Plenty of politicians drink wine, but few members of Parliament make it. Denis Marshall founded Hawkeshead Vineyard in Central Otago, at the base of New Zealand’s south island, with the aim of creating natural wine.
Marshall was a farmer before entering Parliament in 1984 as a member of the National Party. During his time in government he spent six years as an associate minister of agriculture with responsibility for horticulture, and then later five years as minister of conservation and three years as minister of lands.
In 2000 he became founding chairman of New Zealand’s National Parks and Conservation Foundation, a charity dedicated to raising funds to support conservation projects throughout the country.
Marshal bought land in the Gibbston Valley in Central Otago in 1995. Visually this is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular regions. The arid farmland was once home to sheep and later gold miners out to find their fortune.
Now the valley is known as the “valley of vines” because of the growing number of estates that have been developed there in recent years. At Gibbston, Marshall and Ulrike Kurenbach established the Hawkshead Vineyard, planting the first pinot noir vines in 2001 and 2003. They focus on careful land use and soil management, with minimum interference with nature.
I tasted three Hawkshead wines. The 2012 Hawkshead pinot gris is pale white gold in colour and offers aromas of lime, pears and fruit blossom with a slight acidity aligned along an elegant mineral backbone.
Winemaker Dean Shaw said the grapes were hand picked. Whole bunches were pressed and then cool fermented in stainless steel to preserve natural vibrancy. This gives the wine a delicate feel, which works nicely with its textured and balanced finish.
The 2010 Hawkshead pinot noir is a medium-bodied wine with aromas and flavours that suggest the essence of slightly unripe strawberries, in a mixture of red fruits such as cherry and cranberry.
It was aged for 11 months in French oak barrels, about a third of them new. This explains the fine tannins, which are quite reserved and pleasant, giving an overall impression of elegance and silky reserve with mineral undertones.
Winemaker Christopher Keys notes on the vineyard’s web site that the 2010 vintage “presented us with a long growing season allowing the fruit to ripen well and catch the best of the late autumn sun”.
Highlight of the trio of wines for me was the 2010 Hawkshead pinot noir “first vines”. The best fruit from the estate’s oldest vines is selected for this wine. Grapes are fully destemmed, which requires a lot of work.
After fermentation the wine was aged for 11 months in 40 per cent new French oak, with the rest older barrels. This use of oak explains the hint of cedar on the palate, and provides the supple tannins which act as a superstructure for the fruit flavours.
Ripe acidity gives this pinot an energy that carries through to a sustained finish. The sensation in the mouth was slightly bitter like tasting an under-ripe blackberry fresh from a hedgerow. The surprising contrast was the difference between aromas, suggesting ripeness, and the elegant taste of acid and fruit.
This pinot was a little restrained and opened slowly. I left a part-filled glass over night to see how it evolved. The next day it was bursting with flavours and perfume. It offered aromas of black cherry and dried herbs. The palate had a lovely texture that suggested sunshine and ripe generosity.
The later tasting produced extra flavours of damson plums and blackberries, identified by colleagues who tasted the wine with me, plus what one called a “suggestion of Bakewell tart”. The wine was velvety and elegant on the palate, and exuded a sense of “weight” – that undefinable sensation of quality in one’s mouth.
I would serve both pinots with Asian duck or pork dishes. Both will be dlelicious over the next half decade.