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Anne Krebiehl: Seventh blog from New Zealand harvest

Published:  01 May, 2009

For the duration of the harvest I am staying at Jackson's Orchard just outside Cromwell. Before stubborn pioneers like Sue Edwards and Verdun Burgess of Black Ridge, Lois and Rolfe Mills of Rippon and Alan Brady of Gibbston Valley started planting vines in 'Central' in the 1980s (more of their wines in a later instalment), horticulture was and to a degree still is the mainstay of this area: Central Otago cherries and apricots are famous and there are many apple orchards, too.

Now in autumn the roadside stalls are fully stocked. I can stay at the orchard amidst rows and rows of trellised apricot trees since the season is over. Usually the huts, former motel units that were moved here, are occupied by the cherry, peach and apricot pickers and when I arrived, I saw the last fragrant batches of peaches being despatched. Since I moved in, the orchard has turned colour and I can walk ankle-deep through russet-coloured leaves to State Highway No. 6. From Jackson's own fruit stall I can buy milk, apples and tomatoes and one of these days I will have to try the Otago cherries in Kirsch. My neighbours are two Ecuadorean girls harvesting for Mount Edward and three Thai fruit pickers who keep making Tom Yum Soup in our shared kitchen shack. It is very quiet and very beautiful here and having my own little hut is luxurious.

There are two wineries in my immediate vicinity. Just a kilometre up the highway is Aurum Wines, another estate that aspires to organic standards without being formally certified. They make Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Chardonnay and have just started making a traditional method sparkling Blanc des Blancs (not available yet). Two adorable blond little girls are playing in the tasting room and I learn that the older one lends her name to the barrel selection Mathilde Reserve Pinot Noir (2007). Their mother, Burgundian Lucie, managed to craft a Pinot with astonishing depth and elegance and allure from barely decade-old vines and the difference between the estate Pinot and the Mathilde is striking.

Joan Lawrence, the girls' charming grandmother conducts the tasting and explains the different terroirs of fluvial gravels and wind-blown loess that constitute her vineyards on the western shores of Lake Dunstan. We talk about how extraordinary it is for certain Central Otago wines to be so expressive at such a young vine age - quite a number of the very well-made ones really represent terroir. This may have something to do with the fact that yield needs to be restricted severely to allow ripening at all. The great majority of the local Pinots are punchy and fruit-forward but do not necessarily show any dimension beyond mere fruit. Most of these are probably also drunk too young even though some may not merit being cellared.

The better ones though, are extremely appealing and I cannot stop wondering how these will turn out once the vines have had time to stretch their roots deeper into the soil. Joan Lawrence reckons that the strong ultra-violet light and brisk climate make for a sped-up maturity in plants. Indeed, the Oregon Pines that are grown here for timber mature years and years faster than their cousins in the States, so Joan is probably right.

The Wooing Tree Winery is almost opposite the orchard. The 'wooing' tree itself, a huge old pine can be seen from the distance. Local lore has it that this used to be a prime romantic spot where quite a number of Central Otago babies were conceived...

The tasting starts with the unusual 'Blondie' a still Blanc des Noirs made from Pinot Noir, it has 4.8 grams of residual sugar and is a real pleasure wine that would work wonderfully as an aperitif. It has body and texture and is a fruit bomb, but in the nicest way possible. Then there is a nod to Pinot Gris and Chardonnay and the entry-level Pinot Noir called 'Beetlejuice'. The estate Pinot, the Wooing Tree Pinot Noir 2007 is very pleasant, like all the wines made by Carol Bunn at Vinpro who makes the wines of a number of smaller properties here. It has a little herbacousness and a faint hint of cedar on the nose and needs to spend two more years in bottle to let the super-smooth fruit mellow out a little. Lots of promise. The 2005 Pinot Noir is very mellow and has lovely notes of cedar and cinnamon. Just for curiosity's sake I get to taste the very early effort of the 2002 Pinot Noir which was made from bought-in grapes- it smells like port and jam but is definitely over the hill.

More from the harvest in the next posting!

Anne Krebiehl, April 2009


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