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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.