Wines of Martinborough· Blog
May 24th, 2012 | By Jayson Bryant | Category: Blog
Wines of Martinborough
Flying to Wellington is always exciting, and that’s just the landing. Every time I land safely after my white knuckle ride I know that I will have to take off in the same conditions. The rough ride into Wellington makes for a dramatic aspect to any visit to its closest wine region.
What the landscape is to Central Otago, the flight into Wellington equals.
So once I’m safe and sound on the ground, and in need of a stiff drink to calm my nerves, wine is just not capable of doing with one or two glasses.
I’m here to sample the wares of New Zealand’s most prestigious Pinot Noir wine regions. Long gone are the farmers that once dominated the landscape, Martinborough is all about wine these days. In less than 2 hours by car and an hour by train, you can immerse yourself in New Zealand’s only true wine village.
The wineries of Martinborough surround the town, most within walking distance, these days one is able to hire bikes to tour the local surrounds. It makes you feel relaxed immediately. The relaxation that one gets on a European vacation. The locals are friendly too!
It’s not just the Pinot Noir from Martinborough that fascinates me, as the region is gaining a good reputation for cool climate Syrah as well. We all know that Pinot Noir can be fickle, but cool climate Syrah poses equal amount of challenges to get ripe and balanced, and balance is the key to this region.
A Clear Direction
At first glance, things appear remarkably unchanged in Martinborough. It’s almost as if time had stood still since my last visit. Every New Zealand wine region has faced challenges since 2008. It’s as if the last 4 years had never happened until you scrape past the thin veneer of the town and discover what’s bubbling just under the surface.
Martinborough is undergoing huge change. In the fluid world of wine there have been some comings and goings. Dry River are changing. Escarpment is looking for change. Murdoch James have found investors and have an air of positivity surrounding them, plus expectation. Alana Estate, an old favourite of mine, has recently changed GM. It felt like everyone person in the region was positive that Martinborough could once again face forward and travel on together capturing the hearts and minds of the wine drinker.
Prices have managed to remain high for Martinborough wines. With the 2012 vintage complete after a relatively mild Summer and warm Autumn we could see tremendous quality wines from a varied vintage across the country. Some of New Zealand wines most prestigious wineries are to be found in Martinborough.
Ata Rangi, Dry River, Escarpment, Martinborough Vineyards are the old guard of the region, whilst Craggy Range, Kusuda are the new guys on the block. All have gained a reputation of excellence whilst lifting the standards for the whole region. Nearly all of the regions wineries are still New Zealand owned, which in todays global marketplace bucks the trend.
Martinborough is not just about the big names of the region, for it has a very healthy boutique wine scene. Kusuda check every grape before allowing it into their wine. It’s characters like this that make the region.
I’m off to visit Escarpment just on the edge of town, actually a small drive. It’s late April and they’re still picking their grapes. It must be every winemakers/viticulturalists nightmare living this close to the edge what is possible. With temperatures already close to freezing overnight one has to pray that the frost will remain at bay.
From dabbling, probably more of a hinderance than help, I sort a few tray of Pinot Noir grapes. The quality is high and they taste beautifully ripe and look great. The same could be said of all of the wineries that I visited. I met an English intern called Lou, who just happened to be from the next county from where I grew up. Lou showed and explained to me the workings of Escarpment. A long time lover of the country, this was her third vintage in NZ, she demonstrated a real passion for Pinot Noir.
Next we visited Murdoch James Estate. The ever delightful Nicola guides us around and explains all of the developments that are/have taken place in the last few months. There’s a lot happening. New building work. Massive expansion to the winery. The restaurant has been leased and is responsible for creating some of the finest food I’ve tasted in Martinborough. The food is more city than country restaurant.
Murdoch James have a long history in the area and we’re able to sample some library stock and also their latest releases. The 2001 Syrah, that was served with a tremendous sample menu, had obviously seen better days, but given that this was 11 years old, and grown in an area many thought too cold, it showed great promise for this wine style.
After lunch it was time to head to Martinborough Vineyards and meet the affable Paul Mason. I’ve often communicated with Paul through Twitter and so was great to finally meet him. It was only last year that Martinborough Vineyards 1998 Reserve Pinot Noir was crowned ‘Best Pinto Noir in the World’.
It’s time to get involved and have fun with vintage 2012. Paul designates me to the press, whilst some crazy French guy strips down to his boxers and starts plunging the cap on a tank already fermenting. Martinborough Vineyards winery is big for this small village, yet tiny on the world stage.
My last visit is to Dry River winery. I won’t go into too much detail, as have already written about my visit and their wines, but suffice to say that despite my preconception was shattered on meeting and tasting some great library stock.
My visit is nearly over except for dinner. The dinner tonight is accompanied with a singing duet from the owners of Coney Wines. A blast of Abba and they start singing about what a great place Martinborough is, what characters from the village have been up to,and very good it is too. Maybe this is what happens when you’re slightly isolated from outside world, but whatever it is, Martinborough are back, and back with style and grace.
But after all is said and done, all the proof of a pudding is in the eating, will Martinborough once again become New Zealand’s Premiere Pinot Noir region, not chosen by wine writers and bloggers but by the drinking public.