A quarter century ago, when Dr John Forrest first planted vines in New Zealand’s Marlborough region, the area only had seven wineries. His was the eighth.
Almost all were family concerns and the vines totalled only a few hundred hectares. Marlborough is at the top of the country’s south island.
Today about 30,000 hectares of vines are being cultivated, and 70 per cent of the properties are owned by large wine monoliths. Marlborough has about 500 wine brands and the region exports wine worth $NZ 1,200 million. Wine tourism is worth another $NZ 2,000 million.
Despite the huge growth, Forrest Wines remains independent and continues to make ground-breaking wines.
John and Brigid Forrest, both doctors, own vineyards in Marlborough, Otago and the Gimblett Gravels area of Hawkes Bay – in effect, New Zealand’s best terroir.
The Forrests have launched a new range known as the John Forrest Collection. Dr John Forrest said it was an attempt to “capture the best the land, the vines and the vintage have to offer”.
The 2009 Waitaki Valley pinot noir from this collection is a remarkable wine. The Waitaki Valley region is in North Otago, as distinct from Central Otago, at the base of the south island. Only about 500 hectares of wine are grown by about a dozen producers.
The vines were planted less than a decade ago. Despite their relative youth, this pinot reminds me of a first growth burgundy. It is all elegance and finesse, with a texture of oyster shell minerality combined with fresh red fruits on the palate, plus floral and herb notes like lavender on the nose.
Dr John Forrest described the collection as the pinnacle of his 22 years of winemaking. Imagine what this pinot will be like when the vines reach maturity in another 15-20 years, he asked.
He also identified pinot gris and chardonnay as potential outstanding performers in this terroir. The Waitaki River that runs through the Waitaki Valley is New Zealand’s biggest river, with that shimmering blue associated with the Lord of the Rings films.
Forrest Wines makes a range of wines. The Forrest Estate range is also excellent, especially the riesling, sauvignon blanc and the pinot noir. A New Zealand Master of Wine, Bob Campbell, described the sauvignon as the “sancerre of the south” — in other words, likening it to some of the best sauvignon blanc in France.
Unlike many New Zealand sauvignon blancs, it has a fresh mineral texture and flavours at the green apple and guava end of the spectrum rather than the cat’s urine and gooseberry often sometimes associated with this country’s sauvignons. Australian wine critic Huon Hooke described it as “about as good as Marlborough sauvignon blanc gets”.
Riesling is the good doctor’s favourite grape. He makes six types of these white delights. The 2010 edition from Marlborough is another fine example.
This region, with its rounded pebbles and long hours of sunshine, induces a special minerality to Forrest riesling. It offers a lively sense of balance as well as place, plus a range of citrus flavours including lime and lemon and a touch of apricot.
This riesling has the longest “hang” of any Forrest wine. In other words, it ripens earlier than most other grape varieties but is allowed to stay on the vine and is the last picked. This concentrates flavours. Dr Forrest described riesling as the most “intellectual” of grapes because it presented the biggest range of options and mysteries to the winemaker.
We must also note the 2010 Forrest Estate pinot noir, also from Marlborough. It is riper than the North Otago pinot with flavours more at the black fruit end of the spectrum, and slightly sweeter. It also has that distinct “sous bois” or aroma of undergrowth like wet leaves one associates with burgundian pinots, plus hints of thyme and black cherry.
Dr Forrest said it was a pity the world knew so much about sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, because this tended to diminish the reputation of the region’s pinot.
The world should rejoice that Marlborough produces two outstanding examples of classic grape varieties, and Forrest Wines offers majestic versions of these wines.
Here is a video interview with Dr John Forrest: