Finger Lakes Vineyard Going Organic at Bloomer Creek

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Photo Credit: Dede Hatch

If you missed my column Unscrewed, here’s a second look at my interview with Finger Lakes winemaker Kim Engle of Bloomer Creek.

Kim Engle pauses mid-sentence as his eyes drift to the window. Looking uneasy, he peers through the foggy pane at his vineyards: “Sorry, the rain made me lose concentration; it makes me nervous.” For four summer days, the rain had been driving down in unseasonably high quantities; that morning, the sound of water pounding the roof was like marbles unleashed from the sky. For a vineyard owner, the weather was frightening — particularly when trying to farm organically.

I was visiting the Finger Lakes to understand firsthand this fast-growing region of New York. Much had been written about Finger Lakes Rieslings. Occasionally, critics bestowed upon the region honorific titles like “world-class” or references to “Riesling on par with the Mosel,” yet the wines weren’t commonplace in shops or on wine lists.

Asking colleagues in the wine industry for producers I should visit, the name Kim Engle, followed by the phrase “I love Bloomer Creek wines,” popped up repeatedly. Bloomer Creek wasn’t well-known, wasn’t publicly lauded like Weimer or Dr. Konstantin Frank, household Finger Lakes winery names. “Find Kim Engle. His Pinot Noir Freaked. Me. Out.” another wine writer gushed. I felt privy to a secret — like a hot stock tip written on a folded napkin.

Christy Frank, owner of Frankly Wines in Tribeca, stocks a few Finger Lakes producers, including Bloomer Creek. “I love their wines. I like that they are working relatively naturally in difficult conditions, with small quantities, and are taking risks to make wines that taste of terroir.”

I found Engle at his winery on the east side of Seneca Lake. Standing inside the rustic re-creation of a French country carriage house he and his wife, Deborah Bermingham, finished building in 2007, we chatted through the outlandish storm. Engle seems humbled by it all — an artisan and farmer in awe of the earth.

Engle got his start in wine through farming; he started working local jobs during a leave of absence from Cornell at age 19. He milked cows, worked on an organic grain farm, and grew his own vegetables. “I got a job for what is now Hosmer Winery over on Cayuga,” he says. “At that point, it was just a vineyard, and I fell in love with it.”

Engle met his now wife, then a fellow Cornell student, through a friend. Although an accomplished artist, Bermingham decided to make wine together with Engle from the beginning. Different vineyard practices have come and gone since getting their winery license in 1999. “For 10 years, I was NOFA-NY certified organic, but I stopped certification for a variety of reasons,” he says. “With grapes, at the time, there was virtually no market.”

Giving up the certification meant Engle could combat vineyard disease pressure like downy mildew, a nasty microbe that thrives in the humid, wet weather prevalent in the FLX, with synthetic spray. But Engle has already converted one acre of his currently planted fourteen (they’ve recently bought another twelve acres) back to organic, and says he’s headed in that direction, and ultimately fully biodynamic, for the rest of their vines. “I tried using sprays but the problem with this kind of chemical—Pristine is one brand name—is that grapes develop resistance very quickly. The result is that everybody then adds more chemicals to the mix because Pristine may not control it [downy mildew] anymore. But nobody knows for sure, so why we are still using it?”

To ease the transition back to organic farming, Engle converted a number of his rows to a labor-intensive trellis system that separates the vines and allows for greater air circulation. This helps grapes dry faster in wet conditions.

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Unlike his viticultural program, which has meandered back to the organic philosophy, Engle’s winemaking had a definite turning point. In 2008, a customer brought him a few bottles of natural wine from the Loire Valley. He had an epiphany, astounded at how fresh and alive the wines tasted; this led to a complete overhaul of their winemaking approach. “[Loire winemakers] took a minimalist approach to winemaking, and with a lot less rushing of the process overall,” he says. By 2010, Engle stopped using cultured yeasts; white wines saw some skin contact; he experimented with adding stems; and finished wines saw very little filtering or fining.

What was he doing before that? “There was a time, going back 20 years, when I worked at another winery, and we were all happy just winning medals and ‘making’ wine — highly processed, technical, safe wines.”

When I asked if people still produce wine that way, Engle shifted his weight, and gave a little cough. We’d obviously entered touchy territory: “I can’t say what my colleagues do. But, take a look at the Scott Labs catalogue—there are two pages devoted to tannin products.”

Engle picked up a bottle of his Tanzen Dame Dry Riesling, poured a splash, then continued: “Rather than take risks, it’s easier to start with a flavorless, boring base wine then add in the parts—the tannin, the acid. There was a winemaker who had been up here a long time who said at a conference one day ‘everyone says good wine is made in the vineyard, but I just want to be clear, I make the wine in the cellar.’ If that doesn’t tell you something… “

In addition to Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and now a little Grüner Veltliner, Engle and Bermingham produce a lot of Riesling, both dry and off-dry. “I am a Riesling lover, and it does well here,” he says. “Fortunately, the outside world is finally responding to it.”

The outside world includes Thomas Pastuszak, wine director of the NoMad Hotel, who was impressed enough to give Bloomer Creek Riesling a spot on the prestigious wine list. Scott Pactor of Appellation Wine and Spirits in Chelsea declared their Rieslings “some of the best in New York if not the entire U.S.”

My visit with Engle confirmed the sentiments of industry insiders. His wines taste and feel a bit different in the mouth: less precise and neat, rather, unfurling in waves of flavor like a blooming tea flower. Amazingly, the wines only trade around $20 a bottle; for wine lovers, that’s a lot of potential upside for such a minor investment.

 Planning to visit the region? Get itinerary advice and wine tips from my Wine Lover’s Guide to the Finger Lakes.

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Fool Bordeaux Lovers with These Wines (Hint: They Hail from NZ)

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Bordeaux of the Southern Hemisphere:

An Overview of Hawke’s Bay, NZ

The best way to understand a wine is to meet its maker and step foot on its home turf; only then can one grasp the essence of its identity derived from the place in which it was borne. To this end, I spent a few days in Hawke’s Bay, situated midway along the East coast of the North Island of New Zealand. Aside from Waiheke Island, 30 minutes from Auckland by boat, Hawke’s Bay is the only other New Zealand wine region focused on making high-quality red wines from grapes other than Pinot Noir.

Acclaimed wine writer Oz Clarke penned a book entitled Bordeaux. In it, he lists the few rare wine regions of the world that have similar enough growing conditions to Bordeaux to be considered “lookalikes”. Hawke’s Bay (along with Waiheke Island) makes the selective cut; Clarke references Villa Maria’s Reserve Merlot-Cabernet off the Gimblett Gravels, as a favorite exemplary wine of the region.

Upon arrival, I met James Medina from the Hawke’s Bay Wine Growers Association at Trinity Hill Winery for a presentation on the soils, climate, styles, wines, and producers of the area. One of the warmest and oldest regions in NZ, Bordeaux-blends and Syrah garner the greatest attention, deservedly so, although their Chardonnay warrants watching as the style continues to evolve from oaked and weighty to the current trend of lean, mineral-driven, and fresh. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon show promise. The number one problem the region faces: small production and importers who lack the vision or confidence, or both, to gamble on bringing these wines to the States.

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The vineyards of Hawke’s Bay sit, in what might appear as counterintuitive planting, largely on the riverbeds, rather than the hillsides. Medine explained that because New Zealand is a relatively young country, the rivers (now dry, of course), swept the productive soils out of the valley, while the rumpled hills surrounding it retained fertile topsoil. Thus, the valley floor suits grape growing better; that, coupled with the fact that very few hillsides offer the ideal north facing aspect (remember: we are in the Southern hemisphere).

Hawke’s Bay soils carry significant diversity of composition—there are 27 different types; mixed with climate variation, a sundry of growing conditions exist throughout. However, two soil types in particular are proffered as the most clearly defined and worthy of distinction: The first and most prized by producers lucky enough to have vineyards on them are the Gimblett Gravels.

The Gimblett Gravels are not a defined GI (the NZ wine industry is still young; all regions are grappling with delineating their sub-regions), but those who own vineyards within these 800 hectares, banded together in 2001 to promote the special qualities of the terroir.

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The gravels, long ago laid down by the Ngaruroro River, became exposed after a huge flood in the 1860s. An immediate parallel can be made to the draining of the Haut-Medoc by the Dutch which led to the exposure of large tracts of gravel fields, also relatively flat, now currently planted to premier cru classé such as Château Latour.

Vines planted on the heavy gravel (with the right micro-climate conditions, of course) can translate into wines of structure, elegance, and good fruit concentration due to low-vigor thus low-yield, vine stress, and enhanced by the natural warmth of the region. The vines benefit in cooler years from the heat-retention properties of gravel, warming vines during chilly nights. The loose soil funnels rainwater providing good drainage, and contributes a dusty, tannic quality to the wines. The first Bordeaux varieties were planted in 1981, followed by Syrah in 1982.

The second important growing region is the Bridge Pa Triangle. It extends over 2,000 hectares on the western side of the Heretaunga plains and includes the largest concentration of vineyards in the area. Composed of several soils such as clay loam and sandy loam over red metal alluvial gravel, grapes from this zone are known for producing fleshier, plumper, more sensuous wines, especially in warm, dry years. Merlot performs especially well — would comparing the Bridge Pa to the Right Bank be a stretch?

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If Hawke’s Bay winemakers seek to mimic St. Julien or Pauillac or St. Emilion on their home turf, they are turning out admirable replicas. The varied blends I tasted of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cab Franc (some Petit Verdot and Malbec) showed lovely expressions of fruit knitted together by Bordeaux-like structure and tannin, yet with a touch of Hawke’s Bay charisma introduced by the winemaker’s hand and regional climatic conditions – and likely the local yeast and microbes in the soil.

I found the Mills Reef Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 in the tasting quite evocative of a Left Bank bottle – the relatively lean, austere character of the wine showing leafy, earthy notes under a layer of blackcurrant, with those aforementioned dusty tannins. The other nine wines demonstrated a range of flavors, most likely driven by the blends used and the winemaking styles as far as oak usage and ripeness, but they shared a thread of a fruit/acid/tannin structure built for longevity.

Comparing Hawke’s Bay to Bordeaux doesn’t mean only profiling the reds. Both regions grow Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, although in Hawke’s Bay, nobody seems keen on promoting either.

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Unfortunately (depending how you look at it), Marlborough dominates the Sauvignon Blanc export market, the region synonymous with the grape. Winemakers around NZ have gratitude that the Marlborough behemoth brought global awareness to their country’s wines, but it often overshadows everything else produced in the country.

Hawke’s Bay producers of Sauvignon Blanc intimated that they’d prefer not to label their bottles with their region, believing consumers more likely to buy the wines if they are labeled simply “New Zealand” instead. I was disappointed to hear this because H.B. Sauvignon Blanc develops riper fruit with softer edges than Marlborough due to the warmer growing climate. The wines show a range of flavors from grapefruit and lime, to stone and passion fruit, and they offered a refreshing change of pace from many of their sharp, grassy cousins to the south. The winemakers also concurred that to their chagrin, they often leave a degree of herbaceousness in their wines because that’s what consumers recognize as New Zealand.

As for Semillon, I tasted a few instances of it that showed promise, although vineyard plantings don’t amount to much currently. Sileni Estates produces a very reasonably priced bottle (around $13), although they make very little of it. Clearview produces a characterful version that you’ll love or hate, according to Tim Turvey, winemaker and owner. I fell on the latter end of his appreciation scale.

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Perhaps the greatest development in Hawke’s Bay beyond Bordeaux varieties came with the not long after discovery that Syrah in their soils and climate performs marvelously. Miraculously. Magically. I tasted ten during the overview plus a few more at winery visits, and wanted to buy a second suitcase to cart these gems home. Sadly, I didn’t have the opportunity to do that, but I can go back and read my tasting notes and imagine a mouthful of rich, dark juice filled with black and blue fruit, some aromatic with florals and violets, others with freshly butchered meat, all dusted with cocoa and pervasive but ripe tannins, kept in balance by acidity.

I enjoyed the wines of Trinity Hill, Mission Estate, Mills Reef, Church Road and Esk Valley. But rather than list out the bottles I drank with their tasting notes, it would be more useful to list the wines actually imported into the States. As I pointed out earlier, the only thing difficult about drinking these wines is finding somewhere to buy them.

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Here’s the list of Hawke’s Bay producers or producers with Hawke’s Bay wines in their portfolio, imported currently (as provided to me by the NZ Wine Growers Association):

  • Craggy Range
  • Te Mata
  • Mission
  • Elephant Hill
  • Bilancia
  • Alluviale
  • Villa Maria
  • Esk Valley
  • Maimai
  • Decibel
  • Crossroads
  • CJ Pask (soon)
  • Sileni
  • Glazebrook/Ngatarawa
  • Mills Reef
  • Clearview
  • Oyster Bay

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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 the city of Salta, Argentina

ScenesfromSalta CulturalCenterSalta SaltaHotel SaltaPark ChurchSalta Staircase SaltaCenter

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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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