Interesting Marlborough: exploring Gewurztraminer with Spy Valley

Paul Bourgeois, Spy Valley

Spy Valley is a medium-sized winery in Marlborough terms, with 250 hectares of vineyards spread over four sites. The home site is in the Waihopai Valley, and when Bryan and Jan Johnson first began their winery, they were pioneers here, planting most of the vineyard in 1993 and then doing some replanting in the late 1990s. As well as the home vineyard, they have the hillside Outpost vineyard in the Omaka, plus 25 hectares in the Lower Wairau, and the Tatou vineyard that they’ve just bought from Seresin (another 15 hectares).

I visited a couple of weeks ago with chief winemaker Paul Bourgeois and winemaker Richelle Collier. We did a bit of barrel and tank tasting, but they then decided that rather than do a standard range tasting, we’d instead look solely at Gewurztraminer. Not just one or two of them, but 30 different Gewurztraminers: pretty much all they have ever made.

Richelle Collier

Paul has been taking Gewurztraminer seriously for a while. ‘It was very exciting at the time to make a Reserve level Gewurztraminer in Marlborough,’ he says. ‘It was quite a luxury. The feeling at the time was that this variety did well here so we’d try it.’

They have around 7 hectares in G block in the home vineyard, and another couple near the winery. This is a variety that responds well to sensitive, and sometimes unorthodox winemaking. It has low acid, so there’s no point in trying to make it like Sauvignon Blanc. Instead, the balance to the wine is gained by using phenolics from the skins and for this reason they give the wine overnight skin contact. ‘If were in a hurry we’ll do a couple of hours in the press,’ says Paul. ‘When we measure the phenolics on this, it’s the most phenolic white we do. It’s up and down: in a cool year there are twice the levels than a warm year.’

They have a number of clones in the vineyard and these all behave differently, so they will normally do four picks for Spy Valley and one or two for the reserve wine, Envoy. ‘We do push the envelope with the Gewurztraminer,’ says Paul. ‘After a while, late in the season, the berries start losing sugar and a bit of black fungus grows on them. This fungus is the limit of how far we can push the ripeness.’

One vintage Paul decided to make a carbonic maceration Gewurztraminer. It had high VA but it was a good blending component. Gewurztraminer is also a variety that often gets brettanomyces, with its low pH. Surprisingly, the spiciness of brett can work quite well with this variety.

There’s a small but loyal following for this wine. ‘This is a niche of a niche wine, and I was worried it would die, but it has held on and it has been selling,’ Paul explains.

Spy Valley Hand Picked Single Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
11 g/l residual sugar. Lovely rose petal and Turkish delight aromatics. Really nice textured on the palate with good density and a fine spicy character. It’s pretty but has some seriousness, and just a touch of table grape sweetness on the finish. 91/100

Spy Valley Hand Picked Single Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Lovely concentration and some sweetness here to the fruit. Table grapes and lychee with a hint of syrup. Nice jellyish texture with good weight and complexity. 89/100

Spy Valley Hand Picked Single Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
Nice weight and texture here, showing table grape, spice and lychee characters. Rounded mid-palate with a fresh finish and a hint of sweetness. 90/100

Spy Valley Gewurztraminer 2014 Marlborough, New Zealand
Textured with some sweetness to the palate. Spicy and exotic with sweet table grape and lychee fruit. Really quite sweet with a soft structure but nice brightness on the finish. Smoky on the finish too. 90/100

Spy Valley Gewurztraminer 2013 Marlborough, New Zealand
Lovely substance here with freshness and a bit of spiciness, and good acidity. Lovely soft mid-palate with textured lychee fruit characters. Lovely brisk finish, too, with real harmony and purity. Has very low acid (3.5 g/l, pH 3.8) but tastes fresh. 92/100

Spy Valley Gewurztraminer 2012 Marlborough, New Zealand
There’s a faint hint of cabbage and green, coming from the very cold growing season. Has some grape and lychee, too. A bit of sweetness on the finish with some buttery notes too. 86/100

Spy Valley Gewurztraminer 2011 Marlborough, New Zealand
Nice sweet table grape fruit with a hint of green herbs and a citrus twist on the sweet finish. Has texture but also a hint of bitterness, too. 87/100

Spy Valley Gewurztraminer 2010 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is herby and bright with some sweet grapiness and a slightly chemical floral note that distracts. Has a jellyish note. It’s not unappealing, and still has freshness, but there’s a slightly bitter twist. 88/100

Spy Valley Satellite Gewurztraminer 2010 Marlborough, New Zealand
A selection of some of the wilder parcels. Concentrated and textural with lovely spiciness here. Has a slight savoury, spicy twist. Nice density and complexity with a fine spicy character and depth and freshness. 92/100

Spy Valley  Gewurztraminer 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand
‘The most difficult one we have ever made, with lots of rain and disease, and we had to pick compromised grapes in the rain,’ says Paul Bougeois. ‘Were settling a tank and it started fermenting, and a month later the acid had gone up (Lactobacillus?) to a level that was unmeasurable. But the flavours were fantastic so we blended a bit in. We never managed to achieve this again despite trying.’ Very fresh and bright with a strong tangerine character and nice sweet grapey notes. This has lovely freshness and complexity with a bright personality. 90/100

Spy Valley Gewurztraminer 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Textured and fine with sweet grape characters and some lychee notes. This is really nicely integrated with lovely fruit character. Some mandarin and lemon as well as table grape and lychee. Mostly dry with a fresh finish. 91/100

Spy Valley Gewurztraminer 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
Hot and early vintage. Rich yet still fresh with good concentration. Quite pure with a savoury twist to the table grape and pear notes. Has a fine spiciness and a lovely grainy but fine mouthfeel. Juicy finish: really impressive. 92/100

Spy Valley Gewurztraminer 2005 Marlborough, New Zealand
No oak influence and less skin contact in this and previous vintages, and also this is the driest. This has a nice delicacy to it. There’s a slight cabbage and mandarin edge to the table grape notes. Pure, simple and quite attractive, but lacking a bit of personality. Dry and linear. 88/100

Spy Valley Gewurztraminer 2004 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is before Paul Bourgeois joined in 2005. 14.5% alcohol, a ripe vintage. Sweetly fruit and quite rich with nice table grape characters, and a hint of lychee. Textured and dry on the finish with a bit of grip. Has generosity and depth. 89/100

Spy Valley Gewurztraminer 2003 Marlborough, New Zealand
Low yielding vintage because of frost in the region. This is dry and very fresh with a hint of mint to the citrus and table grape fruit. Good concentration and weight. Has a juicy tangerine character and some spiciness on the finish. 90/100

Spy Valley Gewurztraminer 2002 Marlborough, New Zealand
Still very fresh and with lovely ripe fruit characters: grapes, a touch of lychee, some melon even. Has higher acidity than some of the more recent wines (pH used to be adjusted), with a bright, fruity finish. 88/100

Spy Valley Gewurztraminer 2001 Marlborough, New Zealand
Cork sealed. pH 3 and a TA of 6 – this is Gewurz shoehorned into Sauvignon territory. Bright and fresh with lemons and tangerines and a nice spiciness. Still very fresh and tangy. Not the mosty typical Gewurz but delicious and bright. 90/100

Envoy

Spy Valley Envoy Johnson Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
14% alcohol. 20 g/litre rs. Has Colmar clones which are less fruity than the Geisenheim clones, and they push the ripeness. Very fine and detailed with concentrated, textured, spicy lychee and table grape fruit. There’s concentration but also finesse with nice detail and purity. Finishes a bit sweet, but the wine is balanced. 93/100

Spy Valley Envoy Johnson Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
12% alcohol. 100 g/l rs with lots of botrytis. Great concentration here. It seems really sweet and intense with a bright fresh personality but also lovely exotic lychee and pear notes. Very rich, sweet, pure and textural with great complexity and a fine, spicy finish. Has freshness even though the acid isn’t high (4 g/l), with the phenolics providing texture and freshness. A tiny bit of lift from the VA, but the wine manages to carry this so well. 94/100

Spy Valley Envoy Johnson Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
Really perfumed with a strong Turkish delight character. Sweet with some mint and spice and a subtle smoky character on the finish. Rounded and sweet with complex spiciness and a bit of grip and clove on the finish. Very distinctive with a nice smoky savouriness adding interest. 92/100

Spy Valley Envoy Johnson Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2014 Marlborough, New Zealand
There’s a nice freshness and spiciness to this wine. Lovely weight on the mid-palate with melon and lychee characters, and a fine, savoury spicy dimension. Delicate and detailed with good complexity and a refreshing finish. Not overly sweet. 92/100

Spy Valley Envoy Johnson Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2013 Marlborough, New Zealand
Very fresh and compact with lovely texture in the mouth. Pretty, spicy and fruity with lychee and ripe pear characters. Lovely brightness and spiciness on the finish, with layers of flavour. Off dry with great balance and harmony. There’s something very interesting about this vintage. 93/100

Spy Valley Envoy Johnson Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2012 Marlborough, New Zealand
There’s a honeyed, sweet, melony edge to the fruit here. Sweet and juicy with some green herbal notes and some mint in the background. A bit awkward at the moment. 87/100

Spy Valley Envoy Johnson Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2011 Marlborough, New Zealand
They had very clean fruit everywhere, except for Gewurztraminer where they had botrytis early. Nicely textured with a strongly spicy edge, and a hint of marmalade under the table grape and lychee fruit. Textured and broad with nice weight and some sweetness apparent. Nice botrytis complexity here: a really complex, rich wine. 92/100

No 2010 made

Spy Valley Envoy Johnson Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2009 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is really detailed and pretty with bright, juicy table grape and lychee fruit with fine spicy notes and a hint of mandarin and dried herb. Lovely complexity here. Pure and linear with nice sweetness and fine grained structure, as well as a lovely savoury twist. Such interesting phenolic structure here, and maybe a hint of clove on the finish. 93/100

Spy Valley Envoy Johnson Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is distinctive and different, with a compact, grainy, spicy edge to the lychee and pear fruit. There’s some citrus skin, too. Has amazing freshness to it still, with lovely focus on the palate and some savoury detail. Really complex. Juicy finish with good acid. 92/100

Spy Valley Envoy Johnson Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
A lovely vintage. Pretty, pure and fresh with lemon, table grape and a twist of honey. Fresh with some spicy detail and a bit of nuttiness under the focused fruit. Still very fresh and pretty. 91/100

Spy Valley Envoy Johnson Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
The first vintage for the Envoy Gewurztraminer. Really juicy and fine with nice brightness. Purchased the oak ovals for making Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. There’s a sweetness to the fruit, with rounded table grape and lychee flavours, as well as a bit of spice on the finish. Good concentration and weight. Still pure and youthful. 91/100

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1 comment to Interesting Marlborough: exploring Gewurztraminer with Spy Valley

  • philip quick

    I was wondering if the winery told you what yeast they had been using for the wines in question? The reason I ask is it would put a very different complexion on the wines you had been tasting over the years? Can’t believe they’ve used the same one for the last 10 years!I’d bet my bottom dollar they’ve been using Maurvin yeast the last few years.

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