Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand (3) Ash Ridge

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Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand (3) Ash Ridge

In 2000, Chris Wilcock bought a peach orchard in the Bridge Pa district of Hawke’s Bay. At the time, he was working as a banker (he had spells in Switzerland, Singapore and Australia), and initially he didn’t put any vineyards in. Then in 2005 he decided to plant 8 of the 9 hectares, and two years later he retired from banking aged 38 to move back to New Zealand. He retained Chris Archer as a consultant winemaker, and hired Lauren Swift as winemaker, and now Lauren is in full control of the winery.

The focus here is on Chardonnay and Syrah, and the home vineyard is in conversion to organics. They also source from the next door vineyard, and as well as their two core varieties work with Merlot, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Malbec, and the two Cabernets. Total vineyard area is 14 hectares, and around 120 tons come through the winery.

The soils here are 40 cm of loamy clay over the famous Bridge Pa redmetal gravels. In the past season they dry farmed, but it has taken them five years to wean the vines off irrigation.

None of the reserve wines are fined or filtered. For the whole bunch component to the Syrahs, Lauren does some 100% whole bunch ferments and back blends. ‘I feel the integration is better,’ she says. In 2015 worked in Côte Rôtie (with Stephane Ogier). ‘I brought back what they did there,’ she says. ‘Picking decisions were made differently in 2016, and I decided not to chaptalize again.’ The time on skins and pump overs were different too. ‘The winemaking was probably a little more thoughtful, approaching each tank uniquely.’

Ash Ridge Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay 2014
13.5% alcohol. This was the first vintage in the new winery. This is a barrel selection. There’s a toasty, nutty richness to this with ripe pear and peach fruit, as well as some fennel. Has a bit of flesh with nice citrus and pear notes on the finish. 91/100

Ash Ridge Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay 2015
13.5% alcohol. Lovely delicacy here with some mandarin and pear notes. Fresh and delicate with nice weight and a fine lemony, acid core. This is stylish with lovely fruit focus and weight. Shows refinement and delicacy while not lacking flavour. 93/100

Ash Ridge Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay 2016
12.5% alcohol. Toasty, spicy and refined with good structure to the pear and citrus fruit. There’s a lovely weight on the palate with well integrated oak and some fine mandarin and grapefruit detail, and subtle nutty oak influence. Stylish stuff. 93/100

Ash Ridge Vintner’s Reserve Syrah 2014
Warm vintage. Half and half Chave and Mass Selection clones. All destemmed. 2 week pre-soak in a double-skinned steel milk tank, which produces tannic red wine juice. The tanks are pretty much frozen and the berry breaks down. This is structured and dense, but also quite pretty with a peppery, spicy black cherry fruit character and also some lush blackberry and raspberry notes. Powerful stuff with a lovely mouthfeel, and a long finish. 94/100

Ash Ridge Doppio MS Syrah 2015
The Doppio wines are a pair of Syrahs, each made from one of the two clones here. 18 months in new oak, hand bottled. One barrel of each clone. Brooding, structured, dense and perfumed with lovely raspberry and blackberry fruit with good tannic structure well integrated into the powerful berry fruits. There’s some prettiness, but also lovely structure. Has lots of potential: the oak has been completely swallowed. 94/100

Ash Ridge Doppio Chave Syrah 2015
Powerful, floral, peppery and slightly herbal, but in a nice way. Lovely density and structure here with tar, spice, blackcurrant and black cherry fruit. Has freshness and grunt. Very impressive wine with great structure and freshness but also some wildness. Massive potential for development. 95/100

Ash Ridge Vintner’s Reserve Syrah 2015
25% whole bunch, 50/50 Chave and MS clones. Lovely focus to this: fresh, vivid with juicy, peppery raspberry and cherry fruit, with some attractive fleshiness. Supple, grainy raspberry and cherry fruit on the finish. This has a fabulous mouthfeel and real elegance and purity. 94/100

Ash Ridge Vintner’s Reserve Syrah 2016
Not released yet. 12% alcohol, 25% whole bunch. Supple and a bit bloody with a lovely savoury edge to the bright cherry and raspberry fruit. This has real elegance, but also structure to it. It’s very northern Rhône in style and quite grown up, with balance and harmony, as well as some savouriness. Such precision and focus. 95/100

Ash Ridge Spire Syrah 2016
2 years in oak. 80% whole bunch, 75% new oak. Won’t be released until 2020, as a four-year old wine. Four barrels; 1200 bottles, sealed with cork. Concentrated and powerful with amazing structure sitting under the focused black cherry and blackberry fruit. Dense and quite savoury with pepper, tar and spice. Still just a baby but serious potential for development. Has freshness and balance despite the size. Currently very tannic and closed. 95/100

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