Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Wineries of Central Otago - Cromwell Day 2

Awakening in Cromwell on our second day in the area, I felt a sense of deja vu.  Like the Okanagan Valley in Canada, where I worked a vintage in 2014, the region has a thriving stone fruit industry. Across the road from our accommodation, there was an extensive cherry plantation: rows upon rows of cherry trees entirely protected by netting and complete with frost dispersing windmills. 

Perhaps these will one day be replaced with grapes?
As I touched on in the previous post, the region is an old gold mining area. Many people from the Bendigo goldfields in Australia were drawn to a second rush in this region, hence the common name. On a morning stroll along the banks of the Kawarau River, we could see evidence of old gold diggings. 

Our plan of attack for the day was to check out a few more of the wineries in the Bannockburn subregion (we were enjoying that particular style of Pinot Noir greatly) and then head further north to the Pisa Range subregion, where we had a very special afternoon and evening planned with the owners of Pisa Range Estate.


First off the rank for the day was Akarua. Their well presented tasting facility was manned by an equally polished cellar door attendant. Akarua have vineyards near their cellar door on Carnmuir Road as well as on Felton Road and at Lowburn. My picks of their solid offerings were:
Beautiful tasting bar at Akarua

Akarua Vintage Brut 2010
60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, made in a fresh and crisp style with 18 months on lees.

Akarua Pinot Noir 2013
Deep earthy berries dance above a layer of charred meatiness.

Akarua Pinot Noir 2011
This wine saw at least 1.5 years of bottle ageing prior to release. The fruit flavours integrated well with silky, rich tannins.


We needn't have bothered to move the car to get to Carrick, which was literally across the road. They follow an organic philosophy, with this theme running through their operations in the vineyard, winery and on-site restaurant. On the back of great reviews of their Pinot, I was pleased to discover their white wines to be just as enjoyable:
2014 Carrick Sauvignon Blanc
I almost skipped the sauv blanc, but was then glad I did not miss out on the delightfully aromatic aromas of tropical fruits such as lychee and passionfruit.

2013 Carrick Bannockburn Riesling
With moderate residual sugar (26g/L), this gorgeously balanced wine had the hallmark kerosene nose, with lemon/lime flavours championing the palate.

2012 Carrick Bannockburn Pinot Noir
With a couple of years in bottle, this wine has already developed personality with some chewy meatiness and earthiness making it dinner party ready.


Named after the 'rugged, rock-strewn landscape of Central Otago', I definitely sensed a focus on terroir behind Rockburn's endeavours. Like Quartz Reef, the winery and cellar door is situated in the industrial estate of Cromwell in order to be a central point between their vineyards at Gibbston and Lowburn. 

The rugged, rock-strewn landscape of Central Otago
Rockburn Fume Blanc 2013
A far cry from tropical fruit punch, this textural wine had a mealy creaminess from malolactic fermentation whilst exhibiting strong minerality - smelling like a road after rain. An intriguing wine.

Rockburn Reserve Pinot Noir 2013
16 months in barrel has allowed a depth of berry fruits and an elegant earthiness to establish itself. I preferred this wine to the premium version (Eleven Barrels), which was slightly too powerful for me.

Pisa Range Estate

Leaving Cromwell behind us and heading 10km north, we arrived at Pisa Range Estate. This sustainable patch of paradise is nestled below the mountain range of its namesake, with Lake Dunstan not far away. Along with the Waenga loam soils, the geography creates a much sought-after microclimate suitable for Pinot Noir.

With a background in NZ diplomacy, but always with a love for wine, Warwick and Jenny Hawker selected and purchased the property in 1995. From the outset, their focus has been on minimal intervention and this has underpinned all their business decisions. As we walked through the poplar-lined vineyard, Warwick explained the challenges of the growing season, especially 'frost fighting'. 

Buds and young shoots are particularly susceptible to damage from freezing. The result can be disastrous losses for the vintage. Many techniques are employed in an attempt to disperse the cold air which settles around the vines and causes freezing. At Pisa Range, we observed heaters lining the rows as well as wind machines, which mix warmer air from above the vines with the cooler air below. Not many vineyard managers sleep well during spring - graveyard shift awakenings are not uncommon!

Heaters and wind machines fight frost in the vineyards at Pisa Range Estate
Pisa Range Estate wines are made at Quartz Reef in Cromwell by the talented Rudi Bauer, whose own wines I have described previously. The serious business of tasting the current vintage was with Jenny in the old woolshed which has been beautifully restored to house their cellar door. As we enjoyed these wines plus some library wines at dinner that evening, I will leave my description until later in this recount.


Our lodging for the evening was a bit of a splash out for us, but worth it. Aoturoa is a luxury villa outside of Wanaka on the banks of the Clutha river. We had selected the Dinner with Winemakers package, which included the tour and tasting at Pisa Range Estate. When we arrived at the bed and breakfast style lodgings, we were greeted by Jon and Lesley who made us feel right at home with a much welcomed cuppa and then left us to rest and reset, ready for an evening of good food and wine.

Jon and Lesley were as charming as Jenny and Warwick (with whom they are close friends). We were very interested to hear Jon's anecdotes about fishing and other outdoor pursuits in NZ. Lesley's cooking and hospitality was amazing. Walking into her kitchen was like stepping right into a Margaret Fulton cookbook. Warwick and Jenny also provided lively commentary, not only on the wine, throughout the meal.

On the banks of the Clutha River at Aoturoa

Dinner with the Winemakers

The menu and wines spoke for themselves across the evening. Of course, I was enjoying myself too much to take tasting notes, but I have included some links to New Zealand wine critic Raymond Chan's reviews if you are at all interested. The courses unfolded as follows:

1. Taste
Spinach and Feta Triangles
2013 Pisa Range Estate Riesling
(Raymond Chan Review)

2. Entree
Westcoast Whitebait & Asparagus with Buerre Blanc Sauce
2012 Pisa Range Estate Riesling
(Raymond Chan Review)

3. Main
Southland Lamb with sauteed potatoes, baby beetroot and salsa verde
2007 Pisa Range Estate 'Black Poplar Block' Pinot Noir
(Gold - 2010 San Francisco International Wine Awards)

4. Cheese
Kapiti Ramara golden washed-rind cheese
2012 Pisa Range Estate 'Black Poplar Block' Pinot Noir
(Raymond Chan Review)

5. Dessert
Chocolate & roasted hazelnut cake
2013 Pisa Range Estate 'Run 245' Pinot Noir

Of the rieslings, my preferences was the 2013, as I found it more pure in fruit and minerality. Of the reds, I loved the 2007 Poplar Block and the 2012 shows promise to be just as good, if not better, in years to come.

Needless to say, it was a another highlight of our Central Otago adventure.