Central Otago (5) the beautiful naturally made wines of Aurum

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Central Otago (5) the beautiful naturally made wines of Aurum

Aurum is one of Central Otago’s hidden gems. They are known in the region, but they don’t export. But these wines are worth seeking out. Naturally and sensitively made, they are serious expressions of place.

Lucie Lawrence

Aurum dates back to 1997 when Joan and Tony Lawrence planted the 45th Parallel Vineyard on the Pisa Flats. They then added a second vineyard in Lowburn in 2001, which is now the home block. In 2010 they had to sell 45th Parallel (it’s now Domaine Rewa), and when I visited they were in the process of developing a new vineyard on the hillside over looking the home block on the Burn Cottage Road. There are currently 1 hectare of vines in the ground and this will rise to 3, complementing the 4 hectares of the home block.

Brook Lawrence

Aurum is now run by Brook and Lucie Lawrence. Lucie is from Burgundy, and they met while both were working at Domaine de l’Arlot. She came over to New Zealand to see him again in 2002, and then came back the following year, and they got married in 2004. The winery was completed in time for the first vintage in 2006.

The new vineyard

Brook and Tony were busy applying in-row matting to the new vineyard. These black plastic mats are not the prettiest, but they are a very effective way of suppressing weeds, giving the young vines a chance to establish themselves without resorting to herbicide. Aurum were fully certified organic in 2014, and have been farming this way for a decade now. Lucie explained that without the matting, unless they used herbicide the vines would really struggle, and they’d lose a year or two of growth. Biogro, the organic certifying body, even recommend using herbicide for young vines and then switching to organics, but Lucie would rather be organic from the outset.

Extenday matting for weed control: this is 3 years old and still in good condition

Here, weed control is the main obstacle to organics. ‘Choosing what to do with the weeds is the challenge,’ says Lucie. ‘We mow the grass rather than cultivating, the soil is too fragile for that. This works really well for us: the life of our soil is improving all the time.’ She says that the problem with cultivation is that you are constantly killing the top level of soil. But weeds can compete with vines if you aren’t careful. ‘Vines are very polite they give their nutrients to anyone else but them first,’ she says.

The weed matting looks very artificial, but the vines grow really nicely. And the soil under the mats is very healthy. ‘You see all the worms, it is very reassuring.’

Aurum Dry Riesling 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
This is the one wine that isn’t organic, because they can’t find organic Riesling. Lucie has always made Riesling in a dry style. Linear and focused with laser-sharp citrus core. Whole bunch pressed into a stainless steel tank with a cool long fermentation – pure Riesling. The key is to stop it after the right time. The acidity varies from year to year so we have to decide when to stop it. It’s very pure and a little austere, but in a nice way with lime and lemon characters. 90/100

Aurum Chardonnay 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
Organic. This is from the warmest spot of the home block, and it’s the second harvest of the new planting (they lost 45 Parallel in 2010, and so there were a few years without Chardonnay). ‘There is a great potential for Chardonnay in Central,’ says Lucie, ‘but not in every place. It was an exciting day when we got our first grapes, because it was tough without Chardonnay.’ The first harvest was 100 litres! Complex peach, nut and pineapple nose: fresh and refined. The palate is linear with bright citrus fruit, a bit of white peach, and the oak playing a supporting role with cashew and some warmth. Lovely acidity here. 93/100

Aurum Pinot Gris 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
Pinot Gris gets such bad press. People are forgetting where it comes from and how good it could be. It’s also trying to express the full potential of the grape. We experimented with old oak but I didn’t like it. This is delicate with nice tangerine and pear fruit. Lots of flavour here. Quite fresh and not at all fat or heavy, but has some grapey richness. Good detail here, and easy to drink, and apparently this ages well, too. 91/100

Aurum Pinot Gris Rosé 2018 Central Otago, New Zealand
‘I made the amber wine first and realized how much colour could come out of the skins, so next year I made a rosé,’ says Lucie. She doesn’t like Pinot Noir rosé. ‘We experimented and I was really pleased with the results.’ She destems it into a tank, with three days of cold maceration. Then press it and ferment it cold in stainless steel. ‘It’s incredible how much comes from these skins, which normally go straight to the compost. Flavour and tannins come out so you can go a lot drier than normal Pinot Gris.’ Orange/pink colour. Aromatic, spicy nose with orange peel and lemon notes. It’s dry, supple and nicely textured on the palate with fresh cherries and some spice. There’s some citrus and pear, too. Nicely complex with a lovely mouthfeel, and quite dry. Food friendly with layers of flavour. 92/100

Aurum Amber Wine 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
No added sulfites. First vintage was 2013. All destemmed, made like a Pinot Noir, except the maceration is longer. This is four months on skins. No punchdowns: just water the cap with a watering can. This is the first vintage that has no sulfur until bottling (previously, as with the Pinot Noirs, there had been no sulfur added during fermentation, but a bit added at bottling). Orange/copper colour. Beautiful nose of tea and herbs, with tangerine, fennel and nuts. The palate is textural and dry, with some grip, and very intriguing grape, spice, herb, tangerine and red apple character, as well as a bit of cherry. It’d dry with a slight rasp to the mouthfeel. Lots of interest here. 93/100

Aurum Libera Pinot Noir 2016 Central Otago, New Zealand
This is from young vines (six years old). ‘There was a chance here to make wine with no sulfur at all,’ says Lucie. ‘Sulfur was the last thing we’d eliminated from the wine. I loved it so much half the winery went sulfur free that year (2015). It was a no brainer. Very quickly I started not using sulfur until just before bottling.’ The 2017 has been bottled with no sulfur additions at all. Had been using 50 ppm at grape reception because that is what you do. Supple, textural and bright with nice red cherries and plums, with some raspberry brightness. Fresh and pure with vivid fruit to the fore. Has a bit of structure too. Crunchy and satisfying, and very pure. Almost Gamay-like: not too serious, but fun. 92/100

Aurum Pinot Noir 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
This is from all over the old vines block. Beautiful aromatics: floral and enticing with sweet black cherries and some spice, with just a hint of nice reduction. The palate is elegant but structured with lovely black fruits character. Black cherries, spice, plums. It has some juiciness and forward fruit, but lovely elegance and purity and real drive. ‘Easy but not simple, having purity of fruit but also dryness and texture. Making a plush Pinot is not interesting.’ Serious stuff, but also quite approachable. The fruit is so linear and pure, the reduction gives nice edges. 95/100

Aurum Mathilde Pinot Noir 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
When Lucie’s daughter Mathilde was born she started separating out bits of the vineyard. I don’t like blending. I don’t understand making a reserve wine by blending barrels. This is 20-30% whole bunch (but no whole bunch at all in 2018, because there was some powdery, and we made no Madeleine). Elegant, supple nose with lovely floral detail to the red fruits. The palate is fresh, fine, elegant and harmonious, with some savoury herbal hints, layers of flavour, a lightness to the red fruit character, and great precision. There’s some generosity, but also a bit of fine-grained structure and savouriness. ‘There’s a comfort about this wine,’ says Lucie, and she’s right. Long red fruits finish. Slight green sappiness in the background is really pretty. 95/100

Aurum Madeleine Pinot Noir 2016 Central Otago, New Zealand
First made in 2007, this is 100% whole bunch, but this was only after a few years. 667 gives beautiful stem ripeness every year. Wanted to be able to make a wine that is 100% whole bunch. It worked: the tannins were fine and intricate, so we kept going. Floral and pretty with elegant red fruits and some black cherry on the nose. There’s some savoury seriousness on the palate, but no greenness. There’s black cherry, plum and spice with a bit of grip. Very sophisticated and grown up with flesh but also structure and acidity. So many dimensions and layers here. ‘It takes you through a real journey while you are drinking it: every time you pick up your glass you get a slightly different version of it.’ Grippy finish, but there’s also elegance here. ‘It’s not muscular.’ 96/100

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