The Martinborough region of New Zealand, at the base of the north island, competes with Central Otago for the title of the best region for pinot noir in that country.
Martinborough has been making wine longer than Otago and I believe their wines have more character and intensity of flavours than their cousins from the southern end of the southern island.
The region is home to Ata Rangi Vineyard, which in 2010 received the inaugural “grand cru of New Zealand” award. Last year Decanter magazine declared Ata Rangi the “crowned king of New Zealand pinot noir”.
Now Vynfields is laying claim to being one of the region’s best producers of pinot noir. Every one of the estate’s pinots has received at least a five-star award or a gold medal since 2003.
Owner Dr Kaye McAulay said the secret to Vynfields’ success with pinot noir was her decision to cull much of the fruit. Martinborough vineyards typically produce about four tons to the acre.
Dr McAulay, also the viticulturist, said to remove 88 per cent of the fruit meant about 3.5 tons per acre were dropped to the ground, where they fertilised the vines.
This culling is done before veraison – the period when the grapes begin to ripen. The word “veraison” comes from the French term meaning the change of colour of the grape berries and it represents the transition from berry growth to berry ripening.
The vines put all their energy into the remaining fruit, which produces an intense concentration of flavours. The process works. The 2009 Vynfields reserve pinot won a gold medal and was named best in its class at the 2010 International Wine and Spirits competition in London.
The reserve is quite simply a superb wine. It has excellent texture in the mouth, and a rich and perfumed bouquet that hints of ripe berry fruits and black plums. This is a sophisticated wine that could be cellared for a decade to demonstrate its full majesty, yet is drinking wonderfully now.
I tried the 2010 estate pinot noir at the same time for comparison and initially it had more pronounced aromas than the 2009 reserve pinot, with hints of earth and truffles. The same black berry fruits were on display in the mouth, though it was slightly more savoury, with a gamey quality that was most appealing.
Then the quality of the 2009 reserve started to show as the wine opened in the glass like the proverbial peacock displaying its tail, and I could appreciate why the judges gave it a gold medal. The texture of the older wine was a joy. Decanter magazine gave the 2009 a gold medal as well.
All grapes are grown on the estate, which is both organic and biodynamic. BioGro NZ certified Vynfields in 2006. I believe that biodynamic winemaking produces better quality fruit, which shows in the wines. They give winemaker Kai Schubert, who trained in Germany, great material with which to create.
The estate’s soils are free draining with a thin layer of silt loam over river gravels. The temperate climate has low rainfall with hot and dry summer days, Dr McAulay said, followed by dry autumns with cool nights. This climate makes Martinborough an ideal place to grow cool climate grapes like pinot noir and riesling.
The estate’s rieslings are another reason to seek out Vynfields wines. The 2011 Bliss sparkling riesling is crisp and light and makes a refreshing summer drink. It tastes of limes, with a touch of honey even though it has little residual sugar.
This riesling has a lingering finish and would match with a range of foods. It would also make an excellent aperitif.
The 2011 rose is made from the free run juice of pinot noir grapes. Free-run juice is the result of the first, light pressing of the fruit.
At the end of the tasting I tried the 2010 classic riesling. It tastes like sherbert or lemon gelato. It is a medium-sweet wine with a balance of sweetness and acidity that reminds me of the best German rieslings.
The wine lingers in the mouth like the memory of a lover’s farewell kiss. This is a wine of finesse and elegance that could be drunk at the start or end of a meal and would pair well with a range of Chinese food like dumplings or fried dishes.
Published in China Post, 6 September 2012, page 10. Find a link here.