Interesting Marlborough: meeting the Vandals

The three Vandals

Vandal is a micronegociant project based in Marlborough, New Zealand. It began in the 2016 vintage, and it’s a collaboration between three local winemakers who all had kids, and who wanted to get out of the house more. They’d all been making Sauvignon Blanc since they were young, and now wanted to make something different: not the commercial, bright style they’d been taught to make at all the big wineries.

I visited and tasted with them in a duck-shooting hide in the middle of a vineyard, near a river. I can’t disclose the location, in part because I was taken there blindfold (and also because I’m a good sport and I didn’t check the location on my phone).

The idea is to work with good sites, all in the southern valleys of Marlborough, and to use winemaking techniques they don’t get to use in their day jobs. The whole secrecy thing is because their contracts allow them to make some home brew, but not to promote it. ‘We all reached the point at the same time when we wanted a creative outlet; a side project,’ one of them explained. ‘We met up over beers and came up with this.’

The term vandal comes from ancient times when the vandals couldn’t fight Ceasar on the open battlefield so instead they defaced his statues. ‘We are defacing the commercialization of Marlborough, showing that it isn’t just a one-trick pony,’ another one stated.

The approach isn’t natural, but rather lo-fi. 2016 was a great first vintage to start off with, but in 2017 they made no wine. Here I tried samples of the 2018 which will be the second release. In New Zealand the wines sell for $35; in the UK they will soon be for sale at £20 through the Antipodean Sommelier, and will be in some independent wine shops.

THE WINES

Vandal Gonzo Field Blend 2016
This is all from the same site: the different varieties are co-fermented and go straight to the barrel from the press, with no added sulfites save 30 ppm before bottling. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Tempranillo, Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Riesling, with the latter two the dominant varieties. Concentrated with nice depth. Rounded and a bit spicy, showing nuts and honey and a grainy edge, as well as almond and tangerine. This is all about texture, with a slight bitter twist on the finish. 92/100

Vandal Gonzo White 2016
This is Pnot Gris, Viognier and Riesling from the same site, hand harvested, then destemmed to an open top fermenter. It’s fermented on skins until 5 or 6 Brix and then pressed. Full yellow/copper colour. Lovely stuff: fresh and tangy with a slight bitter hint and lovely citrus, pear and some peach notes. Really nice delicate tannins and good acidity here, with a hunt of green tea on the finish. 93/100

Vandal Gonzo Red 2016
Pinot Noir with a bit of Viognier. This is picked and fermented whole bunch carbonic for two to three weeks. Pale in colour. Beautifully fragrant and supple with sappy, bright raspberry and red cherry fruit. Has some nice savoury grip. Natural and expressive with a bit of grip. Lovely white pepper spiciness. 94/100

The 2018s we looked at were obviously unfinished wines, but it was nice to see the potential.

Gonzo Oyster Sauvignon Blanc 2018
A new wine in the line-up. This is a mix of various lengths of skin ferment: 5 days, 2 weeks and one in between. Still fermenting, this has lovely weight and texture. Perfect with oysters, and the rumour is that there is even an oyster in the ferment.

Gonzo Field Blend 2018
Same mix as 2017. Rich and textural with nice weight. Has a smoky edge to it. Will be lovely.

Gonzo White 2018
Riesling and Viognier. Macerated overnight in the press, in order to lift the pH a little. Lovely fruit here with citrus and tangerine, and some nice spiciness.

Gonzo Red 2018
50% Pinot Noir, 40% Syrah and 10% Viognier. Pinot was destemmed (there was some rot) but the Syrah and Viognier were left whole bunch. Very fresh and direct with a bit of pepperiness. Beautifully integrated with some tannic grip. Lovely purity.

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