The fourth day. By this stage, jet lag has dissipated and I’m fully into the itinerary. So I started the day with a quick run, had some poached eggs, and hit the road. The destination? The Waikari region of North Canterbury, which is home to two of New Zealand’s top producers: Pyramid Valley Vineyards and Bell Hill.
I first visited these two back in 2008, when I had a bit of spare time before flying home from Christchurch. James Millton had recommended that I check out these two new producers, and so I called, got appointments, and headed out there. Now, just over seven years later, I was returning. The atraction of Waikiri is limestone. Both Pyramid Valley and Bell Hill have limestone-based soils, but the terroirs are a little different.
We met with Mike Weersing and managing director Caine Thompson at Pyramid Valley, and started off in the vineyards. It was freezing. Mike explained the way that the special spot they had was a combination of limestone and clay, and that both were needed to make the sorts of wines he was looking for.
The four small, single vineyards that make up Pyramid Valley’s home site are planted in discrete locations, and the shape of their boundaries is determined by the soil differences. Even within a small property like this, the soil differences are significant enough to make quite different wines.
‘Wine has this magical capacity to talk about little nuances of site and place,’ says Mike. His wines show this, for sure. The Grower Series wines are all exemplary, and quite delicious. But the real interest is in the home wines, and we tried the 2013s.
There are two Chardonnays and two Pinots. The Field of Fire and Lion’s Tooth Chardonnays may be grown in blocks just 600 m apart, but the wines are quite different. Field of Fire has an amazing mid-palate intensity, while Lion’s Tooth is all bass and treble, with less of the mid-range. Both are utterly compelling. The two Pinots also show differences, and I was thrilled by both. Angel Flower is beautifully aromatic with a sapid, green edge and lovely minerality. Earth Smoke is bright, pure and fresh but with purity and structure that suggest that this could be extremely long lived. The latter comes from soils with more lime in them.
Then it was a short trip over to Bell Hill. Marcel Giesen and Sherwyn Veldhuizen have been patiently building up this property ever since they started in 1997, and now have six plots on the properties with a range of soils, but all dominated by limestone.
We spent some time walking through the vineyards and then had a lovely lunch of whitebait, salmon and venison, beautifully cooked by Marcel, coupled with a vertical of their wines.
The Chardonnay is beautifully focused, and a tasting of 2012, 2009 and 2006 was really interesting, showing the ageing potential of this wine – at almost 10 years old, the 2006 is just beginning to develop.
The Pinot Noir is quite superb. Old Weka Pass is the second label, and 2011 and 2012 were quite lovely, especially the latter. The 2012 Bell Hill Pinot is fine and expressive with some spicy depth and good structure. 2010 is sweetly fruited and shows lovely concentration, with some ripeness. 2008 is quite beautiful: its supple and has some mineral, savoury notes and has a silky elegance.
This was quite a special day.