Interesting Marlborough: Fromm, single-vineyard pioneers

frommwine

Fromm is an important winery for Marlborough, because they were one of the first to champion single vineyards in the region. They are also unusual in that in a white wine-dominated area, their focus is on reds. But they have had to cave into export demand by making a Sauvignon that’s fairly typically Marlborough in style. As well as this, they make Pinot Gris (there’s a big market for this, but theirs is made in a very Fromm style) and Riesling. The reds are led by Pinot Noir, plus a very distinctive cool climate expression of Syrah. There’s also a little bit of Malbec. Everything is from organic vines, certified by Biogro. And all the grapes are hand picked.

Founder winemaker Hätsch Kalberer

Founder winemaker Hätsch Kalberer

I visited to taste with founder winemaker Hätsch Kalberer and sales and marketing manager Adam Balasoglou. The range has two distinct tiers. The ‘La Strada’ wines were named after the 1954 film by Fellini, which George Fromm loved. These are wines that have more varietal character, and are usually a blend of different vineyards or younger vineyards. And then there are the site-specific wines with the name of the vineyard.

The home vineyard, Fromm

The home vineyard, Fromm

There are a number of vineyard sources. Riesling, Pinot Gris, Malbec and Gewurztraminer come from the home block (5.5 hectares), as well as the Fromm Vineyard Pinot and Syrah, and most of the La Strada.

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For a long time Fromm sourced from Clayvin (they were part-owners), but now this vineyard has been sold to Giesen they still get some Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay if there is availability. For the last three years they have had a block in the Churton vineyard, which they share with Takaki Okada of Folium. They have 3.3 hectares of Pinot Noir in the Quarters Vineyard in Brancott, all Pinot Noir specifically planted for them, and they also have some fruit from Yarrum, which is part of Dog Point’s vineyard in the southern valleys.

This year they will have 8-10 tons from a new block past Clayvin, called The Wrekin: the Pinot from here looks very beautiful, says Hatsch. They are also looking to get a bit more Chardonnay here, and some Chenin Blanc which was planted for Simon Waghorn of Astrolabe. The hope is that Wrekin will have enough personality to make a single vineyard wine.

frommpinot

I asked Hatsch: do you think that single vineyard wine is the way forwards for fine wines from Marlborough? ‘Cautiously, yes,’ he replied. ‘It really has to have the purpose. Making single vineyards for the sake of it isn’t the way forward.’ He added that since 1996, when they made the first wine from Clayvin, the wines have always been so different, so this is an example of where it makes sense to produce a single-site wine. But he wasn’t tempted to drill down further and work with single blocks, although some had a distinct personality. ‘Even when we had Clayvin I didn’t see the point of making a block C or block D – the plants were too young to have this transparency.’

‘The wine has to tell you whether you should [make a single vineyard wine] or not,’ he concludes. ‘That’s why we haven’t done a single vineyard Yarram – it’s lovely fruit and useful for what we need it for, but it has this generic, nice Marlborough Pinot character.’

The new distemper

The new distemper

2016 was a good but not great year for reds in the region. The berries were quite large, and so some of the wines have a little less concentration than normal. Having said this, I was impressed by this line-up, which focused mainly on 2016. Quality has been helped in 2016 with a new generation distemper, the Scharfenberger Euroselect, which uses fingers, operating like human hands, to destem very gently.

Fromm La Strada Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Didn’t make any 2017. ‘We treat this a bit like a dry Riesling,’ says Hatsch. All stainless steel, inoculated with a neutral yeast. Sometimes they deacidify so they don’t need to add any sweetness. Linear, focused, mineral and bright with clean, crisp, yet textured citrus fruit. Focused and satisfying. 90/100

Fromm La Strada Pinot Gris 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
From the home block. Two-thirds in large old barrels and a third in tank. Full colour. Apple and lemon notes with some pear and honey. Dry with some honeyed richness and a bit of tangerine, with a lively finish. There’s some stoniness on the finish, too. Quite savoury and distinctive. 91/100

frommlastrada

Fromm La Strada Chardonnay 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Fine, expressive, nutty and mealy with lovely transparency to the lemony fruit. Old Mendoza clone from the Sutherlands up Dog Point Road, all on own roots. Fine and expressive with lovely open fruit texture. Has a fine lemony note here, and delicacy. Almost Chablis like, with real elegance. 94/100

Fromm La Strada Rosé 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
Mix of saignee and direct press. Fine, textural and dry with nice sweet cherry and pear fruit, and some attractive citrus fruit. Has a stony edge that’s really appealing. Nicely fruity but with a savoury edge. 89/100

frommnaturalwine

Pinot Naturel by Fromm 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
Inspired by drinking Lapierre’s Morgon. No additions except for a bit of sulfur at bottling (some was bottled with none at all). Had about 12 barrels. The Churton fruit worked extremely well as it has a lower PH, and from the Quarters and Fromm mainly used clone 10/5 and 210, which are higher acid. There is a bit of clone 5 here, but tends to have a pH of 3.85. Use a lot more carbonic maceration, and for the first time some dry ice. Bottled two thirds of what they made, with a pH of 3.7. This is supple and fresh with attractive black cherry fruit and some plum, too. There’s good acidity with nice grip under the fresh, vivid fruit. Very juicy and sappy with lovely fruit focus, a hint of bitter plum, and lovely drinkable cherry fruit. Lovely purity and focus here. 93/100

Fromm La Strada Pinot Noir 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
In 2015 made 6 wines from the vintage (La Strada, Cuvee H and four single vineyards). 2016 will do the six plus naturel. 2015 was a really good year, and nice for starting this range. 2016 was one of the most challenging because of high bunch weights: in Churton they are normally 80 g but they were 160 this year. The inside of the bunches has lots of less mature, transparent berries. Supple and expressive with sweet cherry and plum fruit. There’s a silky texture and pretty raspberry and cherry fruit. Has a fine spiciness with good structure and a twist of meat and pepper. Very attractive wine. 94/100

Fromm Churton Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
‘Texturally this is like a village Burgundy to me,’ says Hatsch. ‘It is so easy to sell a new world fruity wine but these finer wines are harder to sell.’ Perfumed and floral but with some brooding dark fruit and herbal characters on the nose. Spicy and detailed on the midweight palate with some savoury spiciness and fresh red and black cherry fruit. Has freshness and elegance with some brooding spicy, peppery, herbal savouriness. Nice bite on the finish. Lots of non-fruit complexity here. Very elegant. 94/100

Fromm Quarters Pinot Noir 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Fresh and direct with a juicy raspberry fruit quality. Vivid and detailed with good acidity and structure and a lovely bright, pure fruit core. There’s quite a bit of stuffing here with a direct, vital character and lots of fruit, but it’s very juicy and linear. Has lovely personality and freshness, and also seriousness. 95/100

Fromm Fromm Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Very distinctive. Bright with a touch of herbal character and some fresh red apple, as well as silky cherry fruit. Has some herbs and spiciness. Open and supple with a bit of green sappiness. Very interesting and complex with just a hint of undergrowth and some green sappiness, alongside bright cherry fruit. Finishes fresh and a bit earthy. 92/100

Fromm Clayvin Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Clayvin always has the smallest bunches. Complex and taut with nice density to the fruit. Really intense with good structure and acidity. Supple cherry and raspberry fruit with nice grip and a backward, slightly burly personality, but still has focus and harmony. Lovely fruit freshness here with lovely detail and precision. 95/100

Fromm Cuvée H Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
Represents the best blend that Fromm can come up with: their signature Pinot. This is essentially a blend of the single vineyards plus other bits. This is really refined with well integrated oak supporting silky, fine, pretty red berry and cherry fruit. Has directness and freshness with lovely purity and fine-grained tannins. This is rich but also very supple with good acidity and nice structure, and a lovely harmony. Such a lovely wine. 95/100

Fromm La Strada Syrah 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
2% Viognier co-fermented in here. Brooding with some olive, spice, meat and sweet black fruits on the nose. Very fresh and elegant on the palate with nice density and some chalky structure. Nicely peppery with some herby hints. Very focused and fresh, and quite delicious. Essence of cool-climate Syrah. 93/100

Fromm Fromm Vineyard Syrah 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
2-3% Viognier co-fermented. Old oak. Lovely peppery nose with a fine green leafy twist and some brooding black fruits. Complex, very fresh, and quite supple on the palate with nice elegance and good structure. There’s an olive and meat twist, some peppery character and nice structure. Shows lovely black cherry and blackberry fruit with a delicious savoury, peppery twist. 94/100

Fromm Fromm Vineyard Malbec 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand (cask sample)
Beautifully fresh and expressive with bright, sappy-edged blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, with nice acidity and focus. Lovely elegance with a grippy, gravelly edge on the palate. Quite structured and dense but really fine with such prettiness and purity, but also a savoury edge. Quite beautiful. This wine still hasn’t seen any sulfur, but it will get a bit at bottling. Lovely focus here. 94-96/100

Fromm Riesling Spatlese 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Lovely detail here with nice bright lemony fruit and some sweetness. There’s a hint of melony richness, too. Lovely zippy acidity on the finish, balances out things. So drinkable, with lovely delicacy but also palate weight. 90/100

Fromm Riesling Spatlese 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
7.5% alcohol. Very delicate and fresh with lovely harmony and focus. Sweet lemony fruit with some grapefruit and a twist of table grape. Sweet but with really high acidity. Linear and off-dry, with amazing drinkability. 93/100

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