A Perfect Cellar in The Clock Tower

Perfect Cellar in The Clock TowerI’d arrived at St Pancras to find the Perfect Cellar in The Clock Tower. I could see the proud clock tower on this handsome Victorian building which has always delighted me whenever I was on the Euston Road, London.

Perfect Cellar in The Clock Tower I had been told that the entry was somewhat discreet so I walked into the station to search for the front door but was quickly distracted by the poet and writer, Sir John Betjeman, who was instrumental in saving St Pancras from demolition.

Perfect Cellar in The Clock TowerBack outside I did find the correct entrance and was ushered up to the fifth floor and along a long, vaulted corridor to the east end of the building to the lofty room beneath the clock tower. Perfect Cellar in The Clock TowerOriginally the winding room, when the building was refurbished at the turn of the century the clock was electrified releasing the grand, tall space which is now used as a party venue as well as a rather special suite to stay, known, unsurprisingly, as The Clock Tower.

The walls may have been stark but the welcome was warm from the Perfect Cellar team as well as colleagues from ThinkersPR. Principally an on-line wine merchant, The Perfect Cellar does have a shop in Clerkenwell, London.

There were just four wines on show, but what a show! Each of the wines was presented with an elegant display of fruit and spices indicative of the the aromas and flavours of each wine.

Perfect Cellar in The Clock TowerTendil & Lombardi Champagne Brut Rosé
Mid rosé, red fruits, big red fruits, dry, good acidity, ascerbic acidity, weighty rich dark red fruit, chunky long. Pinot Noir

Perfect Cellar in The Clock TowerDecelle Villa Bourgogne Blanc Chardonnay 2011
Pale greeny gold, gentle yellow fruits, dry, good acidity, stony minerality, biscuity with a crispness on the finish.

Perfect Cellar in The Clock TowerTeso La Monja Victorino do Toro 2012
Deep ruby, dark black fruit, dry, maturing tannins, bags of red fruits, licorice, some toasty oak. Long, rich.

Perfect Cellar in The Clock TowerMas Amiel Vintage Maury Rouge 2012
Deep ruby, with a bouquet of raspberries and cinnamon, lusciously sweet yet has sufficient acidity to not allow it to be cloying; as well as the red berry notes there are hints of ginger and candied peel.
A wine reminiscent of a good Port, it is a
real treat from Maury, Roussillon in the far south of France.

As we were tasting and talking we were offered small, plates of food, which complemented the wines well. They were prepared by a chef from La Belle Assiette, a specialist company who organise a service preparing meals in your home.

Perfect Cellar in The Clock Tower

From the small selection of wines on show and chatting to everyone involved with this wine merchant I can see how keen they are to encourage wine drinkers to discover good wines from small producers and different regions of France and, now, other countries.

Indeed, when you search the wines on the Perfect Cellar website, hover over the bottle picture to discover another image of the fruits and spices that describe the wines. A novel idea –  a sort of visual scratch and sniff…

Perfect Cellar in The Clock TowerGood night, St Pancras.

Second Day in Nelson

Second Day in NelsonSuitably rested we were eager and ready for our second day in Nelson where I was visiting with a small group of New Zealand wine writers for a couple of days.

Second Day in Nelson

Nelson wine map ©Wine Nelson

Our first day was an eye opener for me and I was enjoying learning about this small New Zealand wine region.

Second Day in NelsonWhat a bright start to our second day in Nelson. When the Impressionist artist Claude Monet and his family settled in Giverny in 1883 the piece of land sloping gently down from the house to the road was planted with an orchard and enclosed by high stone walls.

When Darryl and Tranja Fry settled on their property, Fossil Ridge, in Nelson in 1997 the piece of land was nothing but scrub, but they had a similar vision of creating not only a vineyard but a garden which would embody the tranquillity and beauty of Monet’s garden in Giverny.

Second Day in Nelson The vineyard lies at the foot of the Barnicoat Range, Richmond about 15 kilometres south of Nelson and the winery is so-called because of the Triassic-Jurassic fossils found throughout the vineyard. The site provides a north facing, sloping soil profile, predominantly clay loam and has been extensively landscaped to enhance grape growing capability.

Eight acres are planted with Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Riesling with Pinot Noir as the single red variety. On the estate there are also macadamia and olive trees which thrive well in the benign Nelson climate.

Using only their own grapes seven wines are produced. Yields are low, for example 2 tons per acre Pinot Noir and 3 tons per acre Chardonnay. The Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewurztraminer are whole bunch pressed, and a mix of new and older barriques are used for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with their classic Chardonnay being barrel fermented.

Click on the photos for more detail.

We tasted five of the Fossil Ridge the thoughtful owner, Tranja. I was impressed by their quality and good value, particularly enjoying the Chardonnay 2012, which I found dry, elegant and with buttery stone fruit, and the Pinot Noir 2012, bright full of red fruits backed up by good maturing tannins.

The winery has a tasting room and a cafe which serves platters, country-style lunches and desserts. Homegrown olives, homemade pesto, hummus and delicious macadamia nuts can be bought as well and a new feature this year is the wood fired pizza oven, which will be a great addition to the menu.

Second Day in NelsonThe wines and the welcome are great at Fossil Ridge, with its graceful vineyard, cellar door and gardens flanking the lily pond. It certainly left an Impression on me!

One of the delights I discovered during this visit to Nelson was the camaraderie and mutual support of the wine makers, with several of our winery visits including two or three producers at one venue, each presenting not only their wines but the wines of Nelson as well.

Second Day in Nelson

Neil Hodgson, left, our guide, chauffeur and minder with Patrick Stowe, right, of Rimu Grove

So the added bonus at Fossil Ridge was to meet the owner of Rimu Grove, the ebullient Patrick Stowe, an American from the Napa Valley. A biotechnology scientist for fifteen years in California, he also made wine there before moving to New Zealand and founding Rimu Grove in 1995, where he was able to apply his knowledge of microbiology and biochemistry to his winemaking. Indeed he also makes wine for several other small wineries in Nelson.

The Rimu Grove Home Vineyard was planted in 1995 and comprises 17 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris vines laid out on the gentle north facing slope of the Bronte Peninsula overlooking the Waimea Inlet.

He presented four of his Rimu Grove wines. His classy Chardonnay 2013, which after bottling was only released after 12 months allowing it settle and come to terms with itself, was a sturdy dry white with bright acidity, concentrated and packed with mangos and peach, all with great depth.

The Rimu Grove Pinot Noir 2013, aged in particular oak barriques made by a small cooper in northern France, was a deep purple, deep dark blackberry fruits with sweet oaky notes, enlivened by good acidity with notes of coffee and chocolate on the finish.

As well as making his Rimu Grove wines Patrick makes wine for several other people so is a busy man.

Second Day in Nelson

The Hope vineyard adjacent to the Greenhough winery and tasting room.

Staying on the Plains in the lee of the Richmond Hills to the east we drove the short distance to Greenhough where we were welcomed by the thoughtful owner, Andrew Greenhough and his winemaking assistant (and former chef) Cameron Trott.

In late 1990, Andrew and his partner Jenny Wheeler moved to Nelson from Auckland to buy a four hectare property, which had been established in 1976 as a small vineyard and winery.

Since then the home property has been expanded to 11 hectares, the original plantings largely redeveloped and the winery modernised. A small block of good quality Riesling, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc vines, now almost 40 years old, remains. Since 2008 this vineyard has been managed organically and gained full BioGro certification in 2011.

In addition to the Hope vineyard on the property, two separate sites have been established since 2000 adding a further eight hectares of vineyards.

Second Day in Nelson

Andrew Greenhough, standing left, and Cam Trott, standing right, pouring wine in the attractive and spacious tasting room.

There was an attractive line up of wines and we were often asked by our hosts what we thought of them, especially their new Chardonnay Espérance. We tasted the 2012, Andrew’s first attempt at a Chablis style, using tank and older barrel and early picked fruit. Well rounded with an attractive mineral edge it was a delight. As well as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir they produce classy Riesling and Gruner Veltliner.

Second Day in Nelson

Waimea Estates with a backdrop of the Richmond Hills

Our next visit was a contrast to the other wineries we’d been to. The Bolitho family established Waimea Estates in 1993 when Trevor and Robyn Bolitho planted their first grapes.  Now, with over 140 hectares of vineyards, it is one of the largest producers in Nelson. With an emphasis in making good quality and good value wines. Still family owned son Ben, who is general manager and viticulturalist, introduced us to export manager Martin Carrington and wine maker Trudy Sheild.

Second Day in Nelson

Tasting under the watchful eye of Trudy Shield, winemaker.

Trudy started at Waimea in 2004 and became head winemaker in 2010. Initially shy, she opened up when she presented a selection of 18 wines from their two ranges, Spinyback and Waimea. The Spinyback wines ranged from NZ$14 to NZ$17 and the Waimea from NZ$17 to NZ$30.

I was very taken with Trev’s Red 2012, an unusual mix of Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Viognier, all co-fermented producing a lovely juicy, chunky wine.

We enjoyed a quick, working lunch before completing our Nelson trip in the afternoon – more soon!

Statues and Spanish Grapes film in London

Spanish Grapes Film in LondonThe day was appropriately hot and sunny to attend a special screening of Zev Robinson’s Spanish Grapes film as well as see some sights in the heart of London on my walk to the venue.

Spanish Grapes Film in LondonSt Paul’s was thronged with tourists with city workers and tourists enjoying the sunshine and the public statues which appear all over London.

Spanish Grapes Film in London

The Lovers by Georg Ehrlich

In the shadow of St Paul’s I found the young lovers

Spanish Grapes Film in London

Birth of the Universe by Andrew Logan

One of a number DNA statues to be seen on Cancer Research UK’s London Art Trail.

I walked through the City of London along Carter Lane to reach Copa de Cava on Blackfriars Lane, the venue for the viewing of Zev’s film.

Tucked underneath its bustling parent, Camino, Copa de Cava is one of this small collection of Spanish bars and restaurants run by the ebullient hispanophile, Richard Biggs, and is a tapas bar specialising, as its name suggests, in this popular sparkler from Spain.

Spanish Grapes Film in London

The screening room over the illuminated Cava cellar.

Spanish Grapes Film in LondonZev Robinson introduced the fourth in his collection of films about wine and people in Spain, his adopted country since he moved there in 1991. His passion for the place, its people and its wines shows in his careful, considered work. He lets the protaganists tell their own story which includes history, the challenges of growing good quality grapes and how their different styles of wine are made.

I doubt whether the disinterested wine drinker would enjoy this film but those who know about wine or are discovering and learning about wine should watch this film to appreciate the passion involved in all aspects of wine, as well as the special attractions of that fascinating country, Spain.

Spanish Grapes Film in LondonThe screening was followed by an interesting, lively tasting of a selection of Spanish wines that were featured in the film; a tasting that was appreciated by the audience whose appetite had been suitably whetted.

Two gems from a good array of Spanish delights as well as Copa de Cava’s delicious tapas platters.

Spanish Grapes Film in LondonNow I know what to do with all my sparkling wine capsules!

Spanish Grapes Film in LondonIn the twilight on our way home we encountered this Freeman of the City of London sheepishly on his way to cross London Bridge – fitting to see this elegiac statue by Dame Elizabeth Frink after watching the countryside of Spain in Zev’s Spanish grapes film.


A visit to Millton

Millton Vineyards

For 30 years Millton Vineyards & Winery’s grapes have been grown in the traditional manner using biodynamic techniques.

It was our first time in Gisborne, NZ’s third largest producer, and our first visit was to the Millton Vineyards and Winery to meet James Millton and his wife Annie.

I have met James on several occasions in the UK and have always learnt a lot from him, his philosophy and his enthusiasm for biodynamic farming. The Millton wines always delight so it was very special to see where they come from.

Here is a record of our short visit to Millton. Although the weather was overcast and rainy, the wines shone!

A visit to MilltonThe vines netted to protect the birds from munching the ripening grapes, which will be harvested in 3 to 4 weeks time.

A visit to Millton

 A deer bladder suspended in silver birch trees for preparation 502 – Yarrow flowers are buried sheathed in a deer bladder. This is hung in the summer sun, buried over winter, then dug up the following spring. The bladder’s contents are removed and inserted in the compost.

Biodynamic bee keeping is an approach which respects this integrity of the colony. Its aim is to minimise stress factors and allow bees to develop in accordance with their true nature. Bees are allowed to build natural comb, swarming is acknowledged as the only way to rejuvenate and reproduce a colony, the queen is allowed to move freely throughout the hive and sufficient honey is retained in the hive to provide for the winter. A system of bee keeping that respects a colony’s natural integrity will not only reduce stress and encourage healthy bees.

The six compost preparations are made from specific herbs: yarrow flowers, chamomile blossoms, the whole areal portion of the stinging nettle while in flower, oak bark, dandelion blossoms and valerian flowers.

The barrel has a manuka stirring stick suspended from the rafters of the shed, with vine prunings bound to one end to assist the creation of the vortex during the clockwise and anti – clockwise rhythmic dynamising. The momentum of water moving through the ‘bristles’ increases the ‘weaving’ of the streams of energy flow.

A visit to Millton

Then it was back inside out of the rain for a small tasting.

Click on the photos for details.

We completed the tasting with a very special wine: Libiamo, an ‘orange’ wine whose Gewurztraminer grapes had spent 78 days on the skins in demi-muids (large oak barrels) thus concentrating not only the colour but the flavour.

A visit to Millton

Millton Libiamo Gewurztraminer, Gisborne 2013
Deep amber orange, honeycomb, waxy dried apricots, dry, bright acidity, weighty mineral rich dried fruity notes and glacé fruits. Long lingering finish.
Libiamo – let’s drink – is a joyful aria from La Traviata by Verdi and seems so appropriate for such a thoughtful and inspirational man.
A visit to Millton

James Millton, Crazy by Nature!

An Eye on Nelson

An Eye on Nelson

There is a beautiful little corner in the north of the south island of New Zealand, one of so many gorgeous regions of this wonderful country which I visited with a small group of New Zealand wine writers for a couple of days to keep an eye on Nelson.

NZ Wine Region Map 111214

Nelson is one of the smallest wine regions of New Zealand. With a smidgen over 1000 hectares planted with vines its production is 2% of all the country, whereas its mighty neighbour, Marlborough, over the hills to the east is the largest producer with 22,000 hectares of vineyards producing 73% of the wines of New Zealand.

Nelson enjoys a sunny climate where orchards flourish as well as vines. South of the Tasman Bay, the region is protected to the east by the Richmond Hills, to the west Kahurangi and the Southern Alps to the, er, south. When we arrived, in spring, there was a dusting of snow on the adjacent hills.

Nelson has been hidden in the enormous shadow cast by Marlborough and I certainly got the feeling that Nelson was hiding its light under a bushel! There are no big players here, no national, and no international wine groups though the only disadvantage is that there is not the financial clout to promote the region. However this lack of local corporate clout does work in the favour of the thirty or so wine producers whose individuality shines through as we were to discover with the wines.

There are two distinct geological areas within Nelson:

Moutere Hills
The softly rolling Moutere Hills are formed from the weathered gravels of an ancient river system. The gravel threaded clay soils are renowned for producing wines of richness and texture, and there is no irrigation except for very young vines.

Waimea Plains
Waimea means ’river gardens’ in Maori – with stony soils of alluvial origin, high sunshine hours and a moderating maritime influence, the wines are lighter and more poised in style with aromatic varieties succeeding well. Irrigation is required as the soils are free draining.

141113.197 Nelson Tasting, Harbour Lights Bistro, WWNZ, Nelson, NZ_blog

Our first port of call, the Harbour Light Bistro, for an introductory tasting of 22 wines of Nelson: Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. This was a great introduction with a variety of styles – I was taken with the Pinot Gris, which endorsed the success in Nelson of making good aromatic wines.

In spite of nautical distractions we were able to concentrate on tasting the wines. Click on the photos for more detail.

An Eye on Nelson

We spent our first day in the Moutere Hills and our first visit was to Neudorf, one of the oldest established wineries where owners Tim and Judy Finn made their first wines in 1981. The wines of Neudorf have a great reputation showing a finesse, style and grace that would delight, say, any Burgundy lover.

An Eye on Nelson

Richard Flatman, viticulturist at Neudorf Vineyards as well as the new chairman of Wine Nelson.

We tasted four Chardonnays from 2012 back to 2001. Well balanced and fine with the more recent vintages showing an elegance and style with a little less oak; then three Pinot Noirs – 2010,  2007 and 2002 – earthy but with, again, elegant fruit.

An Eye on Nelson

Continuing in the Moutere Hills we enjoyed a working lunch at the brand new winery, restaurant and art gallery of Woollaston, where the cerebral winemaker Shane Munn guided us through a selection of wines to accompany a great meal. Woollaston farms organically and the underground winery is gravity fed.

Working lunch

An Eye on Nelson

Our lunch menu with two types of greywacke rock

I liked the Woollaston Tussock Pinot Gris 2014, which went well with the John Dory, being dry showing a weighty spiciness braced by good acidity. The Woollaston Mahana Pinot Noir 2012 was big juicy and full of cherry, some spice and a touch of dark chocolate, just right with the confit duck leg.

An Eye on Nelson

Greg and Amanda Day, Andrew Sutherland (Harakeke Farm) and Neil Todd

Our next visit, still in the Upper Moutere, was to include some local history as the vineyard at Kahurangi Estate were originally planted by Hermann Seifried in 1973  and has the oldest commercial Riesling vines in the South Island. In 1998 Greg and Amanda Day bought the vineyard and the original building in 1998 and have developed the business as well as an agency for imported wines.

One of the pleasant discoveries of this trip was the camaraderie shared between the producers as Greg, accompanied by his winemaker Neil Todd, also shared the tasting with his previous winemaker, Andrew Sutherland, who now owns his small 3 hectare vineyard, Harakeke Farm, and makes his wine at Kahurangi.

Amidst a good selection of white, rosés and reds I liked the Kahurangi Nelson Riesling 2011; made with fruit from the oldest vines it is pleasantly off dry, bright with a good structure of fruit and herby notes. A lovely summery aperitif.

Andrew’s Harakeke Chardonnay 2013, whose vineyard is on land that originally grew flax then gorse – a pernicious invasive plant given half a chance – and cleared to plant Chardonnay vines; biscuity peachy notes on the nose, it’s dry with good acidity replete with stone fruit and a long finish.

An Eye on Nelson

Our last visit of our first day was to Kina Cliffs, where we were welcomed by owners Julie and Alistair Ashcroft, who bought their 4.5 hectare vineyard in 2000, originally supplying fruit to local wineries before producing their own wine from 2009. They were accompanied by their neighbour, Alex Wall, who manages Kina Beach Vineyard for its Swiss owners who, in 2011, bought the vineyard which was established in 1998.

An Eye on Nelson

Although both vineyards are by the sea their soils are still the Moutere clay under gravel.

The Kina Beach Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay 2011 was a big fellow with toasty oak and creamy yellow fruit on the nose, dry, good acidity with a graceful texture of peachy fruit. Kina Cliffs Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, from their library stock, was a fine example of maturing Pinot Noir. Mid ruby with lots of ripe blackberries on the nose, dry with attractive spicy tannins with robust dark red fruit notes. Drinking well now but will repay keeping.

It was a shame to leave such a lovely place but we had to go back to town to put on our glad rags (well, shower and change) ready for the winemakers’ dinner at the smartest restaurant in Nelson – Hopgood’s.

Once again it was great to see the friendliness of the all the Nelson wine makers, producers and growers (the wine writers were delightfully outnumbered!) who had invited us to join them with a great meal accompanied well with Nelson wines.

An Eye on Nelson

Agnes and Hermann Seifried

I was first introduced to Nelson in the UK over 15 years ago when I used to sell wine in my Billericay, Essex wine bar from one of the original producers, Seifried, who are still going strong from their early start in the 1970s. So it was a pleasure to share the company of Austrian born Hermann Seifried and his New Zealand wife Agnes.

And so to bed with another action packed day tomorrow to keep an eye on Nelson, part two coming soon…

I was a guest, with other members of WWNZ, of Wine Nelson.