Rippon vineyard on the edge of Lake Wanaka on New Zealand’s south island must be one of the most photographed wineries in the world. The wines match the beauty of the location.
The late Rolfe Mills returned to his family farm in Wanaka in 1974 and planted rows of experimental vines near the house. Despite mockery from locals, Mills and his family persisted, planting the first commercial vineyard block in 1982 and focusing on pinot noir, riesling, gewurztraminer and sauvignon blanc. Rolfe believed these varieties most suited the site.
His son Nick, who describes himself as an artisan winemaker, returned home in 2002 after four years in Burgundy. A superb range of pinot noirs is the product of extensive training in Burgundy.
The property has been in the Mills family for four generations and is dedicated to biodynamic farming. Wines are made in an old lambing barn. The estate is named after Emma Rippon, an ancestor of Rolfe Mills.
Rippon’s vines are among the oldest in the region. Most were planted between 1985 and 1991, and 80 per cent of the 15-hectare vineyard is planted on its own roots and receives no irrigation.
Frost remains a constant danger in Central Otago but Lake Wanaka acts like “a big hot water bottle,” Mills said. The core temperature of the lake only changes two or three degrees from summer to winter.
I’ve been lucky enough to taste a range of vintages, on site and elsewhere, and believe Rippon wines are unique. They truly reflect the vineyard’s terroir. Rippon’s schist based soils produce, as the texture of the rock suggests, wines that are layered and complex. To quote Nick Mills, the wines have lift rather than weight, precision rather than opulence, and finesse rather than fullness.
The Rippon 2008 pinot nor has layers of red fruit and aromas of rhubarb and rose, plus a remarkable balance of sweet fruit and racy acidity. It retails for $41 in Hong Kong and is a bargain when compared with premier cru burgundies.
The 2009 Rippon riesling has long length and zippy acids mixed with a range of citrus flavors. It is a wine to match with fried dumplings. It sells for $25 in Hong Kong. Both wines are available online from Altaya Wines. Other Rippon pinots can be purchased online from the vineyard.
A contemporary of Nick Mills also making remarkable pinot in New Zealand is Mike Weersing, an American who scoured the world looking for his ideal location. He found it near Christchurch on New Zealand’s south island.
Weersing makes riesling and pinot noir under the Pyramid Valley label. When he started he bought fruit from other regions: The 2008 Calvert pinot comes from Central Otago, while the 2007 Eaton pinot was made from Marlborough fruit. These are lovely wines, and they retail for $43 in Hong Kong.
In the November 2009 edition of Decanter magazine Matthew Jukes wrote that the 2007 Calvert pinot contained “more drama” than a case of Vosne-Romanee and the wine left him “panting for more”.
Equally impressive are the latest-release pinots from the 2009 vintage, made from estate-grown fruit. They are named after local weeds, angel flower and earth smoke, and retail in Hong Kong for $60. These exceptional wines are bargains compared with premier cru burgundies.
In the glass they appear cloudy but they have wondrous aromas and flavors. Read the tasting notes at http://www.pyramidvalley.co.nz/wines.html to appreciate the attention to detail Weersing puts into his wines.
Weersing told me his wines received no fining or filtering, and were fermented in clay containers before going into oak. “The advantage is the extra flavor,” Weersing said, “but the disadvantage is less clarity.”
My favorite was the angel flower with its aromas of cherry and wild rose, and a wide range of spices: cloves and cinnamon and orange peel. An elegant and unusual wine
I am content with wines that look murky but make me want to embrace a second and a third glass. Surely that is one definition of a fine wine. All are available online from Altaya Wines.
* “Wines that match the beauty of their locations” in China Daily, page 12, 31 December 2011. Find link here.