Is Salta Argentina’s Next Hot Spot for Wine?

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If you missed my piece in Unscrewed last week, here’s a second chance to read it…

Last week, I spent several days touring the high country of Argentina’s northwest in the Province of Salta, a varied landscape that kisses the arid edges of Bolivia and Chile. While driving three hours south from the city of Salta towards wine country in Cafayate, the landscape transforms every 30 minutes, and we moved from green and stormy hills evocative of the Scottish highlands to a landscape akin to Arizona cactus country and finally past red Mars rockscapes. The dreamy scenery is nice, but the highlight for the vinous-inclined is the wines.

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You’d hope that wine grown in a land of extremes would provide similar drama from within the bottle. The mainstays of the region’s wine production are high-altitude, mineral-driven Malbec, and surprisingly approachable, soft-edged Tannat (a wine often with hard tannins), both showing promise as foils to Mendoza’s warmer, riper styles. The third, but perhaps most important grape, is a white variety called Torrontés. With spring in swing, Torrontés, with its perfumed aromatics mirroring the season’s newest blooms, should be your wine of the moment.

This grape has been written about before — some offer praise, others disdain. Those that took issue with it may have felt it lacked complexity, had too much perfume, or was often bitter. There’s merit to all those claims; the first two are subjective observations, but the latter is an issue that’s been mostly eradicated. In Salta, I found advances in viticulture and handling in the winery meant bitterness management has improved to the point I rarely recognized it as a problem in any wines I tasted. We’ve never seen a better time for drinking high-quality Torrontés than now.

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The grape is a relative to Muscat of Alexandria, a relationship that’s fairly obvious when dipping your nose into a glass of this intriguingly aromatic variety. It makes for a good bridge for those who like the heady aromas of overtly sweet fruit, citrus, and florals of wines like Moscato, but want to drink something crisp, refreshing, and dry.

The final boon to those that give this grape a chance at the table: The wines offer incredible value. Every bottle on my list comes in under $20 and is available in the U.S. market.

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Tasting at Bodega Colome

Bodega Colomé, $13.99.
This is the highest altitude bodega in the world, and Colomé’s Torrontés grapes come primarily from Finca La Brava in Cafayate at 1,700 meters above sea level. The wine is piercingly fresh, with grapefruit and mandarin plus floral notes of rose and jasmine on the nose and palate; gorgeous aromatics I wish I could bottle for a perfume. A steal at this price. Buy a case for your summer “house” wine.

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El Esteco’s estate

Bodega El Esteco, Don David Reserve Torrontés, $14.99. 
From the largest winery in Cafayate, El Esteco, the exuberant floral and tropical fruit notes on the nose belie a crisp, dry palate. A fuller body comes from a minimum amount of oak aging, but it doesn’t interfere with the fruit.

Anko, Torrontés, $15. 
“Anko” means high-altitude oasis, and this bottle from winemaker and co-owners Jeff Mausbach and Alejandro “Colo” Sejanovic, comes from a 50-year-old vineyard they’d found derelict and overgrown. Brought back to life, the old-vine grapes produce an intense, fuller bodied Torrontés. Aromatics of rose-scented soap and dried flower potpourri, orange rind, and white pepper on a long, slightly oily finish make this wine seem like a cross between Grüner and Gewürtrazminer.

Bodega Domingo Molina, Hermanos Torrontés, $15.
The relationship to Muscat is evident in the nose of this wine, as fruits and florals explode from the glass like a call girl doused in perfume. Refreshing on the palate though, the wine is a pale yellow with shades of green; a hint of freshly mowed grass adds an herbaceous component.

Alta Vista, Premium Torrontés, $19.99. 
Alta Vista’s specialty is high-altitude, site-specific wines. The grapes for this bottle come from a blend of holdings in Cafayate; the wine, aged on its lees for greater complexity and a rounder mouthfeel, produces bright citrus and white floral aromatics with a clean, refreshing palate.

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The Porvenir tasting room

Porvenir, Laborum Torrontés, $18.
The winery was founded in 1890, and it sits within the little town of Cafayate. Tasting here feels reminiscent of stepping into a saloon from the old West. The current owners bought it in 2000, and their goal with this wine is pure summer in a bottle. Mandarin orange, grapefruit, and lemon-lime notes abound, with less florals than other versions. A perfect quaff for the beach.

Dominio Del Plata, Ben Marco Torrontés, $18. 
From the cooler Altamira region of the southern Uco Valley, I am cheating a bit adding this wine since Uco is in Mendoza, not Salta. But the young winemaker, Jose Lovaglio Balbo, is the son of famous Susana Balbo, who helped put Torrontés on the map with her Crios line. He has taken an unusual approach to the grape: 100 percent new French oak fermentation and aging for three months. It works surprisingly well, giving fullness and a hint of baking spice to the already perfumed, medium-bodied wine. Will be in the States by May.

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Postcards from Bodegas Salentein, Uco Valley, Mendoza

 BODEGAS SALENTEIN, UCO VALLEY, ARGENTINA

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Is Pinot Noir Humanity? Reflections from the Central Otago Pinot Fest

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Lakeside view of Northburn Winery.

This past January and February, I attended the 10th Central Otago Pinot Celebration. I was asked to reflect on my time at this year’s event by New Zealand Winegrowers, but will start with the story of a tree…

Strolling around Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown a few days after the event, the girth of an unusual trunk, a species of which I’d never beheld, drew my gaze up along its grand frame, and into the intertwined branches of its shadowy canopy. I stood for a while, watching the interplay of the waning sunlight on dappled leaves. Habit triggered me to reach for my camera. I twirled the machine in my hands, trying different angles to determine how to collect the moment digitally, forever, but I just couldn’t frame it as I experienced it in life.

Suddenly I was struck by a duality of emotions brought on by the paradox of great beauty: it has the ability to ignite immense joy and sorrow in the beholder, simultaneously. I could not take with me the beauty of this tree, and recognized the ephemeral state of the moment, meaning my brief interaction with it was only that. I felt oddly saddened.

So why do I ramble on about a tree when I should be talking wine? Because the tree left me pondering the various manifestations of beauty experienced at this year’s 3-day Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration, and the emotional arc each one created.

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Beauty is a complex and highly subjective concept, with several definitions in the dictionary, the first being “the combination of all the qualities of a person or thing that delight the senses and please the mind.” Considering that definition, I start with the obvious: the scenery of Central Otago. Set within the magnificence of the region’s natural good looks, the festival utilized various winery and restaurant sites nestled beneath the jagged peaks that ring Otago’s neat rows of vineyards, and at the center of which sits the sparkling, aquamarine-hued Lake Wakatipu.

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The Grand Tasting featured participating wineries inside The Shed at Northburn, a former station (ranch) picturesquely set on a ridge, now home to a winery and a rustic-chic barn. Each producer supplied its 2012 Pinot for vintage comparison, and a second bottle of its choosing.

We tasted the beauty of local foods. Vineyards and wineries hosted festival goers for a sunny, outdoor repast. I was fortunate to dine at Amisfield on sensationally fresh produce such as zucchini and leeks. The highlight, however, was a 20-hour, spit-roasted whole lamb, delivered with unintentional theatrics via a pitchfork, to our tables fringing Amisfield’s vineyards and duck-filled pond.

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On the first night, welcome canapés and drinks — a showcase of white wines from the Pinot producers — started the evening off at Rata, a stylish, contemporary spot in downtown Queenstown. On our last evening, we celebrated at Skyline, a restaurant perched high above the glittering town, with a menu of regional highlights such as cured Aoraki salmon and tender venison filet.

Despite the stunning backdrop and fare, most attendees joined the celebration for one reason: their devotion to Pinot Noir. In Central Otago, Pinot especially is beauty in pure form. Through a colorful spectrum of hues from vivid ruby to gentle garnet in mature vintages, to nose and palate tendering floral notes; the garrigue of local, rampant growths of thyme; warm spices; and red and dark fruits, washed forward in waves of silk and velvet.

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But Pinot isn’t merely a sensual, shallow pleasure; it expresses beauty conceptually. Love drives folks to rationalize crazy decisions, and the Central Otago winemakers who’ve fallen for the finicky grape have enduringly committed their souls to her care. Pinot vines cling to vineyards at the end of the earth, such as those of Two Paddock’s Last Chance Vineyard, arguably the furthest place south in the world that a grape can be nurtured to ripeness while struggling against a marginal, frost-prone climate and hellacious winds. These dedicated stewards bottle each vintage’s expression of site, weather, and toil, telling the love story of their year, no matter how tragic.

Considering further the notion of beauty as “an outstanding example of its kind”, many Pinots at the festival demonstrated Central Otago sub-regions do, quite prominently, exist. Wanaka trended towards minerality; Alexandra, a land of great diurnal range, explored spice and fragrance; Wanaka Road, e.g., Pisa, Cromwell, and Lowburn, tendered sweet fruit and florals, while Gibbston, the highest elevation, celebrated the savory balanced with fine red fruit character. Bannockburn developed natural structure, and riper tannins, while Bendigo, the warmest region, added blue fruits and more powerful tannin.

We also explored the beauty of vineyard site: Felton Road Cornish Point. Beauty of vine age: Terra Sancta Slapjack Block. Beauty in viticultural philosophy: Burn Cottage. Beauty of clones, and even in Steve Davies’ Doctor’s Flat soil microbes, or so he would argue.

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Sam Neill, owner of Two Paddocks, near his Last Chance Vineyard.

There were beautiful displays of generosity and collaboration. Skilled orator John Hawkesby coaxed bidders out of nearly ten-thousand dollars at the charity auction to benefit Mercy Hospital Charitable Outreach and the Sport Otago Trust. The winemakers of Central Otago demonstrated a deeply ingrained spirit of sharing and partnership not just with each other, but also in the region’s bond with Burgundy, illustrated by the presence of French delegates who traveled thousands of miles to join, including Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

But the conundrum of the immense joy wrought by beauty is the equal measure of sadness derived from knowing it and losing it, each glass drunk, another bottle gone, never again to be tasted; each festival event concluded, that day never to be regained.

This may appear a glum ending for a recap of an ebullient occasion, but it’s not meant to be. By recognizing the fleetingness of life and the unstoppable passage of moments, I’m drawn to conclude, all from meeting a tree one evening in Queenstown, that Pinot people don’t spend life in anticipation of tomorrow, or focused on regret. They are present, alive in each moment, and lovers of life. To quote the Pinot celebration’s spokesperson Jen Parr of Terra Sancta: “Pinot is humanity.” Pinot lovers accept that what we cannot take to the grave makes precious what we have before us now, and for that, I will always be a Pinot person.

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Richmond Plains and Te Mania, Nelson, New Zealand

SteveGill Last week, I posted about my visit with Brian Bicknell of Mahi Wines. After our boat excursion on the Marlborough Sounds followed by an impressive wine tasting at his cellar door, I took off for a weekend in idyllic, low-key Nelson to spend a few days with the wine community out on the far northwestern tip of the South Island, not far from renowned Abel Tasman Park. My first stop in Nelson was with the team from Richmond Plains and Te Mania, owner and sales director Lars Jensen and winemaker Steve Gill.  Initially separate wineries, Te Mania and Richmond Plains eventually merged, retaining individual labels, but converging ownership and winemaking. Gill, who has been there since 2009, was my steward that morning. I had sent out a request prior to arriving in NZ suggesting to winemakers eager to break from the traditional winery tasting format, that I was keen to get outside into the sunshine and do something active, if convenient. Taking me up on the offer, Steve planned a picnic of local fish, spreads, crackers, and cheese, plus all the wines for tasting, to take out on a morning bike ride along the Nelson/Tasman Great Taste Trail. BikePathThroughFields Signature Wines and Prices:

  • Richmond Plains Sauvignon Blanc NZ$ 25
  • Richmond Plains Pinot Noir NZ $25
  • Te Mania Sauvignon Blanc NZ$25
  • Te Mania Reserve Pinot Noir NZ$ 35

 What philosophy guides your viticulture and winemaking? My philosophy is that wine is a magic blend of pleasure and healthiness. Organic viticulture and oenology means that our wines are healthy for the environment and for drinking. I have had winemaking experiences around the world (California, Burgundy, Alsace, and the Mosel) and have learnt that if you have a great site and healthy vines you will make great wine that is unique.  Biodynamics: I have always felt that there is a spirit and energy in everything and that respecting this increases the positive energy in life.  Richmond Plains was the first in NZ to make certified Organic/Biodynamic Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)?  Having our wines judged in wine competitions where a judge spends minutes tasting the wine. It’s like trying to know someone through speed dating; wine should be experienced with food over an evening.  It’s the difference between shaking hands with someone, followed by a quick chat, and spending the evening with someone. We have been very successful with wine competitions but I wish they didn’t exist as wine should not be a competition, it should be a celebration!  What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing/winemaking in your region? The benefits are that we have the highest sunshine hours in NZ, a cool climate that makes crisp refreshing whites and aromatic elegant Pinot Noir. Another benefit is the two distinct soils types (Waimea river gravels and Moutere Clay) which produce wines that reflect these soil differences.  An ironic drawback is that we make amazing wine from so many different varieties that we haven’t a single variety for which we are recognized. This has resulted in a recognition for aromatic wines which spreads from Sauvignon Blanc to Pinot Noir.  Another drawback is that we are a small region with artisan family owned wineries that struggle to get exposure when competing with large, Marlborough, foreign-owned wineries with big marketing budgets.

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 What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? Pinot Noir. With increased vine age and viticulture/winemaker experience, there are consistently exciting wines coming from the Pinot Noir regions. And they are great value!  How do you think Americans (or the outside world) perceive NZ wines? Where the hell is NZ? They make wine there??? (only joking!) I think that most Americans know we produce great Sauvignon Blanc, though there is a growing realization of how good our Pinot Noirs and aromatic whites (Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer) are.  What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Least?  California or Oregon are my favorites: amazing, friendly people, great food, beautiful places — shame the wines are so expensive! I love all wine regions as there is always something special about the place, people, or wines that is worth discovering. My least liked wine is Australian Shiraz that has added tannin, acid, and sugar.  It tastes artificial and that is not good for you.  Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? Pinotage, and it deserves its bad reputation!  What do you drink at home when relaxing?  I have eclectic tastes and like constantly trying new wines from around the world.  Currently I am drinking a lot of really delicious Alsace whites (Binner, Boxler, Meyer Fonne, Bott-Geyl, and Paul Blanck).  How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? I spend as much of my spare time with my two-year-old son Theo who is pure joy to me.  Also I am very committed to a local 700 hectare bird sanctuary. I am a pest trapper and love hiking through the wonderful Kiwi forest. We are fund raising to build a pest-proof fence if anyone is interested in contributing? Brook Bird Sanctuary Nelson.  If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be?  I would love to travel with my wife and son around Tuscany. I have been a few times before with my wife, but I think my son would love Italy at his age at the moment. Give one surprising fact about yourself. While at University getting an honours degree in Neuroscience, I was in a punk band called Leper Sweetheart!  

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Mahi Wines, Marlborough, New Zealand

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The best way to wine taste when visiting Marlborough, New Zealand? Hit the Marlborough Sounds in a boat with a winemaker.

Founder and owner of Mahi Wines Brian Bicknell generously took time on a stormy Saturday morning to motor us out across the water in his 100 year-old launch to lunch at the charmingly rustic Lochmara Lodge. As if straight out of a movie set, a tender made its way from the pier to retrieve us from Bicknell’s boat and deliver us to a few plates of fish and chips, the region’s famous green lipped mussels, and a couple of glasses of crisp Mahi Chardonnay.

We took a post-lunch stroll through the densely wooded hills behind the property while Bicknell pointed out the indigenous flora and fauna the region’s locals have been working hard to restore. Fortunately, the brooding sky that had greeted us in the morning cleared into a sunny Marlborough Day. Bicknell took a spin in a hammock; I had a turn at steering the boat (foot on the wheel, head out the hatch). After docking, we stopped over at the winery to conduct a proper tasting before Bicknell dropped me off at the Marlborough Wine & Food Festival that afternoon. A rare perfect day.

Signature Wines and Prices: (in NY)

  • Mahi Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc              USD 19.99
  • Mahi Boundary Farm Sauvignon Blanc           USD 27.99
  • Mahi Twin Valleys Chardonnay                       USD 27.99
  • Mahi Marlborough Pinot Noir                          USD 29.99

What philosophy guides your viticulture and winemaking? Hopefully I can cover both areas. At Mahi, we own or lease four vineyards and also work with five growers. The vineyards we have control over are certified organic, as we see this as perhaps being the best way of expressing a particular vineyard — by not adding too much to it nor changing the character of the site. Some growers are also organic and some are ‘sustainable’, and it is a personal choice; I am not going to force our growers to grow organically. We tend to keep the canopies open and crops lower so that we get good exposure to the sun and the wind to minimise Botrytis pressure.

In the winery, we take a relatively ‘hands-off’ approach with the goal being to make wines that are textural, subtle, and complex. Most of our wines are hand-picked, whole-cluster pressed with no additions to the juice, then run straight to French without settling. We then leave the juice and after maybe eight days the natural yeast from the vineyard starts the fermentation and we often get six different strains of yeast doing the ferment, rather than one if we inoculated.

We do not use press wine, just the free-run, which gives a more elegant wine, as the pH stays lower and the palate is a little more linear, rather than getting soapy with the press wine.

I love the concept of ‘Real Wine’, wines that have not been messed around with and hopefully show their vineyards in the purest possible way. Sounds a bit hippyish but hope you know what I am getting at?!

What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)?  I think Mother Nature can obviously throw us the biggest curve balls, but I have been fortunate not to work a really bad harvest. Apparently, 1995 was like that in Marlborough, but I was at Errázuriz in Chile at that time, and we had a great one.

In many ways, if you make the right decisions through the year, you get to experience the great diversity of the weather, and it is one of my favourite things about wine, which is that it does change every year. If you crop at an appropriate level for your vineyard, and keep the canopy open, you should always be able to harvest good fruit, whereas if you over crop the fruit, it will not ripen fully and the wines will be mean and lean, and you will probably leave them hanging too long into the season, and push them into the Botrytis period.

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What are the benefits and drawbacks of grape growing and winemaking in your region? Every year I want to kiss the ‘gross physical characteristics’ of Marlborough, which could get a bit tricky.

I think the benefits of making wine in Marlborough are:

  • We have the Richmond Ranges to trap most of the rain coming from the west;
  • The Inland and the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges, which force a lot of the cold, moist winds from the south out to sea, and that go across the end of our valley;
  • The bottom of the North Island protects us from cyclonic conditions that can come down from the Pacific in February or March, two very important months for us;
  • We have a low mean temperature of the warmest month, meaning the fruit retains a lot of the fruit compounds;
  • A long period over 10 degrees Celsius so that the vines work longer and ripen some of the later varieties; and
  • A good diurnal differentiation.

The drawbacks:

  • Too far from a major city to allow for good cellar-door business;
  • Too many anonymous labels made for a market that is cheapening the overall image of Sauvignon Blanc, which I think is a noble variety;
  • Too many people in the industry for the wrong reasons, though this is a worldwide phenomenon; and
  • Too many people who don’t truly love wine, though as above, this is a problem throughout.

What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? A greater appreciation of the range of varieties that can be produced. There is more regional differentiation and also inter-regional appreciation of sites.

I really love the Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir that is coming out of Marlborough, and loving some of the Syrah from Hawkes Bay.

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How do you think Americans (or the outside world) perceive NZ wines? I do not think the US market has a very good understanding of NZ wine and that is probably an issue from our end, and also because of the three-tier system. I realize other countries cope with the three-tier system, but personally, I have found it harder to get in front of the people selling the wine as you are usually dealing with an importer, etc.

As of the end of November, the US now accounts for 25% of NZs wine sales by volume, up from 23% at the same time last year, so something is working, but I imagine a fair amount of that is Constellation and things like Cupcake. Complexity is working hard at the on-trade area of the market, so I can only assume that is helping the category in total also.

I think the people have a better understanding of NZ now than ten years ago but it is probably too strongly focused on Sauvignon Blanc. It has been good to have that as our calling card but to be considered a classic wine supplying country we need to prove we can do it with things like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in particular.

What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Least?  My favourite wine region in the world is Burgundy, and probably least favourite is the Riverland area of Australia.

Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? I think Chardonnay is respected in certain circles but the main part of the market seems to think they are being clever when they say they do not touch Chardonnay. It is a classic variety, probably the best restaurant white wine because of its subtlety, and I do not understand how anyone can say ‘I do not drink Chardonnay’. I understand ‘I do not drink shit Chardonnay’, but no one is going to turn down great white Burgundy or Blancs de Blanc Champagne??

What do you drink at home when relaxing?

After a great Gin and Tonic, using Quina Fina Tonic Water, I have found I have been drinking a few wild ferment, barrel fermented Sauvignons over the Christmas break. Great structure for lighter white meats and heavier fish dishes, and refreshing enough for the summer afternoons. Other than that, Burgundy!

How do you spend your free time (if you have any)?

We have an old launch, over 100 years old now, and I love getting out on the Marlborough Sounds in that. Spending the night on the boat with a good wine, good book, fresh fish and a good friend in a bay surrounded by native NZ bush is a pretty special event.

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be?  While Italy and France are real passions, I would love to visit India now. We export to 12 countries so I travel a lot but I have never experienced India, and after learning a lot about the country over the last few years, it is somewhere that I am really intrigued by.

Give one surprising fact about yourself. Weirdly enough, one of the reasons that I am in the wine industry is that I have a Grand Trine, apparently meaning that when I was born, my three major planets were arranged in a equilateral triangle, so 120˚ angles between them all. I am not really into it, but someone interviewing me many years ago for a job at a wine store that really cemented my love of wine, was, so I got the job over a lot of other people, and the rest is history.

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Pyramid Valley Vineyards, North Canterbury, New Zealand

Gorgeous lunch prepared by Claudia

Gorgeous lunch prepared by Claudia Weersing

After departing Pinot-centric Central Otago, I carried on north to the next New Zealand wine region of Canterbury, located about 45 minutes outside of Christchurch. One of my three winemaker visits included the eye-opening Pyramid Valley, known for being the first vineyard in New Zealand — and one of only a few in the world — to be established from nascency under strict biodynamic principles, as well as stick to a strong non-interventionist/natural winemaking philosophy.

My lovely host for the afternoon, Brittany Thompson, Assistant Winemaker and Production Manager, picked me up in her truck full of energetic dogs. Our visit started not with a traditional winery tasting, but rather a picnic on top of a nearby hill with wine box “baskets” prepared by winery co-owner Claudia Weersing, who dabbles, quite effectively, in cooking. Apparently, I was the guinea pig for the wine box-cum-picnic basket concept, and I wholeheartedly gave it a green light, suggesting they make it available to future customers. The box included a clever dessert in a jar, smartly wrapped sandwiches, and the elusive greengage plum–my first. I was also introduced to the country fun of sliding down a hillside hay field on one’s belly or back, an activity apparently never endeavored with journalists — until meeting me.

Set in Northern Canterbury, Pyramid Valley Vineyards, was founded in 2000 by Mike and Claudia Weersing. They spent ten years working to find the perfect tract of land with the ideal limestone and geology make-up for the vines they wished to plant. They knew they’d hit proverbial paydirt when the consultant back in France reviewing their soil sample asked where they were in Burgundy. After pulling the hay from my hair and out of my shirt, and socks, and pants, we sat down at the tasting bar to go through their entire line-up of wines. I had a hard time holding back my surprise at how characterful, how evocative of place each wine was. Certainly no poker face could I project. I was particularly fond of the Cab Franc — it was the best I tasted in all of New Zealand. I recommend tracking down their Pinots, Chardonnays–frankly, anything from this winery.

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THE OWNERS MIKE AND CLAUDIA:

Mike and Claudia Weersing came to New Zealand in 1996, when Mike began making wine with Tim and Judy Finn at Neudorf Vineyards in Nelson. After a long and intensive search to find a site for their own vineyard, they purchased a farm in the Pyramid Valley, near Waikari in North Canterbury, in 2000.

Mike studied oenology and viticulture in Burgundy, beginning at the Lycee Viticole in Beaune, and continuing at the Universite de Bourgogne in Dijon. He has worked extensively in the vineyards and cellars of Europe, for producers such as Hubert de Montille, Domaine de la Pousse d’Or, and Nicolas Potel in Burgundy; Jean-Michel Deiss and Marc Kreydenweiss in Alsace; and Ernst Loosen in the Mosel. He has made wine in France and in Spain for Randall Grahm of Bonny DoonVineyards, vinifying in the Rhone Valley, the Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Navarra. New world vintages include apprenticeships with James Halliday at Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley of Australia, and with Russ Raney at Evesham Wood in Oregon’s Eola Hills.

Claudia was born in Schleswig, Germany.  A fashion student and skilled clothesmaker by trade, she  is now a committed biodynamicist which guides her approach to the land.

WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY:

Wine to us is a genie, genius loci; our job is to coax it from its rock to bottle. Every gesture we make, in vineyard and winery, is a summons to this spirit of place. Biodynamics, hand-based viticulture, low yields, natural winemaking – these are some of the means we’ve adopted better to record and transmit this voice.

For example, all of our wines are fermented with their own yeast starters, cultured every year, from the vineyard itself. If wine is meant to be the bottled breath of a certain place, from a certain moment in time, then we feel that working with yeasts from that site, of that season, is an important step towards transparency and authenticity. Our cultures allow very long, very regular ferments: most of our whites ferment for more than a year. During this time, the wine is protected, so no sulphur is necessary. After so long a ferment, the wine is stable: thus most of our wines are bottled unfiltered, again with little or no sulphur.

Each wine is allowed to flower as it wishes. If the Pinot Blanc stops with 4 grams RS, so be it. If the Gewurztraminer ferments to dryness, that is its choice. As my friend and hero Edmond Vatan once replied when I asked him about malolactic fermentation, “Pwah, le malo, si ca se fait, ca se fait.”

So, at home we’ve sponsored a marriage of clay-limestone soils to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, hoping to bring to the wine world a special, new place-voice. With the Growers Collection, we are allowed to work with admired colleagues, and with sites, soils, varieties different than those at home. All of our wines are devoted to people and place; all bring rich rewards of community.

BACKGROUND ON THE VINEYARD:

The home vineyard has been established according to rules that Mike grew to respect and inherently to trust during his time studying and working in Burgundy: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have been planted, on clay-limestone soils on scarp slopes, at a density of 10,000-12,000 vines per hectare. The vineyard has been biodynamically managed from inception.

Each block is planted to reflect a specific soil type hence the somewhat irregular looking blocks. In total we have only 2.2 hectares planted in 4 separate blocks. The differences you can taste reflects the soil and climatic differences between each block, which is never more than 400 metres at most. We vinify each block and variety separately but identically in a mixture of old oak and clay amphorae so  the outside influences on the grape are minimised.

The blocks themselves were named by Claudia after the weed varieties predominant in each, which also reflect the different soil. The Angel Flower is a more exposed block, north facing that reflects a lightness, delicacy and an ethereal scent. The Lions Tooth with its golden dandelions and obvious lime rich soil shows a rich golden colour with a toasty sulphite nose. The Earth Smoke is a heavier clay, with a denser, wild, gamey outcome. The Field of Fire slopes away to an eastern aspect and into the heaviest clay and makes typically a green-hued delicate wine.

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Postcards: Fiji Islands

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Day 1: Riding the Yasawa Ferry up through the Mamanuca Islands to Vomo Island.

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