Pinot Noir and Truffles

Black Estate are located in North Canterbury – note the name reference, no longer Waipara; a relatively recent decision sees the producers here group together to present a unified and clarified story as North Canterbury. And what a story it is. I was fortunate enough to visit there with a few of the team last weekend and unearthed a raft of new stories, wines and wineries, so much so that I’m planning my next visit already.

Our visit there was to join the team at Black Estate for lunch to celebrate a local delicacy, NZ truffles. The day started with a visit to Limestone Hills Truffière, where we were greeted enthusiastically by Rosie the beagle and Gareth. Limestone Hills has the largest variety of truffles of any plantation in New Zealand. A super successful truffle hunt followed where Rosie found many Périgord black truffles and bianchetto white truffles.

Rosie the Beagle

Next stop was Black Estate, their restaurant sitting on the original estate that was planted by the Black family. Still family owned, Pen runs the restaurant and is married to Nicholas who is the winemaker. Nicholas worked for many years for Danny Schuster, just up the road from Black Estate, and describes driving past Black Estate every day and being able to see only a small edge of the vineyard from the road. One day his curiosity got the better of him, leading him up the driveway, the rest as they say is history. Black Estate have three vineyards in North Canterbury, the home vineyard where it all started, Netherwood and Damsteep, all producing wines with very distinct personalities.

The menu for lunch

Lunch was of course all about truffles and matched with Black Estate wines. There was no dish that stood out as being the highlight, they were all just so damned good. Black Estate and their neighbouring vineyards run truffle lunches as part of the North Canterbury Truffle Festival. My advice – book now for next year.

Pinot Noir 2017

Pinot Noir 2017, what’s it all about? ‘A lot’ is the simple answer and there is just so much to talk about. So here goes, a series then of blogs all about Pinot Noir 2017, naturally starting at the beginning. The event itself was first held in 2001, the brainchild of the late Richard Riddiford and, Mr Pinot Noir himself, Larry McKenna. It’s a three-day conference all about Pinot Noir, open for all to come along with a very high proportion of trade there from NZ and abroad.

Those from abroad were generally hosted by NZ Wine Growers in what is one of the best pieces of Marketing for NZ in any sector. Our International guests were treated to a world class conference that is rightly referred to as the best Pinot Noir event on the Planet. An Aromatic Symposium before and a Classic NZ Red weekend in the bay after, together with an Air NZ flight over the NZ wine regions with MW Bob Campbell as the head steward and guide. How could they not go away spreading NZ wine love to all corners of the world.

The three days started with a welcome at the Wellington Opera house and an enlightening discussion centred around ‘our place’. Our Tūrangawaewae the overarching theme to the morning and a welcome break from how a Pinot conference would usually start, with far too much discussion of terroir. In fact, the absence of reference to Burgundy was a welcome change and one that has been a long time coming. It is a little of a bug bear with me that we stand up and talk about our wines and reference them as ‘this is my Bordeaux blend’ or ‘my Burgundy’. We are not in France; we grow grapes and make wine in one of the most amazing countries in the world and need to be more proud of what we do. I then was delighted the conference started this way and more so continued throughout the week with this theme. Off my soap box now and back to Pinot 2017.

On the three consecutive mornings we were presented an array of fascinating discussions and concepts (more on these in the following blogs). Each afternoon was then given over to a Pinot Noir road trip, mine started with Marlborough and once again reconfirmed for me how underrated Marlborough Pinot Noir is. For me there were many great wines in that afternoon tasting, a few that did stand out. Fromm – I’ve always loved Fromm Pinot Noir and was excited to try their new wine H. Named

after winemaker Hatsch, it is a blend of five of their single vineyard wines and their new flagship wine. The quality is, as expected, exceptional and a wine worth seeking out. Jules Taylor had her 2015 Pinot Noir there; the perfume was enthralling, jumping out of the glass to greet you. Touching base with Jules, I enquired as to whether there was anything different in her winemaking this year? She shrugged ‘not really, it’s what the vintage gave’. A superb wine and a clear reflection of the 2015 vintage which became evident as I tasted around the room.


International Wine Challenge 2016 – what an experience

Last month I had a wonderful experience judging at the International Wine Challenge in London. Over two very intense days I tasted a large variety of wines from all around the world. Met fantastic people, caught up with old friends, made new ones and had many a laugh.

Liz with her IWC Team of Judges – London

One of those experiences that you walk away from thinking, this is why I work in this industry, the wine and the people. The calibre of the judges at the International Wine Challenge is quite something, The Chairmen for the competition – Tim Atkin MW, Oz Clarke, Sam Harrop MW, Peter McCombie MW, and Charles Metcalfe, whose morning pep talks are reason enough to want to judge at this competition.

I made the wise decision (not really a choice, it was just how my timing worked) to judge in the second week, what is called Round Two. This meant that we were looking at wines that had already been reviewed and the ones remaining were in contention for medals. The process of judging involves a team of generally 4 people, made up of a Panel Chair, a senior judge and two others. You taste the wines as they are presented to you, all blind and organised into types. So you’ll get a set of New Zealand Chardonnay for example, or in a whole flight of Vinho Verde, the variety is extraordinary; it is the International Wine Challenge after all. All the judges taste independently and then read out their scores which are collated and the discussion begins. After the panel decides the medals (or not) to award to the line up in front of them, the wines are re-tasted by the esteemed Chairmen noted above to verify the results. As you taste, the room is filled with the vibe of Tim Atkin’s music choice and the ever increasing volume of chatter from around 80 judges a day tasting through the vast number of entries this competition attracts.

IWC Room of Judges - London
IWC Room of Judges – London

The process, as you can see from this brief account, is rigorous and thorough. To then see out of this come the extensive collection of New Zealand wines being awarded medals is a real testament to where we stand on the world stage with our wines and the overall quality. In total there were over 400 medals awarded to NZ wines this year.
So at the end of all of this judging I certainly did not feel at all like another glass of wine. I decided it a far better idea to taste my way through a series of London Gins, which went down very well indeed.

Sauvignon Blanc 2016

With Sauvignon Blanc our most widely planted and largest production variety, it is indeed very surprising that it was not until January 2016 that the first Sauvignon Blanc Conference was held in New Zealand. Particularly when you consider the varieties importance in overseas markets and the growth in NZ Wine exports.

So to Marlborough we headed, along with industry colleagues from 19 countries around the world. A total of 350 delegates attended this well organised event. I could not help but think, whilst sitting on a tiny Air NZ plane that Monday morning and looking around me, how different the industry would look without that plane load. Fortunately, we all made it safe and sound.


Like many arriving in Marlborough that bright summer morning, I would be remiss if I did not mention up front that I was a little apprehensive; how on earth could a whole week of Sauvignon Blanc keep me interested and would it indeed inspire? My concern was ill-founded and misguided; a glass of great Sauvignon is a special thing and by the end of the week, I was not only inspired, but delighted to have been involved in an excellent event.

Over the four days we tasted extensively, experienced Marlborough and showed the International guests there a whole heap of Kiwi hospitality. There were lots of tastings during these days which allowed us to taste through the wines of the 60 producers involved, including a Classics Tasting at which all 60 presented their classic style. Numerous wines stood out, including Man O War’s Gravestone 2013, the balance between the acidity and fruit weight the hallmark of this wine. Mud House’s single vineyard Sauvignon Woolshed is a very focused Sauvignon, driven with a saline linear note, it’s flinty and very precise; well made Mr Glover. Nautilus are on an absolute roll and the 2015 Sauvignon is in keeping; rich with an expressive mouthfeel, the texture is smart with a flinty dry finish. Blind River’s Sauvignon Blanc stood out; a more tropical, luscious style, this will be a real crowd favourite.

I did start this particular tasting with an excellent bench mark, Jules Taylor’s 2015 Sauvignon Blanc. Year in, year out, Jules produces an excellent Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that is nothing short of utterly gorgeous and consistent. In a world of constant change, there’s something very comforting in knowing that Jules Taylor Sauvignon will be that same wine we love so much presented with a different vintage expression over it.

A day in the Bay

Spending a day with Peter Robertson reminded me of why I love working in this industry, the wine industry is full of colorful individuals that make it fun. Peter is a gifted wine maker, insightful, generous and most of all a gentleman. The Brookfields fruit comes predominately from the Ohiti vineyards, nestled on the opposite side of the river to the Gimblett Gravels and Roys Hill. As we drive out there, Peter notes the water running beside, the slight increase in gradient to the plateau the vineyards sit on as well as the hills that act to protect the vineyards. Once at Ohiti we meet Peters very youthful vineyard manager (he’s knocking around 70). Up the road a little is the Back Block vineyard, we jump out and walk around it – the hills in the back are full of lime stone and whilst you can feel the heat in the vineyard, the vines look in great shape. The limestone in the hills absorbs the water in the winter, as this vineyard is well established the vines have dug deep to ensure they have all the water they need to get through the hot Hawkes Bay summer. To the right of the Back Block vineyard, which is planted mainly with Syrah is Peter’s prized Malbec. There were loads of ripe juicy Malbec bunches on the vine, this fruit is heading for Brookfields Sun Dried Malbec, made in an Amarone style, Peter dries the grapes to concentrate the flavours before making the wine. The last vineyard for the afternoon was the Hillside vineyard site- interestingly only half of the vineyard was netted – the reason why, practical of course. Birds don’t like to be exposed to prey – so half way up the hill side – it is too far from the nearest tree for the birds to fly to feast on the fruit. After a visit to Hillside, we enjoyed some early samples of the 2013 vintage in the winery – what a vintage it is going to be, all the fruit we saw looked excellent and the samples spot on. And the big question? Will there be Hillside Syrah 2013? Time will tell, but it is certainly looking very promising.