driven with a soft, mealy, slightly buttery edge to the bright pear and white peach fruit. Brown juice, full solids, tank component stays of full ferment lees, avoid malolactic. If the barrel goes through malolactic then it’s OK. Fresh and supple and appealing. 89/100

Framingham F Series Chardonnay 2016
Leased vineyard down near Lawsons in southern valleys. Early ripening site that’s a bit frost prone. 50% in stainless steel barrels and 50% in old barriques. Just left to itself. Compact and textural with nice density. Has a bit of mandarin as well as some ripe pear, a hint of apple and a fine lemony core. Very textural with some nut and lovely taut, complex fruit expression. Very fine. Should age well, too. 94/100

Framingham Pinot Gris 2017
Picked late. No skin contact with Pinot Gris because the phenolics are all over the place. 12 g/l sugar, pH 3.6. Whole bunch pressed into stainless and wood (spontaneous fermentation). Ripe and rich with lovely bold grapey fruit, with some spice and marmalade characters. Lovely richness and balance here with a long spicy finish. Lovely wine. 92/100

Framingham F Series Pinot Gris 2017
One of the spontaneous components fermented in acacia puncheons with nothing added. Beautifully complex and textural with lovely sweetness and a broad mouthfeel. Has an incredible depth and just a hint of nice bitterness. Lovely nectarine, grape and apricot notes. Has a lovely mouthfeel and a spicy finish. Profound. 94/100

At the end of 2015 they got a gigantic frost on the vineyard, and a lot of the 2016 crop was lost. So in 2016, Hedley focused on higher-priced wine with the remaining estate Riesling, and took some Riesling from growers, which resulted in this one-off wine, the Jack Frost.

Framingham Jack Frost Riesling 2016
Has a massive botrytis component in this. Complex and multifaceted with grapefruit and marmalade hints, plus some broad apple and citrus characters and hints of apricot. Has nice weight and generosity, with a hint of sweetness. Layers of flavour here with some harmony. A real bargain. 91/100

Framingham F Series Old Vine Riesling 2017
‘This is our GG,’ says Andrew Headly. A dry Riesling from ripe grapes. Made without sulfur until bottling, 80% stainless steel, wild ferment. Lovely concentration and freshness here with very fine citrus and pear fruit with a nice, fine grained structure and a tight spiciness. Has a transparency to it with a hint of apricot and tangerine. Lovely texture and fruit purity to this wine. So hard to spit. 94/100 (retail $45)

Framingham Classic Riesling 2017
This is the style that has changed the least, but there is a lot more lees work on this. 5000 litre tank, taken dry, then left on the lees for 7 months. Has some other components added in after the other wines are bottled, and this is 17 g/l sugar. Very bright and fruit driven with some sweetness, with lemon, mandarin and some melony richness, as well as some grapey hints. Very delicate and fine with amazing purity and focus. So delicious and bright, and quite lovely. 92/100 ($25 retail)

Framingham F Series Kabinett 2017
8.5% alcohol, 50 g/l sugar. The only parcel without botrytis in 2017. Picked at 20-20.5 brix, overnight skin contact, 15% fermented on skins for 3 weeks. The skin contact mollifies the high acid, and adds some phenolics. Blended in a tank and then aged in an acacia puncheon for 6 months. Very pure and textural with keen acidity balanced by the sweetness. Has lemon, tangerine and honey notes, with some grip to the palate. Such a complex, taut, detailed wine. Give this one time to find its feet. Has a stony, slightly honeyed finish. Very interesting phenolics. 640 bottles made. 94/100

Framingham Select Riesling 2017
9% alcohol, Spatlese style. Look to make this every year: 16 vintages have been made so far. Whole bunch pressed, and will try to use the pressings if they can. Spend a lot of time by the press tasting all the time, looking at the phenolics, looking for metallic notes. Will make a diversion and if we don’t like it we will do something else with it. Linear and fresh with nice sweetness offsetting the acid, and lovely clean citrus fruit characters, together with grapey, spicy richness. Has an interesting mouthfeel. Very ripe flavours here with smooth phenolic structure. Has a slight raspberry ripple flavour, says Andrew, and he’s right: there’s some red fruit here. 93/100

F Series Riesing Spätlese 2017
9.5% alcohol. Has a gold capsule! Has 20% botrytis in here. Comes from a spur-pruned section of the vineyard that ripens a bit earlier. Some spontaneous fermentation, and also some wood components, including fermenting in acacia. Beautifully bright and expressive with nice acidity, and complex notes of apricot, lemon and pear. Lovely weight but also has delicacy with a very fine spiciness under the fruit. Beautifully detailed and complex with lovely depth and really attractive botrytis. 95/100

F Series Riesling Auslese 2017
9% alcohol. Nicely focused nose with sweet citrus fruit and a hint of apricot. The palate has beautiful texture and ripeness with incredible richness and purity, and a very fine spicy detail running through it. Sweet melon and apricot notes, with a creamy consistency and great balance between the sweetness and acidity. Such concentration and purity, with a real Auslese personality. Sweet but balanced with some honey hints. Profound stuff. 96/100

‘These are not dessert wines,’ says Hedley, ‘they are cheese wines, or you can drink them like sorbet between courses.’

Framingham Noble Riesling 2017
9.5% alcohol, 190 g/l of sugar. Very sweet nose of marmalade, apricot and grapes, with some spicy overtones. Enticing. Viscous and delicious on the palate with lovely sweetness and complexity. Has lovely acidity countering the sweetness. Lots of weight and volume here with lovely tropical and melon fruity notes. There’s lovely richness and complexity here, with purity too. 94/100

‘We have to get to 9% with these sweeter styles to export to the EU, so there’s a lot of work getting the yeasts to produce this much without getting high VA,’ says Hedley.

F Series Riesling Beerenauslese 2017
This was a component of Noble Riesling that really stood out. 9% alcohol, 220 g/l sugar. This has amazing richness and detail with apricot, lemon, melon and honey notes. Really viscous and powerful, but also with delicacy and complexity. Has lovely density and richness. Profound with real depth and viscosity, but impeccable balance and length. 96/100

F Series Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese 2017
9% alcohol, 310 g/l sugar, 10.5 g/l TA. Complex nose of spicy, grapey, melony citrus fruit. Incredible depth and sweetness on the palate. Mouth-coating, rich and sweet, but when the initial rush of sweet melon, pear, tinned peach and apricot fruit recedes, suddenly the acidity asserts some balance and there’s a lovely spicy length. Such a thought-provoking wine with many dimensions to it. Has a purity and freshness, as well as the sweetness. 96/100

Framingham Pinot Noir 2016
Little bit of Wadenswil (10/5) on the estate, but most comes from the southern valleys. 7% whole bunch (bunches in the bottom). The perceived wisdom is clay is good and everything else is shit but I don’t agree with this. Vry fresh and pure with nice delicacy to the raspberry and cherry fruit. Has a nice brightness and some savoury spiciness. Very pure and pretty with nice focus. Bright and pure and linear. 93/100

Framingham F Series Pinot Noir 2016
Southern valleys. 20% whole bunch. Lovely tension here: has a bit of grip with some nice grainy structure and delicate, transparent raspberry and cherry notes. Very fine and expressive with purity and focus. Has some grip, too, with fine herbal notes sitting under the fruit. Potential to age. I love the purity of fruit and the brightness here. 94/100

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