Our ambition to create a range of wines from sites other than our home vineyard was born of multiple desires.
When friends with extraordinary vineyards offered to make available small amounts of Pinot Noir, we loved the idea of exploring the voice of one of our home varieties from other terroirs. The Eaton Family Vineyard in Marlborough, the Calvert Vineyard on Felton Road in Bannockburn – these are remarkable sites, meticulously managed by admired colleagues; it is a privilege to be trusted with such fruit.
Then too, the opportunity to play with a greater range of varieties and styles, and especially those that seem unfairly neglected or demodés, was temptation and impetus: Semillon in a textural, full-bodied, white Graves style, Riesling in the vibrant Germanic mode, delicate Pinot Blanc, and from Hawke’s Bay in the 2007 vintage, Cabernet Franc and old-vine Gewurztraminer; such wines can be fascinating and delicious, and joyous and pliable at table. They also represent for us both a mechanism to protect against the uprooting of venerable but vulnerable plots, and a philosophical blow against the creeping homogeneity of wine.
Again, we felt motivated to see recognition given to New Zealand’s grapegrowers, who have played so critical a role in the ascension and the growing acclaim of their country’s wine, but who so rarely receive due credit. How fun, and how just, we thought, to give these craftspeople a chance to show off their site and their skill.
The basic arrangement is simple: we lease a chosen area of a grower’s vineyard, at a value set by the average income yielded by that area, if contracted to another buyer. We then, at our own cost, introduce a long list of operations geared to ensuring superior grape quality: shorter pruning, bud rubbing, shoot thinning and positioning, leaf plucking, fruit thinning, hand harvesting, and sorting or multiple passes at harvest if necessary. All work is done by hand. The extra canopy management also reduces disease, allowing a sharp reduction in the normal spray programme. In the end, our fruit usually comes off at 40-60% of the yield realised by other buyers, with significantly better maturity.
This attention is then carried to the winery, where the grapes, must and wine benefit from the same mindful heed: a strict minimum of additions – little or no sulphur, natural settling, no enzymes; fermentation exclusively with yeasts cultured from each source vineyard, natural malos; no finings, filtration only when necessary. Our wines often ferment for many months, and malos usually require at least a year to complete. Movements of the wine – pressing, topping, racking – are timed to propitious stages of the lunar calendar. Because we know and trust our fruit, we are confident allowing our wines largely to make themselves.
Needless to say, spending considerably more to produce a smaller crop, and permitting wines to follow their own internal calendars and logic, is no recipe for cash-flow felicity: but what excites us is making remarkable, memorable wine, and discovering what a great site and grower can achieve, if both are encouraged to ultimate quality.